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Thursday, 18 October 2012

Tani's Very Green Parathas the double virtue (!?) of being half Bengali and having spent the better part of my life in Southern India, you'd think - and quite justifiably at that - that I must love my rice.
And I do! Very much indeed.

But - here's an unexpected secret:
I love my Roti more!

And not just a little more. A lot, lot more. And have, ever since ever.

Which is pretty darn bizarre when you think about it because I belong to as staunch a family of rice eaters as they come. And which, in turn, leads the romantic in me  to believe that marrying my Punjabi, Roti devouring Sid was written. There's really no other explanation; it was simply meant to be.

That little passionate declaration of love out of the way, let's
take a(nother) moment to digress. Because digression as you know is one of my most favourite activities. So in the spirit of digression, I'd like you to take a moment to ponder the notion of hierarchy.

Now, hierarchy, according to Wikipedia, "is an arrangement of items (objects, names, values, categories, etc.) in which the items are represented as being "above," "below," or "at the same level as" one another." So hierarchy provides structure to things, a pecking order of desirability, if you like. And  whether one wishes to admit it or not, there is always some sort of hierarchy to most aspects of life, whether in government, organizations, militia or countries.
And - before you laugh - so it is with Roti.
Now, the hierarchy in the Roti family (unlike Japan) is entirely subjective. My number 1 may not be your number 1 and your number 1 may not be my number 1 and we can all agree to disagree and live happily ever after. In fact, on yet another random aside, I'd love nothing more than to hear your personal Roti hierarchy - knowing whether you place the Roomali over the Kulcha (and so on) would make for some very interesting bedtime reading, so do drop me a line if you can. (Yes, I think I have just allowed you unfettered access into the mind of a deranged foodophile...)

But, getting (finally) to the point of it all, I have to admit that my number 1 in the Roti clan is without contest, the Paratha - that beautiful
unleavened flat-bread made by pan frying whole-wheat dough on a tava or griddle, layer upon flaky layer of delicious buttery goodness -  what's there not to love?  

I could not tire of the Paratha you know. Even if I tried. And I mean that sincerely. 

I love it. 
Truly, madly, deeply. 
In fact I went through a bizarre two-week phase in my life where all I did was eat Parathas ordered from various Sub Continental restaurants across New York City for dinner every night. I consumed many quantities of parathas of all types - plain paratha, methi paratha, lachha paratha, aloo paratha, gobi paratha, unda paratha, keema paratha, mooli paratha, even (a rather awful) "ponir" paratha from the chaps down on Brick Lane. 

It was a veritable "Woman vs. Paratha" fest, it was.

Needless to say, I'm quite the authority on NYC Parathas, so if you're ever in the market for such valuable info, please be aware that I shall be glad to dispense it for free. 
I'm nice like that.

Restaurants aside, (and I promise) getting to the core of this note - the best Paratha in the world comes from the kitchens of my friend Tani, who makes Parathas which are most distinctive. Yes, I do mean in taste. But - more importantly - I mean, in appearance. Tani's Parathas, you see, are a curious shade of green.

Now what's remarkable about this whole thing is that the Green Parathas or "Paronthi" as she calls them in Punjabi, were not even meant for me. Oh no!
I stumbled upon them by pure accident. Or sheer luck. Whichever you prefer. But, whatever you'd like to call it, my dear friends, the truth was that I chanced upon this delightful creation in a monumental act of serendipity.

The events unfolded as follows:

I was over for dinner at Tani's house, hanging out with her in the kitchen, chatting about this and that, while she fiddled with an excellent looking chicken curry...when suddenly I noticed, tucked into the far corner of the polished granite worktop, a most wondrous sight. For wrapped most neatly in a sheet of cling film, was a mound of very green dough.

Now as you would rightly expect from a passionate and obsessive food freak such as myself, on seeing such a delightful thing as very green dough, my senses were immediately piqued.

"What's that," I asked.

"Green paronthi" she replied, "for the kids. Aunty makes them."

Noting the perplexed look on my face, she kindly proffered an explanation:

"They won't eat their vegetables any other way, ya.
So we have to mix spinach and broccoli and stuff into the flour."

(Aunty by the way, is the lovely lady who quadruples as cook, nanny, babysitter and general matriarchal protector of the Singh family, encapsulated quite lovingly by anyone who knows her as "aunty")

Anyway, back to the very green dough. Now: given that I had not that long ago spent a good two weeks of my life eating the Paratha varietals of every establishment from 9th street to 96th street, there really wasn't that much in parathaland that I hadn't tasted.

But this - even for me - was remarkably novel.

"Ohhhhhh" I remarked
in deep contemplation.

Then: (contemplation duly complete)
"Can I try?", I asked - adventurous (as ever)
"Yes, of course" she replied - gracious (as ever), reaching for the very green dough, taking some in her fingers, shaping it into a ball, and rolling it out with the expert dexterity that only a Sardarni from The Punjab can ever hope to achieve.

And so she rolled and she folded and she rolled again. And she folded and she rolled and she folded again. And I tried not to look at the butter that she so lovingly added
each time she rolled and she folded and she folded and she rolled.

But when that baby sizzled on the griddle, my friends - time, for a few but precious moments - came to a breathtaking halt.

For Green History had just been created.

Hot, crispy, flaky, melt-in-your-mouth goodness...this was the one of the most gorgeous things my lips have ever touched.

A landslide victory for the Botanists, I tell you!

So here is Tani's recipe - or technically, Auntie's recipe. And for precisely that reason, you'll have to use some approximation with the exact quantities...but then it's small price to pay for something this authentic. Make it please! This is one of those things that everyone has simply got to taste at least once in their lives!

Here's what you need (verbatim from Aunty, duly translated by Tani):

- Vegetables: Broccoli, Spinach, carrots (for sweetness), beans, zucchini, peas - any or all of these can be combined with spinach as the main ingredient - washed and roughly chopped (they'll be boiled later so don't worry about fine chopping)
- Lentils - moong daal, binds them together - a 1/4 katori (bowl) washed and soaked for 10 mins.

- Adrak (Ginger) - one finger phalange size (for making the food easier to digest)
- Salt to taste

Here's how you do it (verbatim from Aunty, although I am inclined to believe that Tani is the rightful owner of the truly terrible spinach joke):

"In a pressure cooker, put all the ingredients and put enough water so they are all covered with water. Not too much water (spinach also leaves some of its own - no pun intended!). Bring it all to a boil - 2 whistles. When it cools - put it in a blender and make a puree. Now use this thickish puree to 'goondo your aata'...don't use any whatever quantity of aata you choose - it should not be so much that you need to use water.

And that's it - use that for your yummy, healthy parathas."

Right, so that's how you get your very green dough. Now, here's where I come in to tell you how to go from dough to Parathas. So here are the steps, numbered because it involves several folds and rolls and I know it's all pretty darn confusing...but what the hey, here goes!

1) Roll the dough into a circular disc of roughly 3/4 inch diameter. 
2) Spread some butter uniformly on this disc. 
3) Next, fold it in half so its a semi-circle. 
4) Now again spread some butter on the surface. 
5) Fold it once more, so its quarter shaped, like a quesadilla triangle. 
6) Now sprinkle some wheat flour over it and roll out the double folded dough into a circle.So you're really back to square one, but not really - because in all the folding (not to mention the buttering) you've created some truly beautiful layers which will be crisp, flaky and delicious when done. 
7) Final step - Fry the Parathas on a tava or griddle with a tad more butter (but of course). 

And there you have it!

So to my gorgeous friend Tani, who by some magical combination of great looking genes, a radiant personality and a wonderful temperament, is a fountain of beauty and youth - here is my wish for you:

May you always remain as evergreen as your parathas!

All my love now and always 

YA x

1 comment:

  1. Amu - I LOVE it!!!! You've captured the whole painstaking experience of getting a very picky Rohan to eat all that green stuff! To give due credit - Mom had come up with the green paronthi concept and it was such a staple in our house - that Aunty inherited it when she came to us with Nea. But for the past 7 years, she has perfected the technique and it's got all her traces on it now. And yes, I'll take the credit (!!?) for the spinach joke. ha ha. As an update - it's still is the only sure shot way to get our 12 and 7 year old to get their greens! Should I pre-warn Ranbir? :-)