Lately, my Reader has been full of pumpkin, apples, pies, root vegetables and a whole riot of Fall colours. As much as I love ogling at those gorgeous pictures, I have never been able to relate to any of the recipes and definitely not to the experience. Fall, as a season, doesn’t exist for us in Delhi. Before we can stop cribbing about the sweltering 49 C summer, we begin drowning in the monsoon-caused-traffic-jams. Before we can dry ourselves off, we race down towards the foggy, smoggy, hazy winter. I know we studied spring-summer-autumn-winter in Geography classes at school, but all I seem to relate to is hot-wet-cold!
Right now is my favourite time of the year. It’s officially the only time that Delhiites can truly enjoy their terrace and I am taking advantage of it at every opportunity. A lazy cup of chai with the newspaper in the morning, brunch or lunch in the early afternooon, a lingering drink in the evening.
It isn’t cold enough to need 7 layers of clothes and protection against the dew that sets in after 10 pm. It isn’t warm enough for the outdoor fan. It’s just perfect. There’s the (literally) smoky aroma of Diwali in the air accompanied by twinkly fairy lights. The marigolds and petunias on my terrace are beginning to show their pretty faces. There’s time yet for bonfires and BBQs, but winter is most definitely on its way. Bringing some of my favourite food with it.
Growing up in my parents house, the very first indication of approaching winter would be a compulsory teaspoon of Adrak-Shahad every single night at bed time. My mom would make this by the bottle – equal parts freshly squeezed ginger juice, honey and brandy. She claimed it would keep the cold and the sniffles at bay. And it did! Ever since I can remember.
Next, the customary non-winter breakfast of cereal/ toast/ eggs would be partially or fully replaced by hot Dalia (broken wheat) and Seviyan (type of Vermicilli) – slightly sweetened with a hint of cardamom and sometimes had with hot milk (like porridge).
The increased frequency of Mooli and Gobhi Paranthas (radish and cauliflower paranthas), Gajar-Shalgam-Gobhi Achar (carrot-turnip-cauliflower pickle), Saag (mustard greens) and Makki-ki-Roti (corn-meal rotis) are some of my instant food associations. But my favourite, by far, is the frequent and impromptu after-dinner dessert – Chooree. Or Choor-Choor Parantha. Or Crumbled Sweet Indian Flat-bread.
If you live in a North Indian home, there will always be atta or roti dough ready in the fridge. The only other ingredients required are some sugar, ghee, salt and (optional) red chilli powder. It’s very rich but I forgive myself just like I do when eating a butter and maple syrup laden pancake or waffle!
Here’s what I used for 2 helpings:
Atta/ Roti dough (1 cup of wholewheat flour/ atta kneaded into a soft dough with water will yield about 4 paranthas. I had the dough in the fridge already so I just kept it out for about half hour to bring it to room temperature.)
4 tbsp ghee (clarified butter)
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
red chilli powder (the mother corrected me – it should be finely ground black pepper, optional)
Dry whole wheat flour for dusting
Here’s how I made it:
For each parantha, I used a golf ball sized amount of dough. First I put the tawa (griddle) to pre-heat on medium heat. I use an iron one so it takes a while to heat well. You can also use a non-stick tawa.
Dusting the ball of dough with dry flour, I proceeded to roll it out as thin as possible, stopping to dust frequently to avoid sticking.
Taking 1/2 tbsp of ghee, I spread it thinly and evenly all over the rolled-out dough. Due to the now lower ambient temperature, the ghee had solidified but was still soft enough to spread easily.
Using my fingers, I sprinkled approximately 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp red chilli powder over the ghee. I didn’t actually measure the salt and chilli – more of a “to taste” situation.
Now for the fun (and tricky part). Take a moment to think back to school when you may have made paper fans by folding paper in a zig-zag fashion like an accordion. If you have never ever made paper fans, then check out this how-to video! So using the same principle, but much more carefully because the dough has ghee all over one side, I pleated it up into a zig-zag fan shape. If the zig-zag fold is too much to handle, then you can cut the dough into 3/4″-1″ wide strips and pile them one on top of the other. I assume the result will be much the same.
The bottom and top folds should be inwards so that the ghee is is sealed inside. It’s almost impossible to completely avoid getting any ghee on your hands or the chakla (rolling board), so just wipe any spills up with a paper towel. This is important because we want the chakla and belan (rolling pin) to be dry so they won’t stick and tear the parantha.
As you can see, some ghee drips out, but don’t worry about that. Now this looks sort of like a dough rose, except with many layers. All those fan pleats/ layers will puff up and become nice and flaky when cooked.
Then I dipped this in dry flour and wiped up the ghee spills from my hand and the chakla before rolling this out again. This time I used much gentler pressure because I didn’t want all the pleats/ layers to merge into one. I had to stop and dust with flour while rolling it out.
The first one wasn’t as pretty a round as the second one, of which I have no rolling pictures! The tawa pictures are all of parantha #2.
Next I carefully transferred the parantha on to the hot tawa, increasing the heat just a notch to medium-high.
Once I could see small bubbles on the surface (where the trapped air in the dough was trying to find a way out), about a minute or so, I carefully flipped the parantha and applied 1/4 tbsp of ghee on the almost-cooked surface.
Can you see how it has browned in spots (despite the direct sunlight)? It’s important to not press down hard with the ghee spoon because we want the parantha to be soft, puffy and flaky. Keeping it on this side for about a minute and a half, I flipped it again and applied 1/4 tbsp ghee on the other side, letting it cook for another 30 seconds approximately.
Holding a folded thick kitchen towel in my hands, I transferred the parantha off the tawa and onto the kitchen towel. Adding 1 tbsp each of ghee and sugar, I crushed it gently inwards, using the towel as a buffer from the heat. Transferring it from the towel to a plate, I continued to gently crumble the parantha with my fingers and mixed it in well with the ghee and sugar.
I also took a few seconds to stop and thank the Almighty for my mother, who did this for years on end. That parantha was super hot and I singed my fingers thoroughly. Sadly, for best results, this step must be done as soon as it is off the heat.
And here it is: a plate full of warm, sweet, sinful, soft-and-crunchy-at-the-same-time deliciousness!
Enjoy with a spoon, or with your bare hands like I do!
Notes on Chooree:
- The ghee, sugar, salt & chilli powder are approximate quantities and might need to be adjusted “to taste”.
- I use home-made ghee for all preparations, but store-bought should be just fine.
- You can use salted/ unsalted butter instead of ghee. If you’re feeling slightly “healthy”, then you can use vegetable oil (or any other light, flavour-less oil). At least for the parantha stage. I’m not sure oil would work for the crushing stage.
- I love the slight zing the Chooree gets from the red chilli powder. AK didn’t care for it much. So I guess you should try it out and decide for yourself.
- My mom says that black pepper does very well as a substitute to the red chilli powder.
Notes & Learnings in Parantha Making:
I’m no expert on roti or parantha making. In all my adolescent cooking years, I learned a lot but never bothered with rotis because they were boring and there was always someone else to make them – like mom or the cook. After quite a few miserable trials and errors, I have finally found some pride in serving my paranthas. Rotis are still a work-in-progress. Nevertheless, I thought you may benefit from some of my learnings (if you’re not an accomplished roti-maker already)!
- While making the dough, make sure you knead it for at least 5-7 minutes so it can be aerated. That is what causes the air bubbles while cooking. If you don’t knead then the paranthas will end up much dense-r.
- After kneading the dough, allow it to rest covered for about 30 minutes. If the dough is pre-made/ kneaded, then pull it out of fridge and allow it time to return to room temperature.
- If using an iron tawa, allow it a longer time to pre-heat than a non-stick one.
- Try not to flip the parantha too many times. Rather, allow it to cook slowly and evenly on one side and then the other. There’s no accurate or scientific timing to the cooking of the parantha. It’s something you need to discover for yourself. Bear in mind that there is a fine line between browning and blackening of the parantha.
- Typically, I discard the first parantha because it blackens very quickly without cooking very well in the middle. After the first one, the rest work well, maybe because the first one seasons the tawa.