Growing up in Bombay as a child of two working parents, I practically grew up in my neighbor’s house. My neighbors were an elderly couple, who lived with three of their grown kids. I used to call the woman of the house 'paati', which means grandma in my language. But some of the neighborhood kids used to refer to her as 'ajji', which is grandma in Marathi, the local language. So after much discussion and contention, we all agreed to call her 'paati-ajji' one day, and the name just stuck. I still like to think of this as a victory on my part, since 'paati' precedes 'ajji' in the final name, but who's keeping count, right! The real victory, as anyone who knew her would agree, were the delicacies that her kitchen would churn out, especially during festive seasons. Looking back, I realize that a lot of my food preferences have been influenced by the time I spent with “paati-ajji”. Whether it was the dried dates that I used to reportedly steal from her pantry, or the sweet modaks that I would selectively eat during festival seasons, I have so many memories of lazy weekday afternoons spent dunking dry rusks into weak tea at her house, while I waited for my parents to return home.
One of 'paati-ajji’s' specialties was Sabudana Vada. These were small fritters made with tapioca or sago pearls with potatoes, cumin, and peanuts and were commonly consumed during “fasting” periods. To me, these delicacies generally signal a feast, rather than a fast, but apparently, the ingredients that form this dish are all “allowed” foods during a fast, as per Hindu tradition -- and I, personally, am not one to argue with tradition.
I recently decided to give this recipe a try during the festive season of Diwali. They were surprisingly easy to make and absolutely delectable. I fried them up in small bite-sized pieces rather than the traditional larger patty shape, and served them with good ol’ fashioned tomato ketchup (Heinz, of course). They remind me of Italian arancini, but in my opinion, they are far tastier with their predictably crisp exterior, and soft flavorful centers. So go ahead and try this recipe, the next time you want to impress for less.
11/2 C Sago/Tapioca pearls (sabudana) , available at Indian grocery stores
3 potatoes such as Yukon Gold, boiled and mashed
1 C roasted peanuts, coarsely ground
3-6 hot green chilies such as Serrano, chopped
4 T fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
2 T cumin seeds
2 T lemon juice
Salt to taste
Vegetable/Canola oil for deep frying
Mix all ingredients together, add salt to taste, and shape either into flattened discs of ~1.5” diameter or into popcorn-sized bites, as pictured here.
Heat oil until a small piece of this sabudana mixture, when dropped into the oil, floats up immediately.
Deep fry the bites, turning, until golden brown.
Drain on paper and serve hot with ketchup or coriander chutney.
These did remain crispy for several hours, so you could make these ahead of time for a party. The unfried mix also stores well in the fridge for a few days.