My wife is from Southern India, and she’s a great cook, but rarely has the time. So when she’s craving a taste of home, it usually ends up being Adai. And now I’ve learned to cook them too! Adai are tasty, nourishing, and inexpensive; balanced plant protein that’s quick and inexpensive, gluten-free and toddler-friendly. In some parts of India, it’s not uncommon to eat adai seven days a week.

But what are they? A savory pancake crossed with a fritter. An unleavened rice-and-lentil bread cooked on a griddle. One relative says, “like omelets – without the eggs.” Another calls them “Indian latkes.” While you could eat them with a fork and knife, you really should use your hands. (And for the grammarians, it should be pointed out that adai is both the singular and plural).

Adai are most often eaten for breakfast, with melting pats of butter and a generous sprinkling of sweet jaggery. (And if you think spicy lentils with butter and sugar sounds weird, I say don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!) Other times, (and this is how we eat them), they’re a savory dinner, alongside veggies (maybe raw sliced tomatoes in summer, or a quick spiced spinach in winter), a dollop of yogurt, and a chutney or spicy relish.

Serves around 4

Approx 1 cup raw rice (see note below)Approx 1 cup raw lentils or soft beans (see below)
½-1 C coarsely chopped cilantro½-1 C finely chopped purple onion
½-1 C grated carrot or other “dry” vegetable1-inch piece fresh ginger
raw sesame oil or other oil for griddling1 pinch Hing (asafetida
1 tsp – 1 Tbsp, salt or to taste2-5 fresh green or dry red chiles, optional

First, let’s talk about your rice and lentil choices. Some recipes specify six different kinds of lentil in precise proportions, or 3 kinds of rice. We’re not so exacting in our house, and you don’t need to be either. This is a very forgiving, very adaptable dish! We tend to use brown rice (or even alternate grains like oats, millet, or quinoa), but you can use white rice if you want a lighter pancake. We use whatever Indian lentil is lying around. But pigeon peas (toor dal), mung beans (moong dal) and red lentils (masoor dal) are regulars in the rotation. You can also use harder beans like chick peas, if you give them a long enough soak. Have fun. Play with proportions. It’s hard to get Adai wrong.

1. At room temp, soak rice, lentils, ginger, salt, Hing, and optional chilis in enough water to cover by 3 inches, at least three hours, up to 12. Add a pinch of cumin, turmeric, garlic, curry leaves, if you want.

2. Drain, then grind to a coarse paste (a blender will do), adding back just enough water. You want it thicker than American pancake batter; a smidge thinner than hummous.

3. Once you’ve ground your batter, mix in your cilantro, onion, and vegetables. But don’t blend them. Taste for salt.

4. Using a ladle, scoop about ½ cup batter onto a medium-hot, oiled griddle, then spread into a circle using the convex side of ladle. It’s okay if the Adai looks a little spiraled — it isn’t meant to be smooth and the same thickness throught. To truly master the art, leave a hole in the middle the size of a nickel, and then put a tiny drizzle of oil in it, so the middle-hole sizzles up crispy! You can also spread droplets of oil around the edges to make them crispy, too.

5. Flip after 2 or 3 minutes. Serve after another 2 minutes. Serve hot.