A Sindhi breakfast Julia Child might approve of

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If I name the following ingredients: flour, potatoes, salt and pepper, dairy — a very commonplace list, in the Western part of the world — what doesn’t come to mind is a morning in a Sindhi town 60 years ago. And yet, so it is. My grandmother made these very rustic kachoris for my mother’s breakfast decades ago, and it is such a simple idea, but so complex and satisfying, that I still crave it and make it in my 21st century Californian kitchen, and yes, have it for breakfast.

This amount makes enough for a simple breakfast for one.

Potato Kachoris

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium red potato
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour, I use King Arthur Premium
  • 1.5 tablespoon plain yogurt
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1.25 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Oil for frying

Method:

The traditional recipe asks you to boil the potato in lightly salted water until done. I have replaced that step with microwaving in nearly all such recipes that need a tuber to be cooked through before using. Not only is it quicker, but I feel like it avoids some of the nutrients leaching out into the water that one has to then throw away.

So go ahead, nuke the chap. Five minutes should put paid on a medium potato.

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When it is no longer shooting steam lava at you when you touch it, cut it into cubes and roughly mash it, peel and all. It can be lumpy, I personally don’t mind that.

Add the flour, salt, and pepper.

Now. You may be alarmed at the amount of pepper I am having you put in. Don’t be! Remember, pepper drove world-traffic all the way to the South Indian coast for centuries. Pepper is the Helen of Troy of spices. You want to feel it.

Mix and squeeze the flour in with the potato mixture with your fingers, till it is a rough, shaggy mass. Now put in the plain yogurt and knead briefly to make it a rough dough.

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This amount of dough will roll out to about 4 small circles of 5 – 6 inches each. So break golf-ball sized pieces, and roll each out. Now if you are used to rolling rotis you will find that these don’t roll out as smoothly or as thin. This, naturally, is because of the influx of the natural lumpiness of the potato (which I insisted a few lines ago that you don’t quell completely). That’s fine! It all adds to the rustic charm. The only thing you have to be aware of is, you may have to fry them a tad longer than normal, because they are thicker.

OK. So circles rolled out, heat about an inch of oil in a thick bottomed fry-pan. When the oil shimmers (but before it smokes! That is when the oil starts to break down and do Bad Things to us) put in a rolled out circle. Let it cook on one side for about half a minute, bobbing it up and down with your slotted spoon or tongs. Then flip it, and cook it for another half a minute. Take it out and drain it on paper towels.

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Have it with some more plain yogurt on the side. Surprisingly heavenly. Julia Child, eat your heart out.

Wondrous bread

Dear Reader, I am aware that not all visitors to my blog are foodies. Some of you want your daily bread and water and to not be bothered to put all manner of unfamiliar pastes and blocks in your mouth (“just try one bite!”) I have non-foodies in my family, and I get you. I really do.

And when it comes to bread, the non-foodie likes the square sliced white bread. I do too! Sliced white bread is a neutral substrate for any kind of sandwich. Cube it and turn it into croutons. Toast it and butter it. Batter-fry it. Dip it in soup. The shape is predictable, even, easy to cut into little squares or triangles. This kind of bread is a workhorse.

In India we grew up with white bread of this variety:

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But as with many things, the primary innovation of making a square loaf, preslicing it and packaging it in waxed paper was American. It was a Wonder! And in case you need prodding to feel sufficiently celebratory, here, I will help:

It was a Wonder_Bread_logo.svg!

Sliced bread was invented in the 1920’s by a man named Otto Frederick Rohwedder. Not only did he come up with a bread slicer but also the idea of wrapping them in waxed paper to keep the slices fresh. After an initially doubtful populace, sliced bread began to fly off the shelves.

Pretty soon households were addicted to sliced white bread; that created its own problems. They became malnourished; the government had to insist that vitamins and minerals be added to the bread. Also, people began to forget what bread was supposed to taste like. Over the decades, the ‘bakeries’ where the bread was made turned into ‘factories’: the taste suffered, but nobody noticed. The product still flew off the shelves; ever more convenient, ever cheaper to make, sell, buy; it lasted longer and longer in our pantries. Until we ended up with this:

Wonder bread ingredients from http://theysmell.com

Wonder bread ingredients from http://theysmell.com

But never forget that the original soft white sandwich loaf really is wondrous. Easy to slice — not so crusty that the knife sends bread shards shooting into your eye. Not so soft that the knife mangles it with one gash. Easy to use for any kind of sandwich. And delicious.

Wondrous Bread

This recipe is from King Arthur Flour: Classic White Sandwich Bread. You should click the link for instructions and background but I’m repeating the entire recipe here.

Dry Ingredients:

  • 4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup dry milk powder (unsweetened)
  • 2 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 3/4 teaspoon salt
  •  2 tablespoons soft butter
  • 1 1/2 cup water

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Method:

Mix the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. Mix the wet ingredients separately (no need to get it super combined). Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the wet stuff in.

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Stir with a dough hook until it sort of comes together in a shaggy mass. Cover with plastic wrap and leave it aside for about 10 minutes. Come back, run the mixer at this point for about 5 minutes until it comes together into a rough dough, like this:

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At this point, I like to finish kneading by hand, until it becomes a smooth dough like this:

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How do you know when you have kneaded enough? This is a trick I learnt from the book The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. Take a little marble-sized ball of dough. Spread it as thin as you can into a little sheet, gently. If you are able to tease the dough into a translucent sheet (light should be able to shine through) without breaking it, you are there. If it breaks off into chunks rather than become a translucent sheet, you are not there and need to knead further. This is called the windowpane test.

Windowpane test

Windowpane test

OK. Oil the dough to keep it from drying out and put it in a large container to rise. I usually mark the level at which it is with a sticky tape. Leave it at room temperature until it doubles. This will take about 2 hours.

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Now comes the shaping. The loaf needs to go into a 9″ by 5″ loaf pan. Form the dough into a rough rectangle, and start rolling it into a log from the long side, gently pressing the seam closed as you go. Take care to tuck in the ends as you roll. The shaped loaf should have its seam closed everywhere, almost like a zipped up sleeping bag.

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Place it into a greased loaf pan and cover with a plastic wrap. In an hour or 90 minutes the loaf will have risen to an inch above the rim. Now it is ready to go into an oven.

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Preheat the oven to 350 F. When it comes to temperature the loaf pan goes in (without the plastic wrap, please!)  Bake the bread for 35 – 40 minutes. Around the middle of the cooking time, turn the pan 180 to allow it to cook evenly on all sides, and, tent it with aluminium foil to prevent it from browning too much.

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When it is done, allow it to cool in the pan with some airflow under it, then take it out and slice it. There! sliced white bread.

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How bread can teach you patience

Yeast makes bread rise, but lesser yeast makes better bread. Bread made with a quarter teaspoon yeast develops more flavor than a good heaping helping of two teaspoons. So why would anyone ever add more yeast? Well, you pay for it with time.

If you mix your dough, forget about it for a few hours; or leave it out overnight or stick it in the fridge for a day — if that process doesn’t drive you crazy — you draw more flavor out of the wheat. Take a deep breath, forget about it, and wait.

So when I saw a recipe from King Arthur that emphasized the minimal amount of yeast, I figured I would try it. It had a couple more qualities that I look for in bread.

  1. Half the flour is whole wheat. You get all the fiber from the bran and all the nutrients from the germ. I’m sold.
  2. This is an artisan bread, which I prefer, not an enriched loaf. What’s the difference, you ask? Both are yeasted breads, but quite different animals. Here are the differences.
  • artisan breads are free-form, while enriched breads are usually made in loaf pans to get that characteristic (some might say cartoonish?) square bread shape with wings at top
  • artisan breads have a strong crust and holes inside, while enriched breads are softer with an even texture throughout
  • artisan breads tend to emphasize just the taste of the wheat and often have just flour, water, yeast and salt as the ingredients. While enriched breads are — you know, enriched — with sugar, dairy, fat, raisins, cinnamon, cheddar, what have you
  • artisan breads are cooked faster and hotter, while enriched breads are cooked for longer at a more gentle oven temperature
  • artisan breads are good for tearing off bits to have with butter or olive oil, while the raison d’etre of enriched breads is toast and sandwiches.

Artisan loaves are somewhat fetishized (one could argue I’m fetishizing them right now); so it is rare to find a whole wheat artisan bread because the bran detracts from the holey chewiness somewhat. This recipe is a find.

The recipe makes two loaves.

Whole wheat artisanal loaves based on King Arthur’s recipe

Step 1: Make the sponge

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Whole wheat loaf: mixing the sponge

One cup whole wheat flour (I used King Arthur’s premium whole wheat), 1/16 teaspoon instant yeast (basically, a pinch), half cup water. Stir with a whisking motion, my favorite implement for this is a chopstick. You might have to use your fingers at the end. The point is not to knead it, just combine it into a very sticky mixture. Leave this on the countertop overnight or all day, covered with plastic wrap.

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Whole wheat loaf: sponge

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Whole wheat loaf: sponge ready to rise

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Whole wheat loaf: sponge after it has risen

Step 2: Make the dough

By next morning the sponge will have expanded; if you touch it lightly with your fingertip it will press in easily just like a — like a baby’s cheek. Now mix the dough.

Mix the dry stuff first:

2 1/4 cup bread flour (substitute with all purpose; this is not the whole grain)

1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 teaspoon yeast

1 1/2 salt

Put the dry flours into the bowl of a mixer if you are using one, otherwise a large bowl. Stir the dry stuff together with a fork. Try not to let the salt come in contact with the yeast, because it kills it. The way to do that is stir the yeast in with the flour first, then sprinkle the salt on, and stir that in next.

Now break the sponge from Step 1 into walnut-sized bits and throw into the dry stuff. Once in a while stir to cover the wet sponge with the dry flour.

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Whole wheat loaf: breaking the sponge into bits

Now put in 1 cup + 3 tbsp filtered water (not tap water since it is chlorinated). Start the mixer on the slowest speed for just a minute until all the water is combined with the flour and forms a shaggy mass. If it looks like there is dry flour at the bottom that simply will not get combined, you can help it along with a spatula; or if they still can’t find enough water, give them a spoon or two, the poor babies.

whole wheat loaf: a shaggy mass

whole wheat loaf: a shaggy mass

Now cover with plastic wrap and leave it be for 10 minutes. This process is called autolysis, which gets the dough to start the process of building gluten on its own, in the presence off water, without you doing a thing.  Except waiting. I told you this was all about waiting.

This recipe for chapati/roti, even though it is about a flat bread, has some explanation of the process of building gluten.

Now, the kneading will proceed a lot faster. Turn on the mixer on slow speed for about 5 minutes.

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Whole wheat loaf: done with mixer

Pull out the dough, and finish the process by hand on a counter top. You now have a smooth dough. Put it into an oiled container, cover the dough with oil inside and out, and mark the level to which the dough comes up to.

Whole wheat loaf: a smooth dough

Whole wheat loaf: a smooth dough

At this point you will be waiting for 3 – 4 hours; if this doesn’t fit your schedule and you want to wait longer, use the fridge.

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Step 3: Folding once in a while

While the bread is rising, give it some folds while handling it gently (don’t pound at it). The first time after an hour of rising, the second time another hour later, or skipping it is fine too. This is how you fold the bread — that I learnt from Rose Levy Berenbaum’s book The Bread Bible. Drag the dough out and flatten it into a rectangle. Fold both ends in one on top of the other as though you are trying to wrap a present. Flatten it out gently, give it one quarter turn, stretch it out widthwise, and give it another fold.

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Put the dough back in its container. Allow it to rise until it is at least doubled, which you can tell from the line you drew to mark its level. When it is fully risen it will be very puffy with air and you might even see bubbles at the surface. Look carefully at the picture on the right below — you can see bubbles enveloped in a thin stretch of dough.

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Step 4: Shaping

At this point you are ready to shape the dough into loaves. Pull the dough out gently, lay it on the counter, and cut it into two. Each half will be shaped separately. The idea with shaping is you flatten the dough out and start rolling it width-wise, quite tightly, while firmly tucking in all ends. At the end you will have a cylindrical roll. Pinch the seams closed. When you think of bread rising, the easiest way to think of it is that you are stretching the dough at the surface to increase surface tension and make a sort of balloon — a gluten balloon — that will trap the air in as the yeast breathes out CO2.

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Dust the loaves with some dry flour, place them on a parchment paper on a cookie sheet to rise. Cover with plastic wrap so that the surface does not dry out.

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Whole wheat loaves: final rise

At this point wait 1.5 hours until the loaves have expanded 1.5 times.

Step 5: Scoring

Preheat the oven at 475 F. Before putting the loaves into the oven one has to score them, which means make half inch deep cuts on the surface. Once it starts baking in the oven the rapid expansion of steam inside the dough is going to make the bread rise so much that it wants to explode (the gluten balloon will want to pop). The cuts guide the ‘explosion’ to happen along those channels instead of an untidy way anywhere along the loaf (usually along the seams).

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So take a sharp, serrated knife, and make swift, slicing cuts along the top surface with a very gentle motion. Half inch deep at least. Now mist the loaves with water from a spray bottle, and they are ready to pop into the oven.

Step 6: Baking

The oven at this point is very hot (475 F, and if you have a pizza stone stick it in there as well). We are going to circulate the heat around so it penetrates the loaves as fast as possible using steam. During the first 10 minutes, mist the loaves to create steam: open the oven door very briefly and spray water around inside. Mist it a few times — three or four times — during the first 10 minutes of baking.

Now lower the temperature to 400 F, and bake for an additional 25 minutes. Take the bread out and let them cool for an hour before slicing.

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Whole wheat artisanal loaf

The crumb of this bread was quite nice with a few small holes.

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Remember I said above that the explosion in the oven will want to happen along the seam, and you want to avoid that? I wasn’t able to avoid that completely, witness the explosion along the side below.

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Well I sliced right into that explosion and the whole thing was delicious anyway.

Roti from the mountains

From the nuances of rotis from the flatlands of India, let’s go across the border to Nepal, where they have a different take on roti entirely. Here wheat flour does not feature at all in any form, nor for that matter any grain. A non-grain-based roti! I am intrigued.

Instead, phapar ko roti, which merely means buckwheat roti, is made out of the flour of the seeds of the buckwheat plant. Not being a grass (in fact, I have some growing in my garden, and it has club-shaped, distinctly non-grass-like leaves), buckwheat seeds are not properly considered a grain at all.

Perhaps that is a tad too clever. At any rate buckwheat seeds are turned into flour, turned into breakfast cereal, turned into noodles, risen with yeast, and in most ways eaten like a grain.

I came upon buckwheat by way of Santa Cruz, California, where my husband first discovered buckwheat pancakes. I recreated them at home, and since then we have been big fans of the distinctly…umm…muddy (meaty?) taste of buckwheat.

A flat, savory buckwheat crepe was a completely new concept for me when I heard about it from my Nepali friend. I’m always looking for new taste sensations, so let’s get started — Phapar ko roti.

Ingredients (just two, as in the more familiar wheat roti)

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Quarter cup of buckwheat flour

1/4 cup buckwheat flour

1/4 cup + 1 tbsp water

(this much is enough for one serving, increase as needed)

Method:

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Buckwheat flour: stir with whisking motion

Phapar ko roti batter

Phapar ko roti batter

Stir the water in with the buckwheat flour using a sort of whisking motion until you get a batter that can be poured. Feel free to adjust either the water or the flour. Heat a large non-stick pan on medium-high. Now the recipe I read actually suggested not using any oil at all; I tried that, but all I got was a mess.

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Phapar ko roti: my lovely mess

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Phapar ko roti: second attempt

So next I tried using a teaspoon of oil on the Calphalon pan, spreading it around, and then pouring my batter on. Tilt the pan this way and that to get the batter to spread. It will start to set very quickly. I flipped it over in a matter of ten or twenty seconds, when most of the top surface has set. Cook on the other side for about another twenty seconds.

Take it off the pan. Here is my lunch:

phapar ko roti with radish achaar

phapar ko roti with radish achaar

I will have to blog the Nepali radish pickle another time. The flavor of the roti was very mild and made a good substrate for a spicy side.

Rolling the roti half a world away

In my home in Bombay, we never bought flour, we bought wheat. And we didn’t buy wimpy five-pound bags either. We bought enough wheat in bulk to fill up a tin canister as tall as one’s knees. Once a month or thereabouts, we would hire a neighborhood working lady to hoist that tin canister up on her head and carry it to the neighborhood burr mill. They would stone-grind the wheat into flour, completely whole — germ, bran and all — which they would testify to by weighing the product before and after. The burr mill would single-file through the customer requests, in order to be able to testify to flour wholeness.

This is chakki ka atta (translated: burr mill flour), that we used rest of the month to make chapati (roti), poori, or paratha.

Let’s start with the simplest of them, the chapati. There are just two ingredients — water and flour.

Kneaded together, a new ingredient magically comes alive inside the dough. This is gluten, the protein that is formed inside dough in the presence of water. Gluten is what gives dough its stretchiness and its stubbornness. Wheat dough is not just pliable — it wants to fight back. It takes a shape, but wants to go back to its previous shape. The pliability; the ability to hold a shape; the elasticity; all this is because of its gluten.

I like to imagine multitudes of tiny balloons inside the dough, all of which can be blown up without breaking, while keeping the dough from breaking into bits. These gluten balloons fill up with air so bread can rise and hold all the air inside instead of escaping. The gluten balloon allows chapatis to puff up with steam.

That brings me to a common misunderstanding — chapatis/rotis are often called the unleavened flat breads of India. But they are not unleavened. Leavened just means risen, and rotis are indeed risen, at the last minute of cooking, when they puff up with steam. Steam leavening is a respectable form of leavening that is probably the most ancient. I picture housewives in the Indus Valley civilization slapping circles of dough on their wood-burning griddles and watching them puff up.

They are unfermented, however, and no external leavening agent like yeast or baking soda are added.

During my childhood we had a chapati meal for either lunch or dinner every day. Two circular chapatis with a few dark brown spots, folded into quarters. A dal, a vegetable and a cup of yogurt completed the meal. When this is everyday food, one scorns it; half a world away in California, deprived of one’s neighborhood burr mill, a source of wheat, and the proper chapati-making expertise, it becomes an undertaking.

For years I tried to approximate chakki ka atta in California by mixing half and half of whole wheat and all purpose flour. But I was never thrilled about the lack of wholeness there (yes I’m a bit of a fanatic); and one day I used straight whole wheat, the rotis came out perfectly fine, so I have stuck with that. This makes sense — the species of wheat used for bread-making in the West (triticum aestivum) is the same as most of the wheat grown in India, mainly for the use of making chapatis. (There are many different subspecies though.) The grain size of chakki ka atta is probably smaller. But I haven’t found this to be a huge problem. I use King Arthur’s Premium Whole Wheat flour and get perfectly good, puffed up, rustic rotis.

Ingredients:

2 cups whole wheat flour

3/4 cup + 3 tbsp water

Method for dough:

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Making roti: whole wheat flour and water

Put the flour in a bowl, make a sort of well in the center, and pour the water in. Use a spoon or a chopstick to stir the water into the flour till you get a shaggy mass and most of the flour is moistened. Cover with a plate, and walk away for 10 minutes or so.

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Making roti: a shaggy mass

Why? The short wait gets the process of the flour absorbing the water started, and just allows the kneading to happen faster. It’s the lazy person’s method — allow time to do the work that you would have otherwise had to expend elbow grease for.

If the 10 minutes stretch to 20 minutes, that’s fine too, but do cover the flour, to prevent it from drying out.

Come back to your dough and combine it into a rough ball with your fingers. This should be relatively easy to do (should take just a minute) but will still have a shaggy appearance.

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Making roti: a shaggy ball

Now the kneading begins. Clear a 2′ by 2′ square on your counter and place the dough there. Push it, squeeze it, fold it; squeeze it and fold it over and over again, for about 7 minutes. Use your strength. Be firm with the dough. From a shaggy mass the dough will become satiny smooth and hold together in an oblong. It should feel a lot like human muscle when squeezed, but more like slack than taut muscle. If too sticky, add some dry flour, spoon-by-spoon; if too taut, spread it out flat, sprinkle some water on it, and incorporate it with more kneading.

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Making roti: completed dough

Keep it aside for half hour or so before making rotis with it. The extra wait allows the gluten to relax. This is a lot like exercising: the way one pushes one’s muscles to work, until they feel a little too taut; then one waits a few minutes to relax before exercising some more.

Coat with oil on the outside to keep from drying out. If you want to stash it for another day, it will be good in the fridge in tupperware for a week or even two.

Method for rolling and roasting chapatis

Step 1: Make a few golf-ball-sized balls. I make around 8 (the evening’s dinner amount), roll them to make smooth balls, flatten them slightly into disks, and cover with flour to keep from drying out.

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Rolling rotis: make flat disks covered with flour

Step 2: Roll. Start with the first disk you made. This gives it a few minutes to relax after being handled. Use a good heavy rolling pin and roll out into a thin disk about 6-7 inches in diameter. You will need to sprinkle some dry flour on the counter and on the dough to keep it from sticking; here I use all purpose, but whole wheat will do as well.

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Rolling roti: thin six inch circle

Step 3: Roast. Have a griddle on medium-high heat. No oil needed. When hot, slap a disk on. Wait thirty seconds; the chapati will start to show small bubbles. Flip. Wait another thirty seconds; this time the small bubbles will combine into a few bigger bubbles.

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Roasting roti: ready for first flip

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Roasting roti: ready for second and final flip

Now you have a choice. Either flip once again for the last time, wait thirty seconds (hopefully it should puff out more) and take the chapati off the griddle.

Or, turn on the flame on a separate burner, and flip the chapati onto the open flame using the burner grate to place it on. It should puff up in a few seconds. Turn off the flame and pull it off with tongs. Don’t leave it on longer than ten seconds or so, because it will burn.

Roti: puffing up on burner

Roti: puffing up on burner

If you want, sprinkle some ghee on top of the still hot chapati.

Some of these steps take practice. So get thee to the kitchen and get started!

The lowly loli: an ancient Sindhi breakfast

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

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Spices for loli: onion, chili, cilantro

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

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Loli flour with spices and oil rubbed in

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

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Loli dough, combined

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

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Cooking loli – first flip

Heat a griddle or tawa on medium high heat. When hot, slap the loli on. Wait one minute, then flip.

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Cooking loli – second flip

Wait another minute, and flip again. Wait another minute, spread some ghee and oil on the surface, and flip again.

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Cooking loli — third flip

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.

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My rough and rustic loli

Have it with some nice hot sweet tea.
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Thepla — spicy flat bread from Gujarat

One of my themes in food is simplicity. Not only because I’m lazy, but also because I like to have each ingredient be meaningful, and not be drowned in a cacophony of flavors.

Few recipes are purer and more basic than the roti recipe. Whole wheat flour mixed with water, kneaded, rolled out, and roasted. Just two ingredients, and yet there is an infinity of variations on that theme.

Add a few ingredients, and a whole new set of possibilities open up. I first tried theplas when I was nine, and a classmates mom made a whole stack to share at school. What I remember is the strong flavor of asafetida (the ‘fetid resin’, or, the ‘devil’s feces’), along with some heat. Just a few additions, and yet, this is an entirely different meal than the basic roti.

Step 1: The flour mixture for one serving.

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3/4 cup whole wheat flour (I use King Arthur’s premium whole wheat), half to one teaspoon asafetida, half a teaspoon turmeric, half a teaspoon or more red chili powder, a fistful of dry methi if you can’t acquire the fresh one, one quarter cup plain yogurt (I prefer Nancy’s plain whole milk yogurt, if not homemade), salt to taste. Knead into a taut dough.

Step 2: Roll out.

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Using sprinklings of all purpose flour as a non-stick device, roll them into five-inch rounds on the counter or wooden board. A ball of dough about two inches in diameter will produce a round that large. Try to get it as thin as you can.

Step 3: Roasting.

Get your griddle nice and hot on a medium-high flame. The roasting follows the standard pattern: first side, about 30 seconds, until the dough turns a shade darker and small air bubbles start to appear; flip it. Second side, another 30 seconds, until the air bubbles combine and form a few large ones; spread a few drops of oil on the thepla and flip it once again; 30 seconds more, spread another few drops of oil, and flip it once more for the last time. So we have had four flips, and each side has been cooked twice, once with and once without oil.

This series of pictures shows the progression.

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Next:

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Next:

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Next (and yes, I got it a little extra burnt):

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Stack up the prepared theplas on a platter. A good accompaniment is a sweet mango pickle; yogurt is a standard too.

Here is my Sunday morning meal: theplas, yogurt, and some sour mango pickle.

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