Ready-made chips and packaged crunchy munchies were not handy back in the days... but, the love for such tidbits was always there. So, of course, there were so many ways to make fried chips and snacks at home, perfected and polished over a few centuries.
Vadaam and Appalam are two typical South Indian crunchy accompaniments to meals, so much so that many would consider a meal incomplete without these. Of these two, my favorite has always been Vadaams of various kinds.
Both Vadaam and Appalam can be made with rice or urad flours, maybe sago/tapioca sometimes. I remember my mom explaining the main difference between the two: Vadaam is when the batter is cooked, shaped, and then dried, whereas Appalam is when the dough is shaped and dried without cooking. Appalam is otherwise known as Pappadum or Pappad.
In blazing hot tropical summer days of my youth, my mom used to assign me the task of spreading spoonfuls of tapioca concoction spiced with lime and chilies on large plastic sheets laid out on the terrace floor. Scoops of steaming, gooey batter flattened into 2 or 3 inch circles bask under the sun for 2 or 3 days until they are bone-dry and ready to be stacked and stored in an airtight container.
When the mood called for it, we would take out a few of these stored dry discs and deep fry in oil to have scrumptious vadaams either for snack or as a meal side.
Adding flavors for these concoctions used to be a favorite experiment for my mom-- chilies and lime, of course, perhaps some crushed tomatoes, sesame seeds, cumin seeds, crushed black peppercorn... they were all so good.
The fun thing about vadaam is that they don't have to be flat discs, they can be star-shaped, even small balls as long as the batter can hold the shape and dry completely.
Anyway, of all of these, the simplest is the Arisi Vadaam - made out of rice flour. (Arisi = Rice), whereas the most relished is the Javvarisi vadaam made out of tapioca.
I recently got a brand new Vadaam Stand as a birthday present and was thrilled to use it to make my own vadaams!
Vadam Stand is one of those brilliant devices, like the Electrical Idlee Steamer that has made life so much easier for lazy cooks like me. Not to mention demystifying the process and allowing me to bring my childhood favorites to my children, one small batch at a time. And, this one folds down to be stowed away neatly, no fuss.
Soak a cup of brown rice overnight and grind to a fine thick scoop-able batter adding very little water (can always thin the batter to required consistency as needed). Of course, white rice should be fine as well.
Get the steamer ready - a large pot with a tight-fitting lid into which the Vadaam Stand can fit easily. And start some water boiling in it.
Thin the batter with water, just enough to be able to spread it, almost like crepe batter. Add flavoring ingredients -- cumin seeds, chili paste, sesame seeds, salt to taste.
Spread the batter in a thin layer, on each of the plates of the vadaam stand apparatus. Stack them up carefully and assemble for steaming.
Steam for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Lay out the plates to cool just a bit.
Peel each cooked rice batter rounds carefully and lay on a plastic sheet under the sun to dry completely.
Repeat the process in batches till all the batter is used up. 1 cup raw rice made into batter yields about 30 vadaams roughly 3 inches in diameter.
Since we don't get much sun around these parts, I laid them out on cookie sheets and left them in a 190°F oven for about 30 to 45 minutes or until they seemed completely dry. The time and temperature will need to be experimented with. And if left for too long they curl up and crumble easily.
Store them in an airtight container until ready to fry.
Of course, being allergic to deep frying, I "fry" the vadaams in the microwave -- i.e., heat it up till it cooks through. Again, depending on power settings of microwave and size of vadaam, it takes anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute to "fry" up a small batch of 5 or 6 vadaams at a time, no oil needed.
I'll have to work on better pictures next time... poor natural lighting is my excuse for being sloppy with the pics this time.