Recipe: Vegetarian Urad Dal Patties (Vada) with Black Pepper

Urad Dal Patties (Vada) with Black Pepper
Urad Dal Patties (Vada) with Black Pepper

Vada (also spelled Bada) are a species of Indian fritter or cake made with various types of lentils (dals). This particular dish is made with urad dal, which is readily available at any Indian market. While you are there, stock up on chana dal, toor dal, moong dal and all the other delicious pulses that aren’t used enough in Western cuisine. If you can’t find them locally, you can also order them from Amazon.

The basic technique for making vada is to soak the dal for a few hours, blend it into a coarse paste with spices, and then shallow fry. They can be made in various shapes, but here I just made simple patties.

The recipe I followed comes from the wonderful (and freshly reprinted) Lord Krishna’s Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Yamuna Devi, which is a wonderfully written, 800 page tome of the food favored by the Hare Krishna (ISKCON) community. Devi (born Joan Campanella) spent 8 years as the personal cook for Srila Prabhupada. The book includes traditional foods from all over India, but they are generally on the mild side. The version below has the spices amped up to suit my pathetically overstimulated palate.

I served these vada with red quinoa which you can barely see peeking out from under the roasted cauliflower and caramelized onions, a bit of creme fraiche (but yogurt would be good too), and a quick grilled half of a Meyer lemon. On balance, yeah, this plate has a lot of brown to golden-brown hues! But it was just a quickie dinner, whaddaya want, Picasso?

Urad Dal Patties (Vada) with Black Pepper
Makes about 12 patties; 2 or 3 make a nice serving
Vegetarian, vegan (if you don’t garnish with dairy), and gluten-free

  • 3/4 c. urad dal (without skins), available at any Indian grocery
  • 2 tsp. coarse freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. asafetida powder or 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • oil for frying (or ghee)
  • garnish: Maldon (aka the world’s greatest salt) or other finishing salt, creme fraiche or yogurt (optional)
  1. Pick over the dal to remove any foreign material, and rinse thorougly. Cover with plenty of water and leave to soak for 4-6 hours.
  2. Drain the dal. In a blender, grind half of the dal with 6 tbsp. of water (or maybe less, see comment thread below) until thoroughly smooth and fluffy, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed. Remove from blender.
  3. Put the other half of the dal in the blender with 5 tbsp. of water (or maybe less, see comment thread below) and grind briefly, until it is a coarse paste but retains some texture. Add to the first batch of dal in a bowl.
  4. Mix in the pepper, asafetida, cayenne and kosher salt. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  5. Heat a frying pan with enough oil or ghee to fill about 1/2″ deep to a temperature of about 340 F.
  6. Carefully drop in portions of the dal mixture and lightly press with a spatula to form patties. About 1/4 c. will do fine.  Put as many as you can in your pan without crowding them to close. Fry until golden brown on one side (maybe 4 minutes), then flip and brown the other side. Remove from the pan, drain on a paper towel, and hit it with some finishing salt. Hold hot while you fry the rest and serve them forth. Like anything fried, they are at their best minutes after leaving the oil and deteriorate rapidly, so be ready to chow!
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Monday, March 24th, 2008 in Recipes, Side Dishes, Vegan or Modifiable.

8 Responses to “Recipe: Vegetarian Urad Dal Patties (Vada) with Black Pepper”

  1. Reply
    March 25, 2008 at 4:23 am #

    Hello, dinner! Can’t wait to try this out. I’m going to go soak the lentils now.

  2. Reply
    March 28, 2008 at 4:46 am #

    Hello, thanks for the wonderful email and checking out my blog! We are having fun with it and it is wonderful that so many people like to participate. Urad dal patties will make a wonderful meal for me and a new recipe to try out. If I can’t find an Indian grocery do you know of a site that I can purchase these things from? Thanks!

  3. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    March 28, 2008 at 7:41 am #

    Sure! I’ve added an Amazon link in the first paragraph of the article if you can’t find an Indian grocery.

  4. Reply
    July 26, 2008 at 5:31 pm #

    This is literally one of the worst recipes I have ever tried to make. The seasoning is fine, but the consistency of the mix makes it nearly impossible to fry. Uncooked, the bean paste is very sticky and gummy. When it hits the oil, it loses all cohesion, disintegrating into gross, half-fried mushy piles when I attempted to flip it. Don’t cook this; it’s not worth the effort.

  5. Reply
    July 26, 2008 at 6:16 pm #

    Hi Sarah – I’m sorry to hear that the recipe didn’t work out for you. Thanks for letting me know. You can see from the picture above how it has always cooked up, reliably, for me. I’m not completely sure what went wrong for you. Maybe the batter was too wet? The right texture for the uncooked batter is quite thick and dry but fluffy. Did you definitely use the right kind of dal?

  6. Reply
    February 15, 2012 at 2:34 am #

    I had the same problem as Sarah. The dal is quite moist after soaking for so long, and adding 11 tablespoons of water turns it into a runny liquid. We added plain flour to thicken the mix, which sort of worked.

    • Reply
      February 15, 2012 at 7:20 am #

      Hey Hughbert – did you drain the dal well at step 2? I’ve made this recipe and ones like it a few times and never had a problem. I’ll add a note to the grinding step to potentially use less water if it seems too runny, since we don’t really know why some folks are getting different results.

  7. Reply
    March 1, 2015 at 10:35 am #

    That recipe is so good I made it two days in a row! I didn’t us as much water as you called for; I rather watched the consistency. I probably used at least half as much. I’ll be following you!

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