Pigeon Pea Fritters with a Yogurt-Tomato Sauce

Updated February 23, 2016
This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

This combination of fritter and sauce, referred to as vadai-pachadi in Tamil-speaking kitchens, is an absolute must for weddings and auspicious religious functions. The yellow split peas, left whole but soaked until tender, provide a delicious crunch to these spicy fritters.

If you don’t wish to fry them all, keep the remaining uncooked patties, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days; or store them in resealable freezer bags in the freezer for up to 1 month. Partially thaw them before frying, and keep them in the hot oil for a few extra minutes to make sure the center cooks.

Cooking Methodfrying


Total Timeunder 1 hour

Make Ahead RecipeYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Cocktail Party

Recipe Courseappetizer, hors d'oeuvre, side dish

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, kosher, low cholesterol, low saturated fat, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free, vegetarian

Equipmentdeep fryer


Taste and Texturecrisp, crunchy, hot & spicy, spiced, tart


  • 1 cup oily or unoily skinned split yellow pigeon peas (toovar dal), picked over for stones
  • 3 or 4 dried red Thai or cayenne chiles, to taste, stems removed
  • ¼ cup yellow split peas (chana dal), picked over for stones, soaked in hot water for 30 minutes and drained
  • ¼ cup finely chopped red onion
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
  • 1½ teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground asafetida
  • Canola oil for deep-frying
  • 1 cup plain nonfat yogurt
  • ½ teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon black or yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 medium-size tomato, cored and finely chopped
  • 1 or 2 fresh green Thai, cayenne, or serrano chiles, to taste, stems removed, finely chopped (do not remove the seeds)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems


  1. Place the pigeon peas in a medium-size bowl. Fill the bowl halfway with water and rinse the peas by rubbing them between your fingertips. The water will become cloudy. Drain this water. Repeat three or four times, until the water remains relatively clear; drain. Now fill the bowl halfway with warm water and add the chiles to the peas. Allow the peas and chiles to soften by letting them sit at room temperature, covered, for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.

  2. Drain the pigeon peas and chiles, transfer them to a food processor, and process to form a red-speckled, slightly gritty paste. Scrape this paste into a medium-size bowl. Fold in the yellow split peas, onion, cilantro, salt, and asafetida, forming a paste that looks like wet sand.

  3. Grease your palms with a little cooking oil or spray. Take a heaping tablespoon of the paste and shape it into a tight round ball. Press the ball between the palms of your hands to form a patty roughly 1½ inches in diameter and ½ inch thick. Lay it on a plate or tray. Repeat with the remaining paste. You should end up with about 25 patties.

  4. Pour oil to a depth of 2 to 3 inches into a wok, Dutch oven, or medium-size saucepan. Heat the oil over medium heat until a candy or deep-fry thermometer inserted into the oil (without touching the pan’s bottom) registers 350°F. (An alternative way to see if the oil is at the right temperature for deep-frying is to gently flick a drop of water over it. If the pearl-like drop skitters across the surface, the oil is ready.)

  5. Line a large plate or a cookie sheet with several layers of paper towels. Once the oil is ready, gently slide 8 patties into the pan (do not crowd the pan). Fry, turning them occasionally, until they are caramel-brown and crisp on both sides, about 5 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon and place them on the paper-towel-lined plate to drain. Repeat until all the patties are fried. You may need to adjust the heat to maintain the oil’s temperature at 350°F.

  6. To make the sauce, whisk the yogurt, salt, and ¼ cup water together in a medium-size bowl.

  7. Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds, cover the skillet, and wait until the seeds have stopped popping (not unlike popcorn), about 30 seconds. Immediately add the tomato, chiles, and cilantro. Cook, uncovered, until the tomato has broken down and formed a chunky sauce, 2 to 4 minutes. Stir this spicy sauce into the watered-down yogurt.

  8. Place 2 fritters on each individual serving plate, and cover each one with a heaping teaspoon of the tart-hot, mustard-spiked yogurt sauce.


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