I’ve searched high and low but cannot find a recipe for parathas anywhere. Before you start bombarding me with links to the contrary please note – I am fully aware that the net is saturated with recipes for what are effectively chapatti dough that’s been rolled out once and then fried, however these are not the parathas that I know and love. These are recipes for chapatti dough that’s been rolled out once and then fried.
There’s nothing out there for the kind that my mum has always rustled up. Hers are crisp, delicate and most importantly of all, shot through with a mille feuille of flaky buttery layers.
When I was about five years old I remember spending many a fun-filled afternoon helping to make these. I’d stand on a chair steadying the bowl as she poured in a big puff of chapatti and plain flours, sending up a white cloud of dust and depositing a fine and ghostly layer on my little brown arms and face. She’d then instruct me to mix in a big pinch of salt and make a hollow in the centre. Into this well she would pour what must have been a couple of teaspoons of molten ghee. There were never any measurements.
I would then incrementally add drops from a milk bottle and mix these in until it was just on the cusp of pliable and sticky. She would tell me that the stickiness was important because a firm dough that’s been made with less liquid is easier to work with but nowhere near as tasty to eat. I just thought the stickiness was important because I was five.
She’d plonk me in front of Chorlton and the Wheelies with a big bowl of this dough. I’d happily sit there, kneading away and wondering what it must be like to live in a teapot until the sticky mixture would come together in a smooth and supple dough.
I’d then divide this into lemon sized lumps and roll each one out onto a floured surface until it was incredibly thin. I’d smear a circle of ghee in the middle of this, spreading this out to the edges of the dough. I’d then carefully fold the circle (or whatever imaginative shape I was able to manage at that age) in half, fold that semi-circle in half, and fold that in half again until I was left with a small package of layered dough, about the size of a playing card. I’d then roll that out very, very thinly and start the whole process again…this ghee-smearing-folding-rolling out process would be repeated a good four or five times with each individual paratha until my mother was satisfied there were enough layers in each one. The dough squares would then be rolled up into long thin cylinders. Each cylinder would be coiled around into a spiral and gently flattened with a rolling pin. A large frying pan would be brought to pancake-making heat with a spoonful of vegetable oil and if we had company, a knob of ghee. The parathas were then rolled out to the size of small dinner plates and shallow-fried until puffy and golden. We’d eat them hot from the pan with chicken curry or masoor dahl, the rich, herbal goodness dotted with flecks of blackened onion.
You can substitute the milk for water and the ghee for olive oil if you’re that way inclined. I sometimes like to spread a crushed clove of garlic on top just before frying or dot the surface of the dough with a fine sprinkling of ground cumin. It’s also nice to stuff them with mashed potatoes and peas, flavoured with a touch of cumin, curry powder, mustard oil, finely chopped green chilli, shallot and coriander. Just put a dessert spoon full into the square of folded dough, fold over and carefully roll out before frying, taking care not to let the stuffing ooze out. If you’re in a different sort of mood, a slice of paneer and some methi leaves in the middle are just the ticket.
If you don’t have clarified butter to hand it’s absolutely fine to render down some butter over the lowest heat possible and use this. Or if you really want to make your own, here’s the science bit:
2 x packs of unsalted organic butter
1 heavy based saucepan
1 piece of muslin
A sterilized air-tight container
Heat the butter very gently over a low heat until it starts to splutter and sizzle. Skim off any sediment that appears on the surface but take care not to stir. After about 20-30 minutes the butter should have clarified i.e. it should have separated and become clear enough for you to see the bottom of the pan which will have a layer of golden brown milk solids. It’s important not to let these solids burn, they should be no darker than nut brown. Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool down for about 15 minutes. Then strain a couple of times through the muslin cloth. It’s important not to get any sediment in the ghee at all so the more you sieve this better.
If kept in an airtight and moisture free container this will happily live in a cupboard for a couple of months.