Thursday, September 5, 2013

Adai - Protein Rich Lentil Pancakes

The Journey

Adai is one of the most traditional protein rich pancake recipes popular in South India, particularly in Tam Bram households. Being a vegetarian, getting protein in my diet has always been important and I constantly look for ways to supercharge that protein with vitamins and essential nutrients. One such wonder dish in my mind is Adai...sadly, a late realization for me. As a child, I used every trick in the book to avoid being at the table when Adai was on the menu. My mother and grandmother will tell you stories of how I drove them nuts with skipping meals or running away to a neighbor's house for food when Adai was prepared at home. I was a novice in food sensibilities and food preparations as a child or youth, so I simply avoided eating it rather than figuring out how to incorporate the super nutritious adai into my palate. I was too defiant and would not eat it just because my parents asked me to. Adai is really so versatile that everyone can enjoy this with a little creativity and flexibility. The nutrition in this is ridiculously good, it's silly to pass on this. I also realized in my journey as a home cook that there are no rules about this dish, or for that matter any dish..this is something that is generally not characteristic in a traditional Tam Bram kitchen that generally shunned customizations or variations from the traditional recipe. There is no adai police (as chef Emeril probably would say) that mandates you to eat this in a certain way! The protein packed pancake base can be a canvas for many veggies and herbs that you enjoy and that takes it to a whole new level of yumminess. If you like it spicy, add fresh serranos..if your kids like carrots, grate some in. My son will eat anything with spinach and red pepper guess what..I am not going to tell him that's not how this is done. I will gladly add a few spinach leaves and red pepper flakes if that means he will eat this without a fuss. So twist your way through Adai bliss. When you read the good in this you will see why it's a good idea to make this a part of your healthy lifestyle. Perfect for breakfast or dinner. If you are an athlete, try this after your workout. Great for an after school dinner for tired school kids. If you are a busy mom or working professional or both, this is such a simple, nutritious, complete weekday meal that your whole family will enjoy. If you are on a low carb diet, simply reduce the amount of rice in the recipe(will be less crispy though)and enjoy the pancakes as a low cab meal. At last my years of Adai abstinence were a thing of the past and I am so happy about it! 

The ingredients (serves 4)
Drumstick leaves

For the batter:

1/2 cup black gram lentils - a.k.a Urad dhal in Hindi or Uluttham paruppu in Tamil.
1/2 cup red gram lentils - a.k.a Toor dhal or Arhar dhal in Hindi and Tuvaram Paruppu in Tamil.
1/2 cup bengal gram lentils - a.k.a Channa Dhal in Hindi or Kadala Paruppu in Tamil.
1 cup rice
4-6 whole red chillies
1 inch ginger (I leave the skin on after scrubbing really well)
2 stems of curry leaves chopped (if you are the kind to pick this one out, grind it along with the ingredients in the batter..pls scroll down to the good in the recipe to see why)

To be added after the batter is prepared: (remember to get creative here..there are really no rules.)

1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp asafetida powder a.k.a Hing in Hindi and Perunkayam in Tamil
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
1 red onion finely diced
1 cup chopped drumstick leaves (traditional favorite shown here). The leaves of the drumstick plant are really hard to find in American groceries or even Indian groceries. For a yummy powerhouse twist, this can be easily substituted with chopped kale or rainbow swiss chard or arugula. I have tried all 3 and love them all. 

Now let's get cooking..

Wash the ingredients for the batter really well in a large bowl until all the cloudiness in the water disappears and the water looks clear.
Soak the ingredients for the batter in the water for 2 hours.
Grind these to a coarse batter using limited amount of water. This should not be ground into a smooth paste. I love to use the Vitamix grinder or a good food processor for this step as you can get the perfect texture doing so. 
Add the salt, asafetida. Now the base batter is ready and you have an open canvas for your creative toppings. 

Take a smaller portion of the batter and add the vegetable and herb toppings. You can customize who gets what in their adai this way and everyone is not stuck with all the toppings. Another reason is that the batter without the vegetables last longer and fresher and can last up to 3 days.

Now your batter is ready for pancake action!

Prepare your griddle by heating it on medium heat and coating with a little bit of oil from a spray bottle and wiping off with a paper towel. Cast iron griddles will work great, but I cheated and used a non stick griddle since I can use less oil in the preparation.
Add a large ladle of the batter in the centre of the griddle.
Move the batter in concentric circular motion using the back of the ladle till the batter is spread evenly into a pancake that is 8-10 inches in diameter. 
In my mind, this is the most difficult step if you never done this before. The good news here is that it only gets better and easier with practice. My initial adais turned out in weird shapes although it still tasted great. I also used to make crazy shapes like flowers and odd looking cars so my kids would eat this. The other important thing I figured was that the heat on the griddle makes a difference, especially when you add the batter at first. If the griddle is super hot, it starts to cook the moment you add the batter, thereby not letting you to spread it into a larger circle. So remember to turn the heat back to medium before you make the next one. 

Add oil to the circumference of the adai and also add a few drops to the center. Traditional Tam Bram households and restaurants make a hole in the center of the adai and add so much oil and butter to the cooking process. They actually pride in a melted butter fountain coming out of the hole in the center when pressed with a forefinger. Yikes! That would hurt my conscience and undo some of the good here. I cut back heavily on that crazy fat addition and only add what is needed for making good pancakes.

Cook till it is golden brown (you can increase the heat to make crisp adais) and then flip to the other side for 30 seconds. If you are packing this as a healthy lunch, make it less crispy so it is soft and delicious. Crispy adais turn into hard adais if you consume them after 4 hours. 

The adai pancake is ready.
Enjoy the adai with plain yogurt, a thin slice of butter, jaggery (or brown sugar) or any savory chutney. I am not a hot and sweet kinda person, so I usually skip the jaggery. I made fresh gongura chutney today, so that's what is shown here as the side dish with the yogurt. 
The good in this recipe..

All the lentils used in this recipe are high in protein and packed with amino acids. If you are vegetarian, this is a great way to get your protein in. 

Black Gram Lentils, in addition to the protein, also help with increased energy and iron levels. They are rich in fiber that naturally aids digestion. The rich magnesium and folate levels in the black grams also help boost cardiovascular strength. 

Red Gram Lentils are a rich source of protein. The biological value improves greatly, when rice is combined with Red gram because of the complementary relationship of the essential amino acids. No wonder dhal chawal is so famous in India!  It is particularly rich in lysine, riboflavin, thiamine, niacin and iron.

Bengal Gram Lentils are also a rich source of protein and have a super low glycemic index. This makes it a great lentil if you are worried about blood sugar spikes after a meal. They are low in fat (most of that is poly unsaturated) and some recent studies show that they help lower cholesterol in the blood stream. They are also a good source of zinc, folate and phosphorous. 

Asafetida is used to stimulate appetite and digestion. It helps neutralize flatulence caused by beans and other legumes. Though there is very little published research in the West about asafetida, it has been used as a digestive aid, an anti-inflammatory herb and a bone builder for centuries in Indian and Iranian cooking. It also has been shown to contain natural blood thinners and reduce blood pressure. Certain strict vegetarian diets of India forbid the use of onions and garlic (like Tam Brams), and asafetida is used in their place for its distinct aroma.
Drumstick leaves are the most nutritious part of the plant, being a significant source of B vitaminsvitamin C, vitamin A as beta-carotenevitamin Kmanganese and proteinMuch of these vitamin functions as co-enzymes in carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism.The leaves are one of the fine sources of minerals like calcium, iron, copper, manganese,zinc, selenium, and magnesium. Iron alleviates anemia. Calcium is required for bone strengthening. Zinc plays a vital role in hair-growth, spermatogenesis, and skin health. In Ayurvedic medicine, the leaves are also believed to affect blood pressure and glucose levels in a positive way. Unbelievable! 

Curry leaf is an essential ingredient in Indian cooking especially in South India. However, it's customary for most of us to simply remove and throw the leaf from our food and not consume it. Well, we shouldn't be doing that! Curry leaf has many medicinal properties. It stimulates digestive enzymes and helps break down food more easily, especially when combined with asafetida. There is research that proves that when consumed regularly help with healthy hair growth, premature graying of hair and prevents hair fall. Curry leaves are also highly regarded for the fact that they have high quantities of iron, phosphorous, vitamin C and nicotinic present. Curry leaves are a good source of vitamin A and it is one of the most important components for maintaining good eyesight. Studies on curry leaves have shown that they can help in controlling the blood glucose levels. Years ago, thanks to a gift from my sister in law in Chicago, I started growing this at home. It is so much more aromatic and flavorful than the store bought or dried kinds.
You will probably now agree that this is a very nutritious, conscientious, low fuss addition to your diet and will certainly make your heart content if your children enjoy this! 


  1. Cannot be said better Akila. I eat it with another combination too. Molaga podi mixed well with curd. Try it !

  2. I did try it. Got Tara to eat. And thats all i have to say how good it is.

  3. I just loved this! Super easy to make and packed with nutrition! My picky-eater mom loved it too! Thank u for posting!