I was in Rajahmundry, a town on the banks of the mighty Godavari River – the widest river I have ever seen – in Andhra Pradesh. It was lunchtime and I was desperately hungry. Someone thought that I should try a Mess. That suggested a military set-up, but it turned out to be nothing of the kind, though the name may have originated there in British times.
Andhra messes are places to eat local food very cheaply. The one I went into was in a basement, dark and sad. But the food was vegetarian, clean and excellent. For 50 rupees (65 pence) I got two types of rice, one plain and one Tomato Rice (see page 164), vegetables cooked in buttermilk, a jackfruit curry, two dals, including Sambar (see page 150) as well as Rasam (see page 315), a spicy drink, some chutneys and yoghurt relishes and this Cabbage Vepadu.
Vepadus are fried or stir-fried dishes. Crisp, fried foods are a basic part of every south Indian meal, as crunchy foods are considered an essential texture. Sometimes just a poppadom will do, but here we actually had two such dishes – these cabbage fritters and crispy, mesh-like squares made with potato.
All this was served on what looked like metal thalis (plates) that were gold on the outside and silver on the inside. They were actually made out of a thin foil that initially had to be anchored to the table with a glass of water as the fan just blew them away. At the end of the meal they were crumpled up and thrown away, just as banana leaves might have been in earlier times.
Serve these fritters as part of a meal, as a snack, or as a first course with a chutney.
Cabbage Fritters Cabbage Vepadu
½ head of cabbage
(about 450 g/1 lb)
1 tablespoon cornflour
3 tablespoons chickpea flour
(besan or gram flour),
plus more as needed
1 teaspoon salt
½–¾ teaspoon chilli powder
2 teaspoons ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
handful of raw peanuts, with or without skin (optional)
8–10 fresh curry leaves, shredded
handful of fresh coriander tops, well washed, dried and chopped
olive or peanut oil, for deep-frying
The fritters have a spidery look when fried, with wild strands sticking out from a more solid centre. To achieve this, the cabbage has to be cut by hand. Cut the cabbage in half lengthways, and in half again. Remove the hard core. Now set a piece down on one of its flat sides and, using a bread knife, cut its other flat side lengthways into the finest long shreds you can manage, the thinner, the better. Do the same with the other sections of the cabbage. Put all the cabbage shreds into a bowl. Add all the remaining ingredients, except the oil. Using your hands (you can wear plastic gloves if you wish), rub all the seasonings and flours into the cabbage. If you fry the fritters immediately, (this is best), you will not need more chickpea flour. If you wait, the cabbage will weep and get watery, so you might need to rub in 1–2 more tablespoons of flour (making the fritters denser).
Put the oil for frying in a wok or medium frying pan and set over a medium-low heat. When hot enough, a cabbage shred placed in the oil should sizzle immediately. Using your hand and a light touch, pick up a tablespoon or so of the cabbage mixture, keeping it flat rather than ball-like. Carefully lower it into the oil. Repeat, adding as many fritters as the pan will hold easily. Fry, turning now and then, for 5–6 minutes, or until golden red, crisp and cooked all the way through.
Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a tray lined with kitchen paper.
Make all the fritters this way, adjusting the heat as needed.
Extracted from Curry Easy Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey (Ebury Press, £26).
Photography by Jonathan Gregsonby