South India, especially Tamil Nadu, has a culture of drying vegetables, mixtures of lentils and spices, and pastes made from rice, sago and similar. This is sensible of course – it preserves summer produce for use throughout the year, and thus in leaner seasons they extend freshly available ingredients and provide additional taste and texture.
The three terms are used interchangeably, strictly speaking:
- Vathal (Vatral) are dried vegetables and fruits that can be used in cooked dishes such as sambar and kuzhambu, and can often be used as a snack or side dish. They can be ground with spices and lentils to make spice mixes called podis. Ofthen they are fried or toasted before use. They can be made from Turkey Berry (Sundakkai or Pea Eggplant), Cluster bean, Green Mango, Okra, Eggplant, Potato, Pumpkin, Capsicum, Chillies and other vegetables.
Vathal are made by drying vegetables or mangoes, often after soaking in salt and perhaps turmeric. Sometimes the vegetables are also soaked in buttermilk with salt until the vegetable absorbs the flavours. Curd Chillies from South India are an example of the latter method.
- Vadagam are dried balls composed of lentils and spices.
- Vadam is a paste or dough made from rice, sago etc that is dried and then fried before using. Also called Fryums.
These are made on rooftop terraces in Summer. In India, the sun is a plentiful resource and is used to dry Vathal, Vadagam and Vadam. In other countries, assistance is required and they can be dried in a slow oven or a dehydrator can produce good results.
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