Stuffed flatbread (paratha) to keep up with the modern times
Traditional paratha is a flaky shallow fried bread the size of a tortilla – often stuffed with potatoes or ground meat and fried in clarified butter. In our modern times where the man (or woman) gets his (or her) exercise from typing on a keypad or working the remote, paratha is a slow killer – first the expanding midsection, then diabetes, the clogged arteries and finally a failed heart.
My favorite paratha in the whole world is my mother-in-law’s – stuffed with potatoes. She is wonder with potatoes – what she can do with them, most cooks can only dream of. Remember the potato battle between Iron chef Chen Kenichi and TV cook Katsuyo Kobayashi? My mum-in-law with potatoes is like Katsuyo Kobayashi. Her flaky whole wheat flatbread stuffed with unevenly mashed potatoes and bits of ginger, green chillies and chopped coriander that explode in your mouth are definitely worth dying for. Thankfully, for my heart, my access to her parathas are limited.
I have been trying to perfect a healthy version of stuffed paratha. Why? Not eating parathas is easier said than done. It is like not eating pizza or hamburger. I won’t blame you if you are groaning inwardly and thinking of pizza made with whole wheat bread and soy cheese topping. But that is not what I offer. This recipe is attempting to follow principles of Sally Schneider in her New Way of Cooking – keep the flavor in and keep the calories light.
Recipe (serves 2):
- 1/2 head of medium size cauliflower (~250-275 gms)
The first thing we do is to replace the stuffing – from potatoes to cauliflower. Cauliflower is a very low glycemic index vegetable and is traditionally used in stuffed parathas. However, cauliflower makes the dough harder to bind, so most recipes use very little for stuffing or pre-cook the cauliflower. In this recipe, we will try to use a lot of raw cauliflower which will allow for a crunchy fried cauliflower taste.
- 1 cup of whole wheat white flour (~140 gm)
- 1/8 cup of wheat bran (~10 gm)
By increasing the amount of bran in whole wheat, the parathas turn out nuttier and crispier. Besides being good for your guts. If using whole wheat regular flour, omit the bran. In subsequent pan frying, we will reduce the amount of oil significantly. If we didn’t add additional bran, reduced oil would make a less flaky/crispy paratha.
- 1 inch piece of ginger finely chopped
- 1 thai chilli finely chopped
- 2 Tbsp finely chopped coriander leaves
- 1 Tbsp crushed coriander seeds
- 1 Tbsp dried mango powder
- 1 medium size shallot
- 1 tsp salt
In a food processor, place large florets of the cauliflower with shallot, ginger and chilli and pulse a few times to make a coarse meal. To this, add salt and leave for 1-12 hours. A couple of hours is sufficient but sometimes, ability to leave something overnight is convenient. My moms generation doesn’t believe prep ahead. But I do.
When you are ready to cook, squeeze out any excess water from the cauliflower meal, if any. The remaining moisture in the cauliflower will be used to bind the dough. Add coriander seed, chopped coriander leaves, salt and the mango powder.
Parathas are typically served with raita. For a minimalist raita recipe, mix the following ingredients (serves 2):
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 1 tsp chopped mint leaves
- 1 tsp roasted and crushed cumin seeds
- 1 tsp minced shallots
- salt to taste
We need to work quickly once the dough is formed, so assemble the following:
- 1 iron pan, 8-9-inches in diameter on medium-high heat
- 1 heavy duty spatula
- 2-3 Tbs of canola oil for pan frying
- 1 silicone brush for smearing oil on the flatbread
- Rolling pin and flat surface (preferably marble)
- 1/3 cup of whole wheat flour for rolling
Add the bran and the wheat flour to the cauliflower meal and combine into a dough. To make a pliable dough I have found that no additional water or flour is needed. But flours behave differently. If the dough seems too wet to work with, add upto 1/4 cup of wheat flour until desired consistency is reached. Although we are trying to minimize dough-to-cauliflower ratio, it is easier to work with higher proportion of dough in the beginning. Don’t be in a hurry to add additional liquid, the dough gets pliable very quickly as you knead and continues to get wet as it sits.
Divide the dough into six pieces, shape each into a ball. For each piece, flatten into a 6-7 inch diameter tortilla with rolling pin and little flour. Only experts can roll this into perfectly symmetrical circles. I just aim for a roundish shape. Transfer gently to the pan. Flip after 30-45 sec, brush with 1/2 tsp of oil and flip again. Brush with 1/2 tsp of oil on the dry side. Cook the paratha on each side for 1-2 minutes until light brown spots appear. Flip no more than 2-3 times during the 2-3 minutes it takes to cook each paratha. Serve immediately for best results (with raita and pickles).
Parathas tend to dry out at low heat, so it is necessary that you work fast with medium-high heat. It does get smoky, so keep the range hood exhaust on while pan frying.
Traditionally, the cauliflower mixture is used in the true sense of stuffing i.e., make a 3 inch diameter tortilla, put the mixture in the center, pull up the edges to make a ball of dough containing the mixture inside, remake the tortilla this time 5 inches in diameter and then pan fry with 1 Tbsp of ghee. For me, the skin of the cauliflower stuffed parathas breaks unless I use less stuffing (~ 2 Tbsp). But then the paratha has more flour to stuffing ratio – something my recipe is trying to minimize.