Ready, set, roll: Make Indian flatbreads in less than an hour

Special to Washington PostApril 22, 2014 

I’m on a mission: to spread the gospel of hot, fragrant rounds of Indian flatbreads. They elevate a meal and take minutes to cook.

The ones I grew up eating are not the ones I make today. Whole-wheat flour, especially the more refined Indian durum whole wheat called atta available at Indian markets, nudges them in the direction of good-for-you.

At the simpler end of the unleavened spectrum, chapatis and rotis – different names for basically the same thing – can be brushed with a bit of ghee (clarified butter) or without it, in low-walled, cast-iron skillets called tawas or on griddles. The pleated dough of parathas makes them trickier to form, yet worth it for their flaky layers. Savory herb- or vegetable-stuffed parathas are irresistible.

A lesson from executive chef Vikram Sunderam of Rasika in Washington, D.C., who was recently nominated for a James Beard award, taught me to keep the paratha filling as free of moisture as possible, or it will break through the dough during rolling. His mint version is refreshing, and his gobi (cauliflower) paratha could almost be a meal in itself.

From Anand Poojary of Woodlands Restaurant in Langley Park, Md., I learned how to make rotis and how to pleat the paratha dough, accordion-like, before winding it into a spiraled disk, then using a rolling pin to flatten the round. And he shared a tip: Adding mashed or grated banana to whole-wheat roti dough makes it softer and more flavorful. That inspired me to create my own breakfast flatbread, which is even more delicious when topped with caramelized bananas.

With practice, my parathas were perfect – as I’m sure yours can be. Start with the basic whole-wheat rotis, and you’ll be hooked.

foodwanderings.com

Whole-Wheat Rotis

The dough needs to rest for 20 to 30 minutes. Adapted from Anand Poojary at Woodlands Restaurant in Langley Park, Md.

3 cups whole-wheat flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 to 1 1/2 cups water

Melted butter or melted ghee (clarified butter), for brushing

COMBINE the flour, salt and oil in a large, wide mixing bowl. Use your fingertips to form a crumbly mixture. Add 1 cup of the water; knead (in the bowl) for about 10 minutes or until smooth and pliable, sprinkling in some or all of the remaining 1/2 cup of water. Cover with a damp cloth; let the dough rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

HEAT a large, ungreased cast-iron skillet, nonstick skillet or tawa (Indian skillet) over medium heat.

DIVIDE the dough into 12 equal pieces, forming them into balls. Re-cover with a damp cloth.

WORKING with one at a time, use your hands to flatten a ball, then roll it out to a round that’s 6 to 8 inches in diameter. Transfer to the griddle or skillet and cook for 1 minute; a few dark spots should form. Turn it over and cook for 1 minute or as needed.

TRANSFER to a plate; brush with melted butter or ghee and cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining balls of dough.

Per serving (with oil): 120 calories, 4 g protein, 22 g carbohydrates, 3 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 160 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar

Yield: 12 servings.

Gobi (Cauliflower) Parathas

These are best served right after they are made. Adapted from Vikram Sunderam, executive chef at Rasika.

FOR THE DOUGH:

1 pound whole-wheat flour, plus more for dusting

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for optional brushing

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water

FOR THE FILLING:

8 ounces cored cauliflower

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon finely chopped dill

3/4 tablespoon peeled, finely grated ginger root

1/4 teaspoon minced green chili pepper (jalapeno or serrano)

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

FOR THE DOUGH: Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and oil, using your fingers to work those ingredients into the flour. Add the water and continue to blend with your hands to form a dough. Knead for about 10 minutes, then cover with a clean, damp dish towel. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes.

MEANWHILE, MAKE THE FILLING: Finely chop or grate the cauliflower and place it in a mixing bowl. Add the salt and stir to incorporate. Let the cauliflower sit for 30 minutes.

SQUEEZE as much moisture as possible out of the cauliflower, then stir in the dill, ginger, green chili pepper and cumin until well combined. The filling will be dry.

HEAT a griddle, tawa (Indian griddle pan), or cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium heat.

DIVIDE the dough into 8 equal portions, shaping them into balls. Flatten each one into a 3- or 4-inch disk. Hold one in your hand; spoon about 2 tablespoons of the filling onto the center. Pull up the edges of the dough to meet at the center, pinching them together at the top (like a dumpling).

PRESS the stuffed dough between the palms of your hands. Dust it lightly with flour, then use a rolling pin to roll it out to a 6- or 7-inch disk that’s as thin as possible (less than 1/8inch).

PLACE the disk on the griddle or in the skillet and cook for 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown spots appear. For a crisp paratha, brush with a little oil and cook a bit longer (seconds, not minutes) on both sides. Transfer to a plate and cover the paratha loosely with a clean dish towel to keep it warm.

REPEAT with the remaining dough. Use parchment or wax paper to separate the stacked parathas.

Yield: 8 servings.

Mint Tawa Parathas

The parathas are best served right after they are made. Serve hot, with your favorite curries or vegetables. Adapted from Vikram Sunderam, executive chef at Rasika in Washington, D.C.

FOR THE DOUGH:

1 pound whole-wheat flour, plus more for dusting

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for optional brushing

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water

FOR THE PASTE:

4 ounces (packed 2 cups) fresh stemmed mint leaves

1 cup vegetable oil, plus more for brushing

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

FOR THE DOUGH: Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and oil, using your fingers to work those ingredients into the flour. Add 1 cup of the water and continue to blend; the mixture will be crumbly.

DRIZZLE in the remaining 2 tablespoons of water as you knead for about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and firm.

COVER the dough with a clean, damp dish towel to rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

FOR THE PASTE: Combine the mint, the cup of oil and the salt in a food processor; puree to form a pesto-like mixture. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use.

DIVIDE the dough into 8 equal parts, shaping them into balls. Cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel. Lightly dust 1 ball with flour, then use a rolling pan to roll it into a 7- or 8-inch disk.

USE the back of a spoon to spread a thin layer of the mint paste on one side of the disk. Then dust the mint paste with a little flour. Pleat/create regular folds in the dough, pushing the left and right sides toward each other (like an accordion). Wrap the pleated dough in a spiral, tucking the last bit underneath.

HEAT a skillet or a griddle over medium heat.

LIGHTLY dust a work surface and the top of the spiraled dough with flour as needed. Use a rolling pin to roll out the spiral to a 6- or 7-inch disk that’s as thin as possible (less than 1/8 inch).

PLACE the disk on the griddle or in the skillet; cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until deeply golden spots appear. For a crisp paratha, brush one side with a little oil and flip over to cook for a bit longer (seconds, not minutes).

TRANSFER the disk to a plate and cover it loosely with a clean dish towel to keep warm. Wipe out the griddle or skillet.

REPEAT with the remaining dough and mint paste; use parchment or wax paper to separate the stacked parathas.

Per serving: 470 calories, 8 g protein, 43 g carbohydrates, 32 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 490 mg sodium, 8 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar.

Yield: 8 servings.

Whole-Wheat Banana Chapatis

Don’t be tempted to add more flour to this dough to make it firm; it should be very moist. Just make sure it’s not sticky. Using boiling water makes the dough more supple. Serve with a sweet chutney or even a helping of caramelized bananas. From Shulie Madnick, who blogs at foodwanderings.com.

1 3/4 cups (8 ounces) plus 3 tablespoons whole-wheat flour, plus more for rolling

1 tablespoon raw sugar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 large bananas

1/4 cup boiling water (see note)

Melted butter or melted ghee, for brushing

COMBINE the 8 ounces of flour, the sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the oil; work it into the dry ingredients with your fingertips.

IF the bananas are not fully ripe, grate them using the large-holed side of a box grater; otherwise, mash them with a fork (to yield 1 cup). Add to the bowl, then knead them into the flour mixture.

LIGHTLY flour a work surface.

USE a wooden spoon to stir in the boiling water; once the water has cooled a bit, use your hands to knead the mixture into a sticky dough. Transfer to the work surface. Work some or all the remaining 3 tablespoons of flour into the dough; knead to create a dough that’s soft and no longer sticky. Cover with a damp cloth to rest for 20 to 30 minutes (at room temperature).

HEAT a large tawa (Indian skillet) or cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium heat.

DIVIDE the dough into 8 equal parts; roll each into a ball. Cover with the damp cloth.

WORKING with one ball at a time, first coat it in flour, then roll it out on the floured work surface to a round of chapati that’s 7 inches across.

COOK a chapati in the skillet or on the grill pan until craterlike bubbles start to form on the dough’s surface. (If bubbles do not appear, your skillet isn’t hot enough.) Once brown spots begin to appear on the bottom, turn over the chapati and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. You can press around the chapati with a slotted stainless-steel spatula to make sure it cooks evenly and make it puff even more.

IMMEDIATELY brush with the melted ghee and place on a plate, then cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel to keep warm.

PREP and cook 3 more chapatis, then use a wet paper towel to wipe out the skillet before cooking the remaining chapatis. Each finished chapati should be brushed with ghee right away and loosely stacked under the towel.

Per serving: 150 calories, 3 g protein, 30 g carbohydrates, 2 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 60 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 5 g sugar.

Yield: 8 servings.

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