A paratha is an unleavened Indian flat bread that is commonly eaten at breakfast,lunch or dinner. Parathas start with hand kneading a whole wheat dough, that is then portioned off into small balls that are eventually rolled out into circles. These breads are then cooked on a hot griddle or baked inside a tandoor.
Parathas are often stuffed with vegetables, lentils or meat to make a complete meal and thereby bypassing the whole hullabaloo of making an accompaniment to be served alongside plain old rotis. They are also an ingenious way to use up leftovers.
The Aloo paratha is a signature stuffed paratha bread. Albeit a hearty and filling bread but it hails from the land that is abundantly blessed with wheat and dairy - the Punjab. This region is often subject to harsh winters and agriculture is an important source of income for many families. So when you head out to work on a cold wintry morning you want to have a bellyful of good, hearty and wholesome energy giving food.
Parathas are not very common in the southern part of India where rice is more of a staple. But you do find some versions of it like the Ceylon paratha, the Malabar paratha and such. They are commonly served at restaurants that dot the highway. These parathas are layered and flaky and are served with a rich curry on the side.
Lalitha's Paratha Point close to Commercial Street at Bangalore is one place that assures you that they serve you authentic Punjabi parathas. The best parathas that I've ever had were at a small Dhaba on a highway from Delhi to Jaipur. They were thick and flaky, and the filling was robustly spiced but still not overpowering or greasy. Of course there were generous lashings of white butter accompanying it. But one paratha is all it took to keep us a group of well fed happy travelers.
Well to be honest with you I'm not a very authentic paratha maker. So don't go launch into an Aloo paratha competition with your old Punjabi neighbor aunty with this recipe. However I have stuck to the basic concept of spiced potatoes stuffed inside a bread. I've played around with the seasoning and spices depending on what I have on hand. This version is especially a breeze to make when your pantry and fresh vegetable source is dwindling down to look like old mother Hubbard's cupboard. It makes for a complete,satisfying and delicious meal when served with yogurt and mango pickle.
Surprisingly for my veggie hating toddler this goes down pretty well. Well....... does tomato ketchup count as a veggie? No? But.....it is bursting with lycopene and has all these antioxidant benefits. Still no?
Okay okay to get your little one to love this - just reserve some of the stuffing before tossing the green chillies in. Grate some carrots into this reserved portion. When you're making his paratha just griddle it as usual making sure to grease only one side of the paratha. You can up the protein content by adding some cheese. On the dry side grate some mozzarella or cheddar and fold over into a half moon. Press down and cook well on both sides till it crisps up and the cheese is all gooey and melty inside. Cut into three or more triangles and serve with the only veggie he thinks he's eating - the tomato ketchup . Hee hee. Evil.
For the outer covering of bread
2 cups of whole wheat atta or flour
1 cup of water at room temperature
1/2 tsp of salt
1 tsp of oil
For the inner potato/aloo stuffing
4 medium potatoes
1 tsp of ginger finely grated or minced
2 tbsps of fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 tbsp of fresh green coriander leaves, finely chopped
8 hot green chillies, finely chopped
1/2 tsp of ajwain or carom seeds
1/2 tsp of amchur powder
1/2 tsp of garam masala powder
1/4 tsp of cumin/jeera powder
1/4 tsp of coriander/dhania powder
To make the atta or dough
1)In a large mixing bowl measure out two cups of the atta or whole wheat flour. Add the salt and mix well using your hands to distribute the salt evenly across the flour.
2)Add the oil and mix gently using your fingertips to get a an uneven crumbly texture.
3)Add the water in gradually. Do not dump the whole cup of water in as you can't take it out but you can always add more in if your dough seems dry. See note below.
4)Knead well to form a smooth supple dough. This should take about 5 - 7 mins.
5)If you don't plan on using the dough right away you can add an extra 1 tbsp of water while kneading the dough and refrigerate the dough. It will keep fresh for up to 2 days.
6)Cover and set aside for about 20 mins before rolling the parathas out.
To make the potato/aloo stuffing
1)Pressure cook the potatoes in a double boiler mechanism i.e the potatoes are in a bowl that sits in a simmering water bath inside a pressure cooker. Don't add the potatoes directly into the water. Another option would be to microwave them till they are soft. Boiling the potatoes is a no-no as they soak up a lot of the water and the stuffing tends to get slimy.
2)When the potatoes cool enough to touch, remove their skins and grate them.
3)Heat a thick pan and add the oil when the oil is hot but not smoking add the carom/ajwain seeds roast for about 5 secs before adding the finely chopped chillies and grated ginger.
Add the cumin and coriander powders and quickly stir them about without burning the mixture.
3)Toss in the grated potatoes along with the salt and mix well so that the mixture gets a uniform distribution of the salt and spices.Take away from fire.
4)Add the amchur and garam masala powders and mix well.These are added at the very end as they lose their flavours when subject to high heat.Lastly add the fresh mint and coriander leaves.
5)Refrigerate for at least half an hour to make the stuffing easy to work with. I recommend this step highly - especially if you're trying your hand out at this for the very first time.
To make the actual paratha itself
1)Divide the dough into golf ball sized portions.
2)Roll them into medium sized circles maybe about 6 inches in diameter or the size of a CD.
3)Take about 2 heaped tablespoons of the stuffing and shape it into a ball.
4)Place the stuffing at the center and gently gather the edges and twist to form a money bag shape. Remove any excess dough that sticks out.
5)Roll gently to form a ball. Roll out these stuffed dough portions with a rolling pin gently making them as thin and circular as possible without forcing the stuffing out. They can be up to 1/4 inch thick.
6)Grease a thick griddle or a tawa and heat on a medium flame. Gently lower the rolled out paratha onto this. Grease on both sides and cook well till you see uniform brown dots all over the bread.
7)Keep warm until it time to serve.
Additional notes to help your parathas turn out great!
1)Rest and refrigerate the dough and stuffing for at least 2 hours. This makes them easier to handle and roll out.
2)When making the atta or bread dough don't follow recipes to the T. Different flours absorb different quantities of water. It all depends on how fine the wheat is ground. Watch for signs where you think the dough has had enough or too little water. Eye ball it.
3)The flour used impacts the texture and flavor of the bread. I gues that was obvious and unnecessary to say but I can't resist. What I'm trying to say here is use good quality atta. We use Aashirwad atta at home. It's pretty good. Your store help should be able to guide you on this. The next best thing is to actually grind your own flour at a mill nearby......but that's a completely different story saved away for another post.