Rejoice, whisky people, Indian Home Cooking Week is at an end.
As for those of you who have been following and enjoying these recipes, and possibly looking forward to them, you might recall that I’d promised chapatis, parathas and pickles for the last post, and here I am with only chapatis and parathas. This is how life is. Also, the post will get way too long if I write up the pickle recipes as well and so I’m going to save those for a future post. Stop whining! I’ve already given you so much!
First, a tedious autobiographical detour!
When I first got to the US (in the early 1990s) it used to be very jarring to my ears to hear Americans refer to things such as naans and tandoori rotis as breads. It is not in fact wrong to do so; it’s just that for most English speaking Indians “bread” is the word for that thing what comes in loaves, sliced or unsliced and everything else has its own name. If I would have stopped to think about it back then I would have realized that in many Indian languages the generic word for most of these “breads”, loaved or otherwise, is also the same: roti (in Hindi) or ruti (in Bengali); and it is even used in the same metonymic way as bread is used in English to refer to food and sustenance in general. So, two decades later I would like to apologize to all my American friends who I looked at like they were crazy for ordering bread with their chicken tikka masala. But enough with my fascinating memoirs.
Just as there are many kinds of dals there are many kinds of breads eaten in India. I will name just some of them here: chapatis, parathas, puris, luuchis, bhaturas, naans, rumali rotis etc. Many of these have subsets and variations, regional and otherwise, and most of them are beyond my ability as a cook: I am just not very good with dough and a rolling pin. In fact, until recently I would have said they were all beyond my ability. However, on our most recent trip to India my boys enjoyed chapatis and parathas so much that I decided to get better at making them.
It turns out that application and regular practice are sort of important. It also turns out that if you make a good dough the rest becomes very easy. And at the risk of immodesty I can now say that I make pretty good chapatis and parathas. This makes me very happy, largely because my boys are always very excited when I ask if they’d like some for lunch or dinner; but also because these staples of the north Indian table are for some reason also beyond the capability of seemingly almost every Indian restaurant kitchen in the United States—you have to go pretty downmarket to find decent ones. (I’ve bemoaned before the state of affairs that leads to Malaysian restaurants in the Twin Cities producing far better parathas than Indian restaurants.) This is really rather sad: if I can make decent chapatis and parathas so should the professionals be able to make decent chapatis and parathas. Okay, let’s make some chapatis and parathas.
The good news: you use the same dough to make both. The bad news: I only got good at making the dough well when I stopped bothering with set ratios of flour and water and just went by feel. Now back to the good news: it only takes a couple of tries to get a feel for it and flour is cheap. But you can’t use just any flour: you have to go to a South Asian store and buy aata (Golden Temple and Sujata are good brands); well, “aata” is how it is pronounced; for some reason these companies all transliterate it as “atta”. And I have even more good news: it is a type of whole wheat flour so you can feel extra virtuous.
- 2 cups aata (enough for 8-10 chapatis and 4-6 parathas, depending on size)
- Enough water to make a smooth dough
- Ghee (optional for chapatis, necessary for parathas)
- For alu/potato parathas:1 large potato, boiled and mashed and then mixed with 1 tablespoon minced onion, a pinch of red chilli powder, salt, a pinch of minced cilantro, 1/4 tspn minced thai chilli (optional) and a pinch of amchur (dried mango powder, optional). This is enough for at least 2 thickly stuffed alu parathass.
- For anda/egg parathas: 1 egg beaten, with salt and, optionally, minced onion, cilantro and green chilli. This is enough for two anda parathas
I am going to go entirely with an illustrated guide here. Please click on the first image to launch a slideshow with detailed instructions.
- Don’t worry if you add a little too much water to the flour—just keep kneading and sprinkle on some extra flour a bit at a time if it seems to be staying too sticky. I find it easier going if I have excess water to begin with it than if I have excess flour.
- Your chapatis are likely to puff well if they’re thin. Don’t flip them more than once on the hot pan before putting them on the burner.
- A triangle is the easiest shape for a paratha. But whatever shape you roll, you don’t want it to be too thick but you also don’t want it to be too thin as then you won’t get the flaky layers.
- If you don’t have ghee you can sub olive oil when smearing the parathas.
- For both chapatis and parathas, but especially chapatis, you need to regulate how hot your pan gets.
- In the penultimate picture in the slideshow you see a badly sealed ball of stuffed dough for alu parathas. A badly sealed ball will split in the center when you roll it out finally, making it very hard to flip the paratha on the pan. You can also see how much larger the ball with the filling should be than the original ball.
- The perfect alu paratha, in my view, is one with a lot of filling: the dough still holds the paratha together well but there are sections where the “connective tissue” seems to be all mashed potato. It can take some practice to get to the point where you can roll and flip such parathas with ease—it certainly did for me. You can start out with smaller amounts of filling and gradually use more and more filling till you’re feeling confident enough.
- Once you’ve got the alu paratha down you can move on to other fillings: daikon, cauliflower, paneer, keema. I’ve not done any of these yet myself so can’t give you tips beyond what I know: the stuffing needs to be cool and all the moisture needs to be squeezed out of it before you place it in the dough and roll.
- Chapatis and plain parathas can be eaten in place of rice in a regular meal (as you are probably used to doing with naans). When I know I am going to be eating parathas instead of rice I’ll usually make a chicken/meat curry with far less gravy/sauce than I otherwise would.
- Stuffed parathas are usually eaten as their own thing, and usually for breakfast or brunch. Serve with a pickle and a bowl of yogurt or raita.
Well, thank you for following along/putting up with this week of recipes. We’ll be back to normal programming next week, but you can expect more recipes again soon. Let me know if there are genres you are particularly interested in. Note: it is pointless asking me for recipes for most of what is served in Indian restaurants; also pointless to ask me for recipes for dosas, idlis etc.