When you marry a North Indian Punjabi guy, regardless of the fact that he was born in England, you learn how to make Aloo Paranthas. These spicy potato filled flat breads are a ‘necessity’ and must be perfected. It took me a couple of years of watching, learning and practicing to get these to work to the point where the filling didn’t break through. It was a task keeping them round at first too, and no matter what I did, the potatoes would just break through and destroy it. Many secretly ended up in the compost bin and never made it to the skillet, and many were destroyed half way cooked from the skillet into the compost bin. Of all the things I have had to learn to cook, these ones were one of the trickiest, most annoying and irritatingly pernickety things to put together.
How did I figure this out? I watched one of our friends JKC cook these for her family and she is famous for making them perfect, crispy, thin layered that melt in your mouth perfectly with the butter. I was fortunate enough to enjoy them at her house a few times, and watch her make them as we chatted away in her kitchen. Now this is a particularly pernickety cook who does not let anyone help her in her kitchen, not even to do the dishes or should I say, particularly not even to do the dishes. It was fun to watch how she made them precisely perfect, each and every time. It gave me the confidence to try again, but it was a long time and I mean a very long time before I could make them near enough to match her standards.
The resultant parantha or flat bread has to be paper thin in terms of the bread casing that holds it all together, it must be sturdy enough to hold filling that’s heavier than the amount of dough we use and it shouldn’t be oozing out in places. The bread gets crispy, the filling stays soft and when you add the butter on top, it should just ooze into the bread as you break it to give you the perfect bite. The perfect bite?….has to the combination of the bread, the spicy potato stuffing and the butter flavour all into one greasy little morsel that melts in your mouth. For those who like a spicy kick in their food, can add a little bit of the spiciest Mango pickle that you can lay your hands on, and just add a little bit of that to this perfect bite. But it doesn’t end there. Once your mouth is tingling with the buttery spicy flavour of what you have enjoyed, you have to take a sip of some Chai – homemade cardamom chai that has been sweetened slightly – the tea almost titillates all those flavours again, ready for the next bite. Yes, it kicks up the spicey sensation of what you are eating, but there is something to be said about the sadist addictive nature of all this. Once you try it, you will also be hooked.
Make a perfect aloo parantha for your Punjabi man, and watching the contentment and happiness on his face after he has enjoyed this is probably the same as when he has a full English breakfast. It would be impossible for my husband to choose between the two for a Sunday breakfast, that’s for sure. I have a feeling, the aloo parantha might win more than the English breakfast would.
The dough needs to be perfect for the parantha as it needs to be able to stretch comfortably without breaking the filling through and also crisp up. I use equal parts of durum wheat and all purpose flour (the purist Punjabis would not approve of this, I know, but that’s how I do it). I find the all purpose flour helps the dough get a lot more stretchier and crispier. Knead it well and let it rest for at least 20 minutes before using.
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup durum wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp canola oil
Water as required
It is hard to gauge the amount of water that you may need to put the dough together, as it depends on how dry or old the flour is. I just add a little at a time as I use my hands to get it all together. It is a bit like making pizza dough, only tighter. So using less water than what you would for a pizza dough, knead the dough together and allow it to rest. If the dough has softened too much, put it in the fridge for half an hour. If its too tight, let it rest outside.
For those who have been following my blog would know, I’m not this detail oriented when it comes to cooking but this particular recipe, unfortunately I have to be. Now, we get to the potatoes. Any type of potato works well but it doesn’t like the Yukon gold for some reason, as they go a little sticky on me in this process.
Boil the potatoes until they are fork tender and before the skin starts to break. If you can boil these the night before, its even better as they would be cold then.
The potatoes are then grated for the filling or riced in a potato ricer.
6-7 medium to large potatoes, boiled, peeled and cooled to room temperature
1 large onion, finely chopped
3-4 tbsp of fresh herbs – cilantro or parsley plus some mint if you have some
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 heaped tbsp Mango powder / Amchoor powder (or use 1 tbsp lemon juice)
5-6 Thai green chillies, finely chopped (optional or adjust to taste)
1 tsp red chilli powder (adjust to taste)
1 tsp cumin powder
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp pomegranate powder (optional)
1 tbsp canola oil
Grate the potatoes or use a ricer if they are soft enough for that. Don’t leave the potatoes sitting in the water once they are boiled. I prefer the grater as I don’t boil the potatoes soft enough for them to go through the ricer.
Mix all the ingredients really well and knead it together like a dough. Divide it into large balls, almost 3/4 of a cup each and flatten them slightly. Keep them aside, covered until ready to use. Don’t leave them for too long as the onions will start releasing their waters and will make the filling wet. Once the filling is wet, it won’t stay in the dough.
Once the dough has rested, make two small dough balls. I would estimate these to be a 1/4 cup each maximum if not slightly smaller. The dough should be quite smooth.
Roll out of the dough balls into discs around 3 inches in diameter, but don’t use too much dry flour to roll them or they won’t stick together. Just enough to help them roll and not stick to the surface.
Place the potato patty in the middle of one of the discs and place the other one on top.
Press the edges together using your thumb and gently pick it up. Using the palm of your hand press the edges all around and it will start stretching and expanding slightly. Gently press out any air bubbles and slightly flatten it, so its ready to be rolled out by a rolling pin into this.
This took me a while to master, so don’t be impatient at this step. Use the rolling pin to gently roll out from the edges working your way inwards until you can gently roll the whole thing outwards into a circle. Use a sprinkling of dry flour to help you achieve this. Practice on this one, and it will work. Don’t be afraid to experiment on a method that works best for you.
The parantha is ready for the skillet, but since they cook quite fast and especially if you are making these for the first time, I would suggest rolling out a few first before cooking them. Keep them flat on the work surface but not on top of each other as it would be difficult to pick them up afterwards and since they are delicate, they can easily break.
If you want to, you can freeze them at this stage with some greaseproof paper between each one and then placed in a ziploc bag. I have done that a couple of times and they come out perfect. I don’t do that any more as it is fun making them fresh and we don’t make them very often.
This is my first attempt at making a video as that was the only way to set out the instructions on putting these little babies together. Would love some feedback and don’t forget to subscribe to the new channel!
Serve them hot, with a knob of butter on top, some plain yogurt to dip them into and a homemade chai or a cup of tea to help enhance the flavours. If you have some spicy mango pickle, now is the time to take it out.
Now, since I am not from a family that came from the same side of Punjab as my husband, we eat our paranthas with fried eggs.
So, my plate is always slightly different then the traditional one but it works just the same. I love how the flavours work together when the yolk oozes out onto the potato stuffing.
Yes, it is slightly messy to eat with your hands, but once you master the trick that works for you, it is an enjoyable experience. My husband sometimes just rolls it up like a wrap and munches on them with his tea, when they are slightly colder. I have to always make a huge batch for him to enjoy for the next couple of days and eat to his hearts content.
Thank you JKC for teaching me how to make these for my Punjabi husband. The way to a Punjabi’s heart is through Aloo paranthas……and a bottomless pot of tea, when it comes to my one.