Back when I posted a recipe for a basic Indian flatbread known as Roti, I promised to take a look at a slightly more complex type known as Paratha. The Chapati is the simplest form of roti and is essentially just made from a dough composed of flour water, and optionally a little salt, that is then rolled out into rounds and cooked on a dry griddle. The Paratha, in contrast, often has a little fat added to the dough and then folded a number of times during the rolling process in order to create layers of dough resulting in a flakier, fluffier finished product. Again, in contrast to the chapati, some form of oil or fat is used on the griddle during cooking.
There are quite a few variations on the basic theme, including the addition of spices or herbs to the dough, and some paratha are stuffed or filled with other ingredients like potato, cauliflower or greens. Our experiment today will produce an extremely basic version…
The general rule of thumb for this particular variety is that for each cup of flour, you need to add 1 tablespoon of fat and ½ tsp. of salt along with sufficient warm water to make a dough (about ½ cup of water is usually about right, but the amount will vary a bit). Extra fat for cooking and, optionally, for brushing the dough whilst folding and rolling, will also be required. Before going on to the precise ingredients for this experiment, however, we need to say a few words about the types of flour and fat needed.
Indian recipes for chapati and paratha typically call for a type of flour known as ‘atta’. Basically this is a wheat flour that is somewhere between regular flour and whole-wheat and many recipes suggest a 50-50 blend of the two. Others will use all regular flour, all whole-wheat flour, or some other combined ratio of the two. Today we will be using regular all-purpose flour alone.
Indian cookery regularly uses ghee, or clarified butter, in many recipes, including paratha, but any vegetable oil, or even just plain melted butter, can be substituted. Personally, I quite like using whole butter for making the dough and brushing it while rolling, but I don’t recommend it for actually cooking the dough as I find that the milk solids added to a hot griddle produce aromas and tastes I don’t care for very much.
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour;
- 1 ½ tbsp. Butter;
- ¾ tsp. Salt;
- ¾ cups of Water (approximately);
- Extra vegetable oil for rolling and cooking (not shown);
- Extra flour for rolling (not shown).
First, add the flour, salt and butter to your food processor and whiz on high speed until everything is blended. You will see that, as the butter is mixed in, the flour takes on a rather ‘mealy’ texture.
Now, add water a little at a time (not all at once) and continue to process. The flour will progressively become more mealy, then granular as more water is added and then, quite suddenly, it will pull into a ball and spin around on the blades. Stop adding water as soon as this happens. Knead the dough well and then form into a ball and let rest for at least thirty minutes before proceeding. Keep it covered to avoid drying out.
When you are ready to make the parathas, divide your dough in to 4, 6 or 8 equal portions (depending on the size of the flatbreads you desire) and roll each into a ball, keeping these covered (a damp cloth is good) until needed. Now, take one ball and roll it out into a circle about 1/8 of an inch in thickness.
The next step in the process is to oil the surface of the dough, fold it in half to make a half-moon,, oil the surface again, and fold one more time to make a quarter of a circle. Do not use too much oil. You basically need to drizzle a few drops or so onto the middle of the surface and then smooth it out almost to the edges so that there is just a bare shininess to the dough.
Now, roll out the wedge shaped piece of dough until you have a rough triangle shaped piece no more than a 1/8 of an inch thick. Repeat this with the remaining balls of dough.
To cook the parathas, heat your griddle, or tawa, over moderate to high heat and then brush your first piece of dough on both sides with a little oil. Toss it onto the griddle and cook until the dough starts to bubble and then balloon up from the heat. Press down and continue to cook until the underside starts to brown and form a few dark spots here and there.
Flip the paratha and continue to cook, It will also balloon up somewhat during this stage and you can press it down with a spatula again and continue to cook until the bottom surface is nicely cooked like the top. Remove to a plate and repeat with the remaining pieces, keeping your stack covered with a cloth until finished.
Parathas are great hot from the griddle with a little butter, pickle, or other tasty condiment of your choice and they are frequently served as a starchy side with other, more substantial dishes as part of an Indian meal. To save for later, you can wrap them in foil and then re-heat for service in a moderate oven for twenty minutes or so.
This current batch was served as part of a Thali along with some of my wife’s dal, a cucumber and carrot raita, and the Prawn Sambal I posted the other day. I can’t single one dish out but, together, the combination made for one of the nicest supper’s I’ve had for ages.