Paratha- Indian Flat Bread

Let me start out by saying that I have a great affinity toward any sort of bread that has been kneaded into existence. One of my greatest joys while traveling is to taste the locals’ version of dough.  The breaking of bread is sacred and sustains life. Ok, I’m getting too deep now. Bread is delicious, and I don’t know too many people who don’t enjoy sinking their teeth into a freshly baked loaf. Is it just me, or is the sound of a perfectly baked French baguette something from heaven?

Indian breads have always piqued my interest. I will never forget the time I was served a poori bread larger than my head at an Indian restaurant in New York City. It was fantastic to pull a chunk off the enormous orb, only to witness it slowly deflating. While I marveled at the bread, it just seemed like I would need a commercial deep fryer to pull that off, so attempting to recreate it at home quickly crossed itself out in my mind.

Then I was introduced to another Indian bread: paratha. I loved its flaky, buttery texture. Not until a dear friend of mine demonstrated in my home how to make paratha bread, did I fully understand how its fascinating shape was formed. While this bread is slightly more labor intensive than an average loaf of bread, it does makes up for it by not having to rise and rest for hours and hours.

3 c. unbleached flour (plus more for rolling out the dough)
2 tsp. baking powder
2 heaping tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. tumeric (optional)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 c. water (this is approximate; you only want enough water to make the dough come together, without becoming too sticky)
5-6 Tbl. clarified butter* or organic vegetable shortening

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl with a whisk. Slowly add the water. You may require slightly less or more water than mentioned above. The dough should be slightly more wet than pizza dough. Form the dough into a ball, cover with a kitchen towel, and set aside in a warm place of your kitchen, such as inside a turned-0ff oven or on the stove top of you have gas burners.

After about  30 minutes to one hour, uncover the dough,  pull off small fist-sized chunks, and shape into a round disk with your hands. The size of the disk depends on the size of the pan you will be using to sauté the bread at the end of the cooking process. I would make each dough disk to weigh about 1/4-1/2 pound if you have a large (12″ or more) sauté pan.

On a floured surface, roll out each dough disk to about a 1/8″ thickness. Once you have rolled out the dough, spread some clarified butter or vegetable shortening onto the surface of the dough.

With a sharp knife, cut 1″ strips, leaving a bit uncut at one side, running the entire width of the rolled-out dough. Roll each strip up like a snail’s shell until the uncut portion. Then roll up the entire piece of dough in the opposite direction, again like a snail’s shell. The dough should look something like the picture below on the right once you have completed this step.

Again, roll out the snail’s shell ball of dough with a rolling pin. You may need to re-flour your working surface again. The dough should have a few bumps in it. You don’t want it to be perfectly flat. Heat a sauté pan on medium heat. When the pan is hot, brush the cooking surface with a little bit of oil (olive, vegetable, etc.) and add the dough to the pan. Allow the dough to begin to bubble slightly before flipping over to the other side. You want the paratha bread to have a nice golden hue, but certainly not browned.

Place the pieces of bread into a large kitchen towel and–this is the fun part!–bring the edges of the towel together with your hands. While maintaing the pieces of bread inside the towel, beat the sides together, as if you were clapping your hands. This will allow the bread to break up into large pieces, which is the desired finished look. Best served warm alongside a few fabulous Indian inpsired dishes, or simply with a bowl of hummus. Enjoy!

*Clarified butter is milk fat rendered from butter to separate the milk solids and water from the butterfat. This is done by heating the butter, at which point the heavier milk solids sink to the bottom, while the water evaporates and the butter fat floats to the surface and is skimmed away. Clarified butter has a much higher smoke point than regular butter, as well as a longer shelf life. You can clarify your own butter at home, but many grocery stores now carry this product.

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  1. Roasted Red Pepper Hummus « Two Dancing Buckeyes

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