I still remember the first bites of pakora and samosa, the little bowls of colorful condiments full of new flavors. Indian food brought me my first tastes of lamb (still pretty much the only occasion that I eat it) and lentils, and the rich and richly flavored sauces scooped up with soft, buttery pieces of naan. I remember coming home with my clothes saturated with the smell of spices.
When we were kids, my sisters and I each got one night a week, our “special” night, with each of our parents. For my night with my mom, it was either a movie at the Little Theater or a dinner out, often introducing me to something new: Greek, Japanese, Ethiopian, and of course, Indian. It’s continued to be a special occasion food in my life–birthday dinners then with high school friends (we felt so grown up when we finally didn’t need our parents to chauffeur us around), birthday lunches and dinners now with friends in Chicago and coining the term “Indian-full” when we over-indulge.
It’s the food I went to when I found myself suddenly back home earlier this year, spending the day hanging around the hospital with my dad, at night needing the familiar comfort of one of those high school friends over plates of samosas and naan and dal (and maybe a glass of wine or three).
As much as I love eating Indian food, I rarely make it; surprising considering my love of anything that involves spices. The few times I’ve tried, it just wasn’t quite right and I didn’t know enough on how to fix it. Last weekend, I was lucky enough to take a cooking class at Moksha Yoga, taught by a fantastic cook and cookbook author, Anupy Singla (her company and blog are also the title of this post). Over two classes she showed us, an attentive (if quiet) group of 10, how to make some of the simplest but most flavorful basics: dal (spiced lentils), basmati rice, salad, raita (yogurt sauce), curry (essentially, gravy or sauce), and roti.
Everything we made was spectacular, but the most fun was the roti, whole wheat flatbread similar to tortillas. Roti is the more common bread served in Indian homes, which makes sense–it’s simply flour and water, rolled, flattened, and quickly cooked in a hot, dry pan. Naan, on the other hand, needs yeast and rising and temperatures far beyond the capacity of most home ovens.
Making roti also means a fun little magic trick–in the process of cooking, the water in the dough boils and steams, puffing up the little circles of dough. They can be served with just about anything, made sweet or savory, stuffed with leftovers (those would be parathas), or even made with pureed cooked lentils instead of water for a little protein boost. I can’t wait to try these with a bowl of dal or cauliflower curry and rice!
The type of flour really makes a difference–I’ve tried to make these with regular whole wheat flour and they just don’t work as well. Most larger grocery stores should carry whole wheat pastry flour, or look for soft white wheat instead of hard red wheat.
3 cups whole wheat pastry flour, plus extra 1/4 cup for dusting
1 1/2 cups water
Ghee or butter for serving (optional)
Stir together flour and water until it forms a ball. Pour reserved 1/4 cup of flour on a small plate and set aside. Flatten a small ball of dough slightly in your hands. Pat both sides in the plate of flour, then begin rolling out with a rolling pin.
Anupy showed us a clever trick that if you press slightly harder on one side of the rolling pin, the roti will rotate itself into a perfect circle; otherwise just pick it up and rotate it as you roll. If dough begins to stick, dust again in the flour. Roti should be a little thinner than a tortilla.
Heat a pan over medium heat. Place one roti at a time in the pan and cook for 30 to 40 seconds, until the edges start to curl. Flip and cook the other side, pressing the roti into the pan with a paper towel for another 30 to 40 seconds. Flip again, continuing to stamp, for another 30 seconds; the dough will begin to puff up a little.
Remove the pan from the heat, and set roti directly over the flame; it should puff up like a pita. Flip and cook the other side.
Brush very lightly with ghee if you like, and serve warm.