Monday, 27 February 2012

Gobi Besan Paratha, or cauliflower stuffed flatbreads with chickpea flour

Today we had these with Sambar
 Gobi parathas  (cauliflower stuffed flatbreads with chickpea flour)

As far as I’m concerned, these paratha are a labour of love.  (When I say paratha, I mean chapattis, also known as roti, that have delicious bits in them.)
Paratha and chapattis are tricky at the best of times, but use some besan flour, and you up the challenge.  There’s a lot of grumbling about gluten these days, gluten is the stuff that makes the dough elastic, and the less there is, the stiffer the dough becomes.  White flour has lots of gluten.  Whole wheat less, and besan flour almost none, if any.  Because this dough has so little gluten, it can be a little brittle to work with, and it doesn’t rise beautifully.  However, the taste and health factors in these goodies make them well worth your time. 

The dough 1 cup besan flour (chickpea flour)
1 cup whole wheat flour plus extra
½ teaspoon coarse salt
½ teaspoon cumin seed (optional)
¾ cup boiling water
1 tablespoon melted ghee
Another tablespoon or so of melted ghee to be used later

Mix the flours, cumin and salt in a large bowl.  Carefully pour in a bit of the water and ghee, and stir with a fork, adding more water and ghee and stirring.  I use a fork to stir at this stage, as the dough is too hot to handle.  When you’ve stirred in all the water and ghee, let the dough rest for about twenty minutes.   The flour is very dry here, because our climate is arid.  Consequently, I need the time for the dough to soak up the moisture, and it needs to cool down.  When you’re ready, take off your jewelry and put your hand into the dough.  You want to work it, kneeding in a circular fashion, within the bowl.  It’s easier with just one hand.  If it’s quite sticky, add more whole wheat flour, or you could even cheat and use white at this point.  You want it to be a nice firm dough, not sticky, but nice and springy.
Cover and let rest again. 

Keep the bits as small as possible.
The filling1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon ghee
1/3 red onion, finely diced
1 inch ginger, scraped and chopped fine
1 floret of cauliflower finely chopped
1 tablespoon garam masala or nice boxed masala
½ teaspoon tamarind paste
salt and chilli flakes to taste
10 stalks fresh cilantro

Heat the oil and ghee to medium heat, and gently fry the onions till they’re transparent.  Add the ginger and garlic, and fry for a few moments.  Add your ground spices.  Let fry for a few moments, then add the cauliflower and tamarind paste.  Cook for about five minutes.  Wash, dry and using scissors, cut the cilantro into the cauliflower.  Taste, remembering that the flavour will lessen when the filling is within the bread.  Adjust accordingly.
Spreading it out helps you visualize how many balls to make.
Now for the tricky part.   Starting with a spotless and dry countertop, dust a little wheat flour over your workspace.  I use a regular rolling pin, but a smaller Indian one is good too.  Lightly dust that as well.  Kneed the dough for a minute or so on the counter top.  Stretch it out in a long roll, and break off pieces that are somewhat larger than a golf ball.  At this point put the griddle onto medium heat.

Roll a piece of dough into a ball with both hands, using a quick motion.  It should be about an inch and a half across.  Push a hole into it with your thumb.  Fill the space with about a teaspoon of cauliflower filling.  Work the dough back into a ball, then place on your lightly floured counter.  Roll it out, aiming for a circle, with the dough as flat as you can get it, about an 1/8 of an inch thick, if possible.   Bits of vegetable will break through occasionally, but sigh and ignore it.  Lift the paratha with a scraper and your hand, and place on the griddle.  It’s easiest if two people are working together, one to fill and roll out the dough and one to watch the griddle and apply the ghee.  As soon as the dough starts to change colour a bit, flip it over and cook on the other side.  A few minutes does the trick.  At this point, spread a bit of ghee on the paratha and then the griddle and flip the paratha a third time.  Using a clean cloth or bit of paper towel, very gently press on the paratha, especially where you see it bubble.
This is truly the tricky part!  My Punjabi friend mastered the trick only by cooking chapattis for her dog for years on end.  (Her mother wouldn’t allow her to serve them to people till she’d perfected her method.)  If your method is perfect, the chapatti will puff up angelically. If not, don’t sweat it.

This is great for spreading ghee!
All in all, each paratha should only be cooked for a total of about five to seven minutes.  If they are burning before they’ve cooked, turn the heat down a little.  As each one is cooked, lift off and place in a deep enough dish to accommodate them all.  Some people brush a little more melted ghee on them as they are stacked.  This will always improve the taste, but maybe not your cholesterol level. 

You can keep them in a warming oven till they’re all done, or serve them as they’re cooked.  Today I served them with Sambar, but could just as easily served them with a bit of raita.   This recipe makes a wonderful weekend lunch, either way! 

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