Saturday, October 18, 2008

Learning to make roti

As well as rice, roti is another staple in Indian cuisine. It's a bit like naan bread but much thinner and not as large. You get served 3 or 4 pieces with your meal instead of, or sometimes in addition to, your rice. Dillip asked if I would like his wife to teach me how to make them as I'd commented on how good hers were and also because you can't buy them in the shops – they're always made at home. So last night, after work, I popped upstairs to his house and had my first Indian cookery lesson. The basic recipe is flour mixed with salt and water to make a dryish dough – a bit like pastry but there's no butter in it. You then knead the dough as you would any other bread – in India this is done in the bowl rather than on the counter because it is considered unsavoury to touch food with your left hand and kneading with one hand is easier in a bowl. All that was quite easy – I think it will take a couple of times to get the consistency exactly right but not difficult in theory. You then divide the dough into fish-cake sized patties – again using one hand but in the privacy of my own home I imagine I'll probably use both – and you then roll the patties into rounds and this is where a lot of practice will be required. On a round roti-sized wooden board, the aim is create perfect circles out of the patties with a rolling pin – not only do they have to be perfect circles but they have to be of an even thickness – there's no cutting off the bits round the edges as you would with pastry. Somehow, you also have to majically turn the dough in the process of rolling it rather than manually shifting it round. There was much mirth at my square or otherwise irregularly shaped rotis and my need to manually turn the dough in between rolling. Having made your perfect circles – or not – you then dry fry them on the hob – squashing down any air bubbles that might appear. You use a special cast-iron pan for this – the name of which escapes me – but it's a bit like a frying pan without the sides. When it is cooked it looks a bit like a thick pancake and you then transfer it to a round griddle which you hold over the heat. At this point you find out whether your rolling skills are up to par – if the roti is round and even, the middle of it will separate and top half will fill with air for about 30 seconds; you then toss your roti – pancake style – and the other side rises and your creation ends up nice and light. However, if you haven't got it right it won't rise at all – it's too thick; will only produce a few disjointed bubbles – you haven't rolled it evenly enough; or split at one side – it's not round enough. Most Indian housewives can make dozens of perfect rotis in about 20 minutes – it took me about half an hour to make 5 none of which came anywhere near perfection. So I'm off down to the market tomorrow to buy the requisite pan, griddle and roti board as I think I'll need fair amount of practice before I can offer my creations to any of my neighbours. They will off course need curry to go with them but that's another lesson for another day.

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