Growing up, we had a friend called S. She would visit us in the holidays and pester us to entertain her…apparently it was our duty. She would arrive very early in the morning and wake us up. She would then ask us to make her holidays fun…we were none too impressed. We would have to walk her to the video store and pick up movies that she liked, we had to eat food she approved of and then we had to do the ‘fun’ activities she wanted to do. This story has a happy ending, she grew out of most of her annoyingness and became a very dear friend. When she visited she would always ask my mum to make those “swirly” things, as she called them. What they really were were Panni Walalu or as we called them Unduwel.
Growing up, my cousins and I would crowd around the fire that Yaso nenda (the old family cook) would set up, behind the kitchen, at my grandparents place. We’d sit on our haunches as she expertly poured the fermented dough out of an old pillowcase, with a neatly sewn hole, into a vat of hot oil. When fried, she’d transfer them to a large pot of treacle and then finally out of the treacle into a pot with a lid for storage. My cousins and I would wait for that pivotal moment and then slowly tax the treats one at a time. Sneak them out one at a time until we were thoroughly sick or in trouble with our parents.
My mum is famous for making these and makes them for special family events and for Sinhalese New Year. The original recipe came from a family friend and in typical mum fashion she’s made it her own.
- 1 cup urid dhal
- 1 cup fine rice flour
- 1 bottle (don’t worry you won’t use all of it) kithul treacle
- 2 tbsp. brown sugar
- pinch of salt
- oil for deep frying
Rinse and soak the dhal overnight in plenty of water.
In the morning place the drained dhal into a blender or food processor and add just enough water to make it into a smooth paste. We made sure to add the water a little at a time, the object being to make the mixture as thick as possible.
When blended add the 1 cup of fine rice flour, mix and leave in a warm spot to rise for at least 6 hours.You want this mixture to have the consistency of a thick cake or muffin batter. It should hold it’s shape when you spoon it. If it’s coolish, winter weather I will put the oven on a warm setting, cover the dough with a damp cloth and place in there for a short while.
After six hours, heat a frying pan with about 2 inches of oil. In a separate pan warm a cup of kithul treacle, the sugar and salt. You can replace the brown sugar with palm sugar if you have it. Once the sugars have melted turn the heat off. For the purposes of absorption this mixture must be hot but never boiling. I watch the syrup and gently turn the heat on when it’s getting too thick. If it’s too thick the unduwel won’t absorb the sweet syrup.
When it is brown and crispy you pick it up and place it into the hot treacle mixture. The best tool for doing this is a skewer or chopstick. You can thread the unduwel on with out damaging them and they’re perfect for holding over a pan to let the excess syrup drip off.
You can see the hot treacle seeping in. Once it has been sitting there for a couple of minutes move it out of the treacle and onto a plate.
Keeps for a few days in an airtight container but best eaten hot, fresh and crispy.