Among all flatbreads I’ve tried—including naan, pita, tortilla and chapati—paratha is the one I love best. But we couldn’t have it very often in the past because of its cost. Too pricey because, as we had learned, production is labor intensive. Lucky us, my daughter Alex makes it often. In huge batches, when we ask her to.
Sometimes, I’m still amazed at how I learned to appreciate flatbread. As a child, I thought all breads should be soft and fluffy. Those that weren’t, I dismissed as inferior. I cut off the crusts because I considered them disposable. Only the best for the little girl that was me.
Then, I grew up. My world got bigger. I realized that the “superior” bread I had known all my life was really the most inferior—machine made in factories with no regard for flavor, texture, nutrition and the environment. I learned too that “fluffiness” was not a universal characteristic of bread and that the crust was actually a gauge for judging the its quality. It took years of unlearning what I knew about bread. Quite a culture shock, truth be told. And as if the shock was not enough, while recovering from it, I discovered flatbread.
Flatbreads, made without yeast and much older that yeast-raised bread, were just as good albeit in a different sense. Tortilla was the first flatbread I ever tried. That Mexican place called Tia Maria was starting to become popular, I tried enchiladas and I was smitten.
Then, came shawarma. Not knowing any other flatbread except tortilla, at first I thought the meat in shawarma was wrapped in tortilla. It would take a while for me to be able to distinguish between tortilla and pita. But it was my introduction to paratha that really rocked my expanding world of bread.
Flat, flaky, chewy and indescribably wonderful, paratha is native to India although it is also popular in Pakistan, Burma and Nepal. Paratha is made by rolling unleavened dough very thinly, brushing it with ghee, rolling and coiling it then rolling it again. The ghee between the layers make the dough puff during cooking and creates that delicate flakiness that is totally out of this world.
Commercially, paratha is pricey. Just check the prices at the grocery. The price it commands has little to do with the cost of ingredients. Rather, it is the labor-intensive production method that makes it expensive. Enjoying paratha at home used to be a luxury enjoyed occasionally. But since Alex learned to make it (I’m not sure if she learned it in culinary school or just by watching Youtube videos), well… When she makes them, we ask her to make a huge batch that we can store in the freezer. We just take out what we can eat, reheat on a skillet and it’s as good as the day it was baked.
The last time Alex made paratha, I took photos of the second half of the process.
The first part of making paratha is mixing the dough. The dough is formed into a ball. Then, the dough rests. The rested dough, now more pliable, is rolled into a log, cut into portions and formed into smaller balls.
The second part which appears in these photos shows how the layers are created.
A ball of dough is rolled out thinly, brushed with ghee and sprinkled with a little flour. Alex likes to add toasted onion on top of the ghee.
There are several ways to create the layers. Some cooks fold the rolled dough like a paper fan then coil it into a round shape before it is flattened again. Others fold then dough and twist it. Alex prefers cutting the dough into thin strips.
The strips are then gathered into a loose log which is stretched to make it longer and thinner. The log is wound into a knot and brushed with more ghee.
The knotted dough is flattened one last time before it goes into a pan set over medium heat. The paratha is cooked for a minute or so, flipped over and brushed with ghee. Another flip and a final brushing of ghee and the paratha is done.
In South Asia, sauces are mopped up with paratha. But you can enjoy paratha with just about meat or fish dish, or even with just soup. We had paratha with pan fried beef and egg for dinner and it was a marvelous meal.