Morning had broken and I was up early, pulled out of bed by the inertia of the working week. As I stretched, I welcomed the long weekend with delight and anticipation. The peaceful stretch of the morning, when I am in the kitchen and the rest of the family is sleeping, is one of my favorite times of the day, it is an occasional treat usually reserved for those holiday mornings I am out and about before the others. I suddenly contemplated making Alu Parathas – a traditional potato stuffed flatbread that is comfort breakfast particularly in Northern India. These simple flat breads were an engaging project, but they never failed to bring a smile to my husband’s face, invoking the comfort of Macaroni and Cheese and decadence of Eggs Benedict all at once.
This morning, I decided that it was my turn to welcome these flat breads home. For all their purported simplicity these flatbreads involved their share of precision and effort and not something that worked well on a typical weekend morning filled with its share of errands, music lessons, games and other commitments almost as daunting as the weekday calendar. However, that is the magic of an extra day added to the weekend, invitingly called me to bring home the breakfasts of childhood, almost telling me, “Go ahead… You can do it!” Indeed on this beautiful early spring morning, with the grass beginning to turn green and the daffodils nodding their bright yellow heads, while the sun played hide and seek with the silver lined clouds, it was difficult for me to resist their inspiring call. I knew I needed to celebrate the morning, merge it with the soulful mornings of my childhood, and bring home the simple beauty of a weekend breakfast.
It was peaceful in my kitchen, my daughter quietly working on a school project, just outside, popping in on occasion to check in on my progress. The potatoes boiled in the saucepan, as I kneaded the whole wheat dough my hands moving in an ageless rhythm. A rhythm that I had learned from my mother-in-law’s kitchen and maybe hope someday my daughter would learn from mine. The boiled potatoes were mashed and sprinkled with fresh spices. I carefully placed them into dough pockets, shaping them into circles, rolling them out without letting the filling spill out and then proceeded to cook them on my well work cast iron griddle.
The bread embraced the hot griddle, blistering and puffing ever so lightly and I gently slid some oil around the edges of the flatbread allowing it to crisp up, filling our home with the fragrance of memories and comfort. Crisp golden brown flat breads filled with soft spicy potatoes, began stacking up glistening and golden. As if on cue, both father and son had woken up and joined me in the kitchen surveying my progress with delighted pleasure. I relinquished my solitude for the happy companionship of my family as the kitchen filled with chattering voices and the sound of plates and glasses.
As I placed the flat breads on the plate, I added a pat of extra butter on my flatbread as done traditionally, leaving my husbands without the same as he is healthier in his preferences. To my surprise, he pulled my buttered flatbread on to his plate in mock protest with the stealth of a child, leaving the children and me watching in amusement as he happily ate the hot crisp well-seasoned bread doused with melting butter with the delight of a child. As I watched him, I realized that in tradition we find nostalgia, and in nostalgia the spontaneity of childhood. As we sat down breaking bread together in happy silence, I enjoyed my breakfast basking in the satisfaction of a morning well spent.
A classic recipe for Alu Paratha or North Indian Potato Stuffed Flat breads.
- 2 cups whole wheat flour (atta), plus extra flour for rolling
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons oil plus oil for pan frying
- 4 potatoes (Yukon Gold or russet; about 1½ pounds), boiled in their jackets and peeled
- 1 small red onion, very finely chopped
- ¾ teaspoon red cayenne pepper powder
- ¾ teaspoon powdered cumin
- ¾ teaspoon powdered coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon amchur (dried mango powder) or
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Method of Preparation
- Sift the flour into the bowl of a food processor. Add the salt and 1 tablespoon of the oil and pulse a few times. Gradually add ½ cup of water a little at a time, pulsing to let the dough form a crumbly mass. Run the food processor for about 30 seconds and the dough should roll into a ball.
- Place the dough on a flat surface and knead well for about 2 minutes, it should form a smooth pliable dough. Shape into a ball and coat with the remaining tablespoon of oil. Cover the dough and let it rest for about 30 minutes in a warm place.
- Place the cooked potatoes in a mixing bowl. Add the red onion, cayenne pepper powder, cumin-coriander powder, ground fennel seeds, amchur or lime or lemon juice, and salt. Mash the mixture until smooth and well mixed.
- Give the prepared roti dough a good kneading to remove all the bubbles and let it rest for about 30 minutes. Gently knead the dough and break into 12 lime-size balls. Roll each ball out on a generously floured surface into a 6-inch diameter circle. Place some potato filling in the middle of a circle and bring the sides of the dough up around the filling and form into a ball. Place the ball seam side down on a greased platter.
- Continue with the remainder of the dough circles. Let the dough balls rest in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes. Gently roll the filled dough balls out on a floured surface to 6-inch circles being careful not to squeeze out the filling.
- Heat a griddle or flat pan. It is important to have a well-heated skillet for the purpose of making Indian breads. Place a paratha on the hot pan, cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until delicate brown spots appear on the surface, then turn and cook for another minute. Spread some oil on the top of the paratha and flip over and fry until crisp. Spread some more oil on top of the
- Paratha and flip over and crisp on the other side. Repeat with the remaining dough circles. For an indulgent touch of decadence serve with extra butter and yogurt.
Recipe from Spices and Seasons, Simple, Sustainable Indian Flavors