This is my version of the popular Sri Lankan street food. They are great as party finger food served with chilli sauce or a mint and yoghurt chutney.

Masala vada

Fennel flavoured lentil patties that are excellent party food
Course Snack
Cuisine Sri Lankan
Keyword channa, dhal, vada
Prep Time 1 day
Cook Time 2 hours
Servings 50 vada


  • 1 kg channa (yellow) dhal
  • 225 gm onion or shallot
  • 3 tbps fennel seed
  • 2 sprigs curry leaves
  • 2 tsp salt
  • vegetable oil


  • Put the 1 kg channa dhal into a big bowl and wash it. To do this, pour enough cold water into the bowl with the dahl to cover the dhal to a couple of centimeters. Swirl the dhal in the water, the water will turn milk. Carefully drain off the water using a colander. Do this two or three times. You are cleaning off and starchy powder or grit.
  • Now cover the dhal with water again to a couple of centimeters. Leave the dhal soaking overnight. This is to allow the dhal to swell and soften slightly.
  • The next day, drain off the water from the dhal using a colander.
  • Grind 2/3 of the dhal using a food processor until it is quite pasty. You can test that it is ready if it holds together when you take a fistful and make a pattie using your two palms to shape it. Keep 1/3 whole - you are going to use it like this later
  • Chop 225 gms onion of shallot into small pieces
  • Saute the onion in a little vegetable oil till it is soft.
  • Life the onion out of the oil with a slotted spoon
  • Drain the excess oil of the onion by putting it onto a baking tray or dinner plate lined with absorbent kitchen paper
  • Strip the curry leaves from the stems and chop them small
  • Grind 2 tsp of fennel seed very fine
  • Mix together the ground dhal, the whole dhal that you reserved, the sauteed onion, the chopped curry leaves, the ground fennel seed and also 1 tbsp of whole fennel seed
  • Add two tsps of salt and mix well
  • Now is the time to have a taste of the mixture to see if it needs more fennel or salt. That is up to you and your taste preferences
  • Heat up the oil in a wok or deep fryer. It's hard to give you a precise amount of oil because it will depend on the size of your wok or deep fryer. You want to have enough oil to allow you to float four or five vada in the oil with plenty of room under them so they can swim about as they cook
  • Test that the oil is ready for frying the vada. Take a little of the vada mixture and drop it into the hot oil. If it fizzes and bubbles, the oil is hot enough. If it doesn't, let the oil keep heating up and repeat the test for readiness
  • Now take small amounts of the dhal mixture and shape into patties between your two palms
  • Drop these carefully into the hot oil using your fingers or transferring the patties to the slotted spoon. If using your fingers, I find that sliding them in from the side of the wok works well in keeping their shape as the enter the hot oil. If using a slotted spoon, dip the spoon gently into the oil and when the vada floats free, remove the spoon
  • Don't put too many patties to cook in the oil together. You want each on to have room for the oil to bubble well all around it
  • Let the vada cook for 2 to 3 minutes till they are golden brown. You can gently turn them over a couple of times during frying to get them cooking well all over
  • When they are golden brown, drain them on a tray or dinner plate lined with absorbent kitchen paper.
  • Let them cool before serving
  • This is finger food so have some napkins ready for your guests to wipe their fingers of the oil
  • Chilli sauce or a yoghurt and mint chutney are both excellent for dipping vada into