I know these very tasty savoury doughnuts as ulundu vadai. They are slightly fermented and spiced, and served in tea shops around Sri Lanka. Some people also make these with yellow lentils, but this classic recipe uses unskinned black ones (urad dhal).
Although they can be a bit heavy, these patties are a wonderful hot snack. The secret to the perfect patty comes down to the amount of liquid. Too wet and it will fall apart in the fryer, and not moist enough means it will be dry.
Soak the lentils in water overnight, or until the black coating is easily removed.
Remove the black coating by rinsing the lentils thoroughly with water.
Using a blender, and the minimum amount of water needed to make a pliable mixture, grind the lentils into a paste that can be formed into a ball, without being too crumbly or too wet. You may need to stop every now and then, to ensure the machine does not get too hot.
Add the garlic, ginger, chilli, coriander, curry leaves, pepper and bicarbonate of soda. Season with salt and mix well.
Pour about 10 cm (4 inches) of oil into a sturdy wok or heavy-based saucepan and heat to 180°C (350°F), or until a cube of bread dropped into the oil turns brown in 15 seconds.
Wet your hands, take a large tablespoonful of the lentil mixture and make a patty in the palm of your hand. Poke a hole in the middle of the patty with your finger, to give you a doughnut.
Carefully place into the hot oil, adding a few more doughnuts, but not enough to crowd the pan. Cook for 3–5 minutes, turning over halfway through, until golden brown on both sides.
Remove the first doughnut from the oil and carefully break it in half, to check it is cooked through, so you can adjust the cooking time as needed. Drain on paper towel while cooking the remaining doughnuts.
Serve hot, with your choice of chutney or sambal.
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