Indian food has intimidated me more than any other cuisine. Only recently have I begun to experiment with it, but I’m still completely overwhelmed with the vast amount of things I don’t know about: there are ingredients I’ve never heard of, approximately one hundred bajillion types of lentils (I counted), endless variations on dishes between regions of India, culinary traditions that vary from family to family, and a number of different languages used to describe all these things. I could spend my entire life studying Indian food and always be learning something new.
The good news is I don’t have to know everything to start making dinner. Thank god.
When it comes to cooking, there’s no better place for me to learn than in the kitchen with someone who knows what’s what. A few months ago, I had the opportunity to learn a bit about Indian cooking at the home of my husband’s boss, Nars. Nars and his family are from India, and they graciously invited us over for dinner, allowing us to hang out in the kitchen and learn how to make the dishes we would be eating. It was an invaluable experience for me, and today I want to share with you some of what I learned that night.
Flatbreads are common in India, with numerous variations. There’s roti, puri, parathas, chapatti, naan, bhakri, bhatoora, papadum… I’m sure the list goes on. Today I’m going to show you how to make parathas, both plain and stuffed with spiced potatoes. Parathas are my favorite — they’re flavorful, easy to make, easy to customize, and they go with a lot of different main dishes.
The first thing you’ll need is the right kind of flour. It’s often referred to “duram atta.” It’s a combination of stone-ground wheat and regular flour that’s perfect for roti, chapatti, and parathas. The brand I use is Golden Temple. Once you have the flour, you’re set. Here’s the recipe for the dough:
Makes 8 parathas
1 Cup Golden Temple Flour (duram atta)
1/3 — 1/2 Cup Water
1/2 tsp Salt
2-3 tsp Oil
Combine all the ingredients in a medium sized mixing bowl. Depending on the humidity in your area and how compacted your flour is, you’ll need anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 cup of water. Add 1/3 cup first, adding more water if needed. Your goal is to achieve a soft, elastic dough after about 5 minutes of kneading. It shouldn’t be sticky, but smooth. I don’t sift my flour, so my “1 cup” tends to be a heavy one, and I use 1/2 cup of water to get the dough consistency I like the best. Keep in mind that a softer dough will yield more tender bread, but may be harder to control. After kneading, the dough should look like the image above.
Break the dough up into 8 equal pieces, rolling into balls. Set in a small, oiled bowl and cover with some oiled plastic wrap. Let the dough balls rest for as long as you can – 30 minutes up to a few hours. This allows the gluten to relax. If you’re making aloo parathas, begin making the potato mixture now.
For 8 Parathas
2 Medium Potatoes
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Garam Masala
1/2 tsp Cumin Seeds
1/4 tsp Turmeric
1/4 tsp Red Chili Flakes
5 Sprigs of Cilantro, chopped
Peel, chop and boil potatoes until fork tender. Drain well. Use a ricer or food mill to mash potatoes. This ensures there are no lumps in your potatoes that could break the dough while stuffing the parathas. Add in the remaining ingredients and mix well. Form 8 balls the same size (or smaller) as your dough balls, cover, and set aside.
Now for the fun part! It’s time to stuff and roll out the dough. Before you start, heat your pan up and get your workspace ready. Choose a pan that heats quickly and evenly, has a non-stick surface, a wide, flat bottom and low sides. It ideal pan for this is usually seasoned iron. The traditional pan is called a tawa, but a crepe pan, pancake pan, or cast-iron skillet works just as well. For your workspace, you’ll need a bowl full of flour, a cutting board or other flat surface for rolling out the dough, and a small rolling pin called a Belan. (Or do what I did and use a clean, label-less beer bottle.)
Heat your pan over medium heat with a very light coating of oil.
Place the paratha on your heated pan. You’ll see the dough begin to change color (it gets slightly yellow and dry-looking), and then, with any luck, it’ll puff up! Once it puffs up, check the bottom–if you see scattered brown dots, flip the paratha over. Oil the cooked side of the paratha lightly. Cook the second side until it looks like the first, flip it again, and oil it. Your paratha should be finished cooking in 1-2 minutes, and should not look raw when it’s done. Keep warm in a tortilla heater, or in a low oven on a covered plate.
Do you want to make plain parathas? I got you covered. There are two ways I was taught to fold the parathas to make sure they’re tender and flakey. Follow the link below for step-by-step photos of both techniques!
Roll out the triangle to about 6″ and follow the cooking instructions in the main recipe above. To ensure your paratha stays tender, you must “break” it when it comes off the pan. Simply crumple it a bit, like your crumpling a piece of paper to throw away. I know people who do this with their bare hands, but I recommend using a towel to prevent burning yourself. Don’t “break” stuffed parathas.
Follow the cooking instructions in the main recipe above. To ensure your paratha stays tender, you must “break” it when it comes off the pan. Simply crumple it a bit, like your crumpling a piece of paper to throw away. I know people who do this with their bare hands, but I recommend using a towel to prevent burning yourself. Don’t “break” stuffed parathas.
You can roll out the next paratha while the last one is cooking, just keep glancing over at the stove to see if it has puffed yet. Rolling the dough out in one of these two ways creates layers in the dough that make for a tender, flakey finished product. Every time I make parathas they get better, so don’t be distressed if they don’t come out right the first couple of times. They take practice. Keep at it, and they’ll keep improving, I promise. They are best eaten immediately, but you can refrigerate them and re-heat them in your pan the same way you cooked them. Good luck and have fun!