During my mother’s childhood in Sindh, her breakfast every single morning was loli. It was the cornflakes of her day.
What is a loli? It is a whole wheat flat bread (roti) with spices, basically — but here is the interesting thing — it belongs more to the pie crust family than the bread family. The reason I say that is that it employs a twist in its mixing. Instead of adding water first and then fat, the fat is added in first; combined thoroughly with the flour to make sort of breadcrumb-sized balls, then just enough water is put in, just enough to combine. No kneading necessary, just a coming together.
No kneading — hence, not bread, in short. Gluten is not developed.
If you think of the way pie crust is made, it shares its basic method with the loli. Fat is cut into the dry flour, thereby creating pellets of floury fat, then water is added just enough to make it combine into a ball. Then it is rolled out, and the result is a rough, uneven circle, that cracks in various places, but holds together enough to lift carefully from place to place. This method results in a flaky pastry that does not exhibit the stretchy integrity of bread or roti, where the gluten does a lot of the work.
Lolis are similarly flaky, except of course they are spicy, not sweet. So let’s get started. This amount makes enough breakfast for two.
Step 1: Dry mixture
Chop finely a third of a medium red or yellow onion; two serrano chilies; a third of a cup of cilantro. Add to this 3/4 cup whole wheat flour (I use King Arthur’s premium whole wheat) and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Stir with your fingers, taking care to break up the onion bits into its layers.
Step 2: Fat
In the old days, one added ghee; I have to admit I use pure olive oil or other cooking oil now. Add about two tablespoons oil to the flour and stir nicely with your fingers, until you get a breadcrumb texture.
Step 3: Water
Add two tablespoons of hot water (why hot? I don’t know. I do as I’m told). Combine it gently with the flour, not to knead (see above) but just to bring it into a ball.
Step 4: Roll
Take about a tennis ball sized amount: there should be about two tennis balls in the dough that you made. Flatten with your fingers into a circle, either by patting, or by rolling out. The circle will be about a quarter to an eighth inch thick and crack in various places, but try to hold it together. Make diagonal lines on it with a knife to get it to cook on the inside.
Step 5: Cook
Heat a griddle or tawa on medium high heat. When hot, slap the loli on. Wait one minute, then flip.
Wait another minute, and flip again. Wait another minute, spread some ghee and oil on the surface, and flip again.
Wait another minute or thirty seconds, spread another few drops of ghee or oil on the surface, and flip one last time. Thirty seconds or a minute more and you are done.
Have it with some nice hot sweet tea.
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2 thoughts on “The lowly loli: an ancient Sindhi breakfast”
I remember my Sindhi friend bringing this in her lunchbox when we were in school except she used to call it koki and they had a sweet version that was called lola (or maybe loli, it was a long time ago in the eighties). I always loved it. She lived in a place called Ulhasnagar where there was a large Sindhi population due to there being camps there after the partition. In fact it had unofficially even come to be known simply as ‘Camp’ because of this. Loved all the dishes her mum made because they were so different in flavour.