September 13, 2012
It took me years to realize -- I'm just not that kind of mom.
The seemingly cool mom who manages to whip up pancakes at my kids' whim. The one who has a special pancake flavor for every special occasion, and an even more special one stacked to the sky for that first day of school.
Many of my friends ARE that mom. Not me.
For one, we rarely had pancakes growing up that were not burned or over cooked (sorry, mom). Two, most of the breakfasts enjoyed in a North Indian household are savory not sweet. And, three, I don't relish the thought of starting my kids off with a sweet all-purpose flour batter loaded with even sweeter syrup ahead of a day where they will have their share of sweets and simple carbs anyway. (There are healthier ways to make pancakes..I'll save that for another post, though.)
Instead, I make paranthas. In North India, no breakfast is complete without at least one. And, rarely does anyone leave the table having eaten just that one.
The concept behind a parantha is simple. It's a roti filled with a stuffing. Don't know what a roti is? No surprise. In this country the plethora of Indian restaurants with their tandoori ovens has led us to believe that naan is the bread of choice in Indian homes. Not the case. No home that I know of has a tandoori oven, and no Indian-American I know makes naan, a leveaned bread, on a regular basis. The first time I even tried naan was when one of the first Indian restaurant opened in Philadelphia back in the 1980s.
We instead make roti - a simple flat bread made from whole wheat flour and water. Almost like a tortilla. And much healthier than naan - which is typically made of all-purpose flour and other adds including in some recipes eggs and yogurt. It's delicious - don't get me wrong - but don't be fooled into thinking that Indians eat this type of bread, which can be high in fat and calories, on a daily basis.
The utter beauty of the roti is that it's a bare canvas for you to decorate as you will. Of course, have it plain when paired with a flavorful dinner. But, eat it alone and you'll want to spice it up a bit. The most popular paranthas, or stuffed rotis, include aloo (spicy potatoes), gobi (cauliflower), and mooli (daikon).
Since my kids have been born, however, I've been mixing in anything and everything. Basically, making them paranthas that are not only fun to eat (they can roll them up and take them to go in the car), but nutritious. I load mine up with everything from chopped spinach, flax seed, almond milk, cooked lentils, to now tofu and almond meal.
The idea for a high-protein parantha came from my mom. She was visiting from Philadelphia, and thought we needed to get my girls to eat just a little more to make sure they are getting their daily nutrition. She decided to try the almond and tofu combination to 'fatten' them up a bit.
It actually worked. (The fattening up part remains to be seen.) The paranthas held together beautifully - at once soft and delicious - and my girls literally gobbled them up. They even requested 'nani's paranthas' the next morning. Leading me to relegate the pancakes to dessert!
3 cups chapati flour*
1 cup almond meal**
1 14 oz. package firm or extra firm, organic tofu (crumble by hand)
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
2 teaspoons carom seeds (ajwain)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/4 - 1/2 cup water
Process until the ingredients roughly combine. Be patient. This sometimes takes a little bit of patience. I often turn the food processor off, mix the ingredients a bit with a spoon, and then process again. Keep going until you have a coarse mixture. This mixing process is traditionally done by hand in a large mixing bowl. The food processor alleviates the messiness that kept many of us Indian daughters and daughter-in-laws from making roti regularly. With the food processor you won't alleviate all the mess, but at least it makes it a little easier.
2. At this point you want to add in the water. Do it slowly, processing, and then adding more water. The amount of water you use will correspond with the type of flour you are using. I find the finer ground the flour, the more water you'll add. Just keep processing and remember to write down the exact amount of water you end up using for the next time. If you really want to get creative, sub the water with other more nutrient dense ingredients like milk (dairy, soy, almond, hemp, etc.). The point is to get this mixture to come together and look like a ball - like pizza dough. Soft, but firm to the touch.
You need to be able to roll it in your hands and roll it out with a rolling pin. Also remember there really is no way to get this process wrong. If you find that you have added too much water and your mixture is too soft, just add a little more flour. If it's too dry, add more water a tablespoon at a time.
I usually take it out of the food processor, put it into a large bowl, roll up my sleeves and get my aggressions out. I knead it the old fashioned way, pushing down on it with my knuckles and working it until it's a ball that almost looks like pizza dough. The yellow is me making a mistake and leaving the turmeric out until I realized I'd forgotten it and then added it towards the end. Obviously it would have all blended in better if it was added in the beginning like the recipe call for you to do.
3. At this point, you get to roll these puppies out. I know! I know! It's not the easy part but it's really not as bad as you imagine it's going to be. Put some dry flour in a small salad plate next to your work station, take out a rolling pin and get ready to roll!
6. Now the trick that my dadi (grandmother) taught me. Flatten this ball with your hand, and keep flattening it against the palms of your hands with your finger. (Insert imaginary video!) This step is key to get a head start to perfectly round rotis and paranthas.
7. Now take it and roll it out with a rolling pin - to about 5 1/2 inches in diameter. The key here is to flour it lightly so that it does not stick to your surface, but not to flour it so much that it will dry out when cooking. This takes a little practice. Don't worry - you'll get it. I often pick it up, dip it lightly in flour, turn it over, and then roll it out again. The trick is if you put a little more pressure on one side of the rolling pin and the parantha or roti has enough flour on it, it will rotate on its own and will automatically become round. It takes years to perfect this. Not to worry. Even a roti the shape of Texas will taste delicious.
8. Now you're ready to cook this up! Typically, we use a tava, a flat griddle. Any will do. I have a thick Calphalon griddle that I've had for 13 years and love. Just make sure your pan is thick enough that it can take the heat.
9. Heat your pan on medium high. Once it's hot, carefully pass the uncooked parantha from one hand to another. The goal here is to make sure all the dry flour falls off. You want to get as much of it off as possible. Place it onto your pan.
10. For perfection every time...let it sit for ONLY 30 seconds, and immediately flip it. I know, it's not cooked yet. But doing this makes delicious and moist paranthas for some reason. They will only be slightly cooked at this point. Cook it again for another 30 seconds and flip again.
11. Now..here's a little trick. Take a balled up dry paper towel or dishcloth, and press down on this cooking roti or parantha. It will start to fill slightly with steam, which is what cooks your bread. Flip it and do the same on the other side, being careful not to overcook it. Once a golden brown on both side, transfer to a plate and lightly butter. I use soy or olive oil 'butter'. You can also use Flaxseed oil.
12. Once you cook another, lightly butter it as well and put the butter sides facing one another. So that you stack your bread with two facing one another. This way one side of your bread never touches the butter and remains dry and easy to handle.
A few tricks: You want your pan hot but not so hot that as soon as you put your bread down it cooks and hardens. To monitor your heat level, just take that pan and put it on an unused burner while you roll your next roti or parantha out. Also, as you cook, the dry flour that falls off your parantha will collect and cook on your pan. It will burn and blacken. After 2-3 paranthas, just take a cloth and clean that pan off over your sink. Just be careful not to burn yourself. You just want to get that excess flour off and out.
13. You can stack these breads, wrap them in a paper towel or clean dishcloth. I usually put them in tinfoil as well, and then refrigerate them for up to a week. They are easy to heat up on the stovetop or a toaster oven. You can also freeze them cooked for up to three months. I also sometimes take the uncooked dough, cut it into four portions, and store it in the fridge and/or freezer for the same amounts of time to pull out and have fresh roti or parantha any time.
So, so delicious served up with some 'butter' and Indian pickle (achaar).
*Don't fret. Chapati is another word for roti, which is also sometimes called phulka. The flour is found at any Indian grocery store. It can come 100 percent whole wheat (what you want) and a mixture of whole wheat with all-purpose (yuck, why bother?). The key is that the wheat used to make chapati flour is different from that used in the West. It's highly milled and is usually a durum wheat or whole white wheat. The wheat used in the West is a hard red variety and so can taste a bit more bitter. If you can't find chapati flour then use 100 percent whole white wheat pastry flour OR combine 2 cups of regularly found whole wheat flour with all-purpose flour. But, chapati flour is the best, and can easily be found in any Indian grocer AND some Whole Foods, like the one in Manhattan at the Bowery where I teach.
** You can make your own almond meal by simply processing raw, uncooked almonds in a high-powered blender. OR .. go to Trader Joe's and purchase it by the bag. I was shocked to see it there, and really excited they sell it by the bag. I'm sure other grocers will have it too.
I hope you'll try these at home. They are hands down delicious. Sub any and all ingredients for the above and you'll never go wrong.