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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Elai vadam/steamed vadam

This is a traditional Iyengar special. It is also known as Thaligai vadaam (thaligai meaning cooking in Iyengars terms). Since it is made on leaf it is called ilai vadam. A time consuming dish but worth its effort. An all time favorite for all iyengars. I am sure atleast those in age fifty now, would have tasted it in their childhood. A dish dying into non-existence. I am glad the dried vadam is available for sale in places like Tamilnadu. But the sad part is it breaks to pieces in transportation. I heard in earlier days they used to sprinkle water on vadam and pack it when still moist and carry to other places. Not a bad idea, but it has to be dried again in shade or sunlight to use further.
More than anything it brings the memories of my mother making it every year. It used to be a custom to make it when the daughter in the family is pregnant. This is given as a safe food to consume during postpartum period. As this doesn't require to be dried in hot sun and specially not prepared during summer it can be prepared any time.
This can be consumed immediately after steaming and tastes great. But is not prepared  frequently like any other south Indian tiffin as it requires lot of preparation. My mother used to grind it smoothly in Ural/Aattu kallu (grinding stone) those days when electric grinder was not there. It will then be left to ferment for minimum two nights. For best taste the batter should be sour.
On the third day soaked sago, cumin and salt is added. The reason to add sago or even khus khus is, it will make the vadam pluff well when deep fried. The things to be kept ready are the steamer, plantain leaves. A traditional brass vessel for making vadam was available then. Then later my mom used to do it in a idli  vaanai (kadai) with a fitting colander inside it and using the lid of the idli kadai.
The batter is diluted to the required consistency and taken in small vessel in batches. A laddle (karandi) bigger than a spoon and smaller than the usual laddle is used for the purpose. The plantain leaves are washed and cut into exact pieces to fit into the idli kadai. Some such twenty pieces will be kept ready. A wet cloth to wipe it each time will also be kept ready. A spoonful of the batter will be poured on the leaf and it will be spread with the index finger to a circle. In fact the term used for this process is VADAAM EZHUDARDHU meaning "writing". The water in the steamer should be boiling hot. Then the leaf with batter is carefully placed on the colander (kept upside down to get the flat surface) and covered.
The time taken for the vadam to cook will be exactly the time taken to spread the next vadam on leaf.
One should be pretty fast in making this. After a while the water should be filled in the kadai. When the water is less there will be an indication on the vadam not being cooked properly. You can see the batter dried and white( we call it poriyardhu). The cooked / steamed vadam is removed from the leaf and put on a cloth spread near the kitchen counter itself. We used to have a big bamboo round tray. The moongil thattu is put up side down  and the vadaam placed on it. The vadam  wl be transparent and silk like a cloth with the lines of plantain on it. We used to help to remove the vadam from leaf so that mom can continue doing it. And other reason is the steamed leaf helps in vadam coming out better. The same leaf can be used for three to four times. As kids we used to wait for the vadam to tear, so that we can eat it. But my mom used to insist that it should be done carefully, as the efforts taken by her should serve the purpose by atleast some two hundred vadams to come in shape and dried and preserved for use for the whole year. Most of the time this is used for dinner as side dish with freshly made rasam.
Sutta vadam/roasted vadam and vepampoo rasam is the best combo. It is also considered as auspicious to fry vadam during festivals. Normally it goes well with Morkuzumbhu.
We used to wait for the last vessel of batter to be made. My mom used to make it special for just consuming soon after steaming. She used to add paste of green chillies. That used to taste yummy.
I now think why this cant be made as a breakfast in small quantity.
I put this into practice this June, to please my family with the forgotten dish. I soaked only a cup of rice and made this. The reason behind this was also because I had plantain leaves left over after a function. It is not common to see plantain tree in the backyard in city like Hyderabad. More over we need to go to a marketplace to fetch the plantain leaves. It is a rare commodity unlike Chennai. I remember my grandmother making my mother prepare this. Those were the days when vadam was made just because plantain leaves were left over and to make use of it,this dish was done. Kudos to the patience my mom had to obey and adhere to her mother's-in-law order.
I think I should give the recipe now. Thanks for the patience and time taken to read the above. It is a pleasure sharing the memories of childhood and the experience we had with our parents.
Here is the Indian spring-roll and a healthier version to Vietnamese rice paper wrapper. Can try with vegetable stuffing and substitute the deep fried chinese spring rolls.


500 gms
to taste
3 tsps
50 gms 
Khus Khus/poppy seeds can be replaced for cumin. Sago can be omitted if vadam is prepared just for consuming after steaming. Also green chilli paste can be added for spicy vadam if it is not going to be dried.
Need some six  Plantain leaves if they are big. Cut them to small squares. Pieces of leaves( Vazha Chimbi) are also available..

Soak rice minimum for 3 hours. Grind it very smooth and let it sit for fermenting for two nights.
Add salt. Soak sago and keep ready on the day the vadam is to be prepared.
Boil water in the steamer.
Add cumin to the batter just before making.
Mix the batter well and take in batches diluting as required.
Take a leaf and use the finger to spread the batter.
Spread well in thin layer in a circular motion on the leaf.
Place the leaf in the steamer and cover the lid.
By the time the second leaf is ready with batter the vadam wl be cooked.
Using the tip of your finger start to peel from the edge and the vadam will come out.
The reason for grinding the batter very smooth is to get an even layer when spread.
 When the first vadam is steamed you will make out. Can adjust the consistency of the batter accordingly.
It is easy to remove the steamed vadam from leaf. Since I did not dry them, I rolled it to make it easy to consume.
The steamed leaf can be used again and the vadam comes out easier than from the new leaf.

I am glad I could share this (though not planned for blogpost) as I had the pictures saved. Hope this will tempt a few to try. There is one more savoury snack, a signature recipe of my mother known as "PORI ARISI". (home made puffed rice) which I want to try soon.