Iftar of a different kind

June 21, 2015


Despite the advent of all-you-can-eat Iftar buffets, breaking the fast at home is the highlight of Ramazan. Mothers carefully put together a list of Sehri and Iftar menus, followed by special Ramazan grocery shopping expedition. While the likes of samosas and pakoras remain a standard fare, the beauty of Iftar lies in the wonderful regional dishes that are a hallmark of our roots.

As far back as I can remember, Iftar for my family was synonymous with a big, wholesome bowl of congee. Called Nonbu Congee (Nonbu means fasting and Congee means porridge in Tamil), this rice-based South Indian dish has been a favourite, and no Iftar menu seems complete without it. Nothing can be more nutritious than a hot, steaming bowl of mashed dalia-lentil-rice combination, with a dash of lightly sautéed yoghurt and onions. Since it is easily digestible, it makes a great healthy substitute to the oil-laden fare we consume at iftar.

The fact that the recipe is more-or-less ‘free-range’ with rice being the only constant, adds to its versatility. Anything and everything from meat and chicken, to your favourite vegetables and lentils can be included in the recipe, which means you can look forward to a new taste every day. What’s more, you can even add chicken broth and corn for a more soupy flavour.

Another typical South Indian dish is Medu Vada. Made out of urad / maash daal, these deep fried vadas make an interesting replacement when you are sick of pakoras, and need a change of taste. Usually a breakfast or brunch affair, these mild tasting vadas are shaped like a doughnut.

This Ramazan, try some South-Indian dishes to break the fast

There are few ingredients required to make Medu Vadas. For one-and-half cup daal, you will need two-inch piece of grated ginger, about five to six grounded peppercorns, two finely chopped green chillies, 10 curry leaves (chopped) and salt to taste. You will also need oil for deep frying. To make the vadas, soak daal for at least a couple hours (longer would be better), and then drain and grind it, adding just about enough water to make a think smooth paste. While grinding, add the rest of the ingredients (minus oil) to the daal.

Heat oil and while it’s heating, grease your palm and drop about one tablespoon of vada paste on it and try to shape it into a doughnut by poking a hole in the middle. You may not get the best results at the first attempt, but continue trying. Slide the vada into the hot oil, and fry till light golden brown on both sides and then sieve it out on a paper towel. Keep the flame on medium to ensure that the vadas are cooked through.

If spice is the flavour of your life, then Masala Vada would be right up your ally. Crunchy outside and soft inside, these vadas are a standard item on our Iftar menu that we send out to our neighbours every Ramazan. We always get requests for the recipe of what one neighbour thought was “daal-kebab” courtesy its flat shape. In terms of ingredients, these vadas are very similar to pakoras, what with onions, green chillies and a few spices, the base used, however, is of chana daal.

Preparing mixture for Masala vada is also easy, although time consuming. For instance, it is important to soak chana daal overnight or it may not grind to the right consistency. Once that is done, drain the water, keeping aside a little that will be used for grinding the mixture. For about half-a-cup of daal, you will need one teaspoon rice flour, one chopped onion, two to three chopped green chillies, a pinch of cooking soda, salt to taste, oil and about half a bunch of chopped curry leaves, coriander, dill, methi and mint leaves combined.

Add about half a tablespoon of chopped onion, all the chillies and salt to the soaked daal and grind to a coarse paste. Add a little water if the daal is difficult to grind. Transfer into a bowl and add the rest of the ingredients (except oil) and mix thoroughly. Heat oil for deep frying, and test if it is ready. Here is the tip: add a small blob of mixture in the oil; if it comes to the surface immediately, then the oil is ready. Add two teaspoons of the hot oil to vada mixture and mix well. Now make small balls of the vada paste and flatten them, like you would do to make kebabs. Slide them into the oil and fry on a medium flame until they turn golden on both sides.

Like many South Indian dishes, these vadas needs condiments like chutneys to spice up the taste. They work best with coconut and mint-coriander chutney.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine June 21st, 2015

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