Paratha: A Relatively Complete Guide
Paratha – my Achilles heel. Not only is it bread, it’s fried bread. Fried, flaky, layered flat-bread – each inner layer is moist and buttery, the outer layer crispy and hot. Sigh. Like the ghee worked into the dough, I melt…
But let’s not get carried away. These things are so thick with ghee that even *I* feel a little guilty about indulging. You see, paratha is made by rolling out dough, slathering ghee on the surface, folding the dough over, and slathering on more ghee. You repeat this a few times until you have a rolled-out dough with multiple layers and pockets filled with ghee, ready to melt and sizzle instantly when the dough hits the pan.
My first experience with this bread was with the regional variant roti prata, in Singapore. The bread originates in North India, but has spread across the sub-continent and into Southeast Asia, where it’s consumed as breakfast, meal accompaniment and late-night food stall snack. I also tasted a fantastic prata in Chiang Mai, Thailand made with a sliced banana filling and drizzled with chocolate. To this day, it haunts my dreams. Paratha is somewhat different than prata, but the differences are mostly subtle to someone like me, who has no national or regional pride at stake. Paratha, parantha, parotta, prata – they are obvious linguistic cousins of one another and the ingredients hardly vary (the techniques, however, do).
Currently, there are a few brands of frozen parathas available at chain supermarkets. I’m not going to lie to you and say they’re not tasty, because I used to eat them constantly (the frozen whole-wheat rotis, on the other hand, tasted distinctly freezer-burned almost every time) but again, there’s something to be said for homemade food – especially homemade bread, worked with your bare hands.
I’ve included fairly detailed photographs and drawings here for the folding techniques so it’s as clear as I can make it. One site, for a counter-example, suggested I fold the dough as if I was pleating a sari. I have no idea what that means. I hope my instructions are somewhat clearer than that. Enjoy.
Ingredients (makes 6):
- 2 cups of atta flour (or all-purpose white flour)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup warm water
- 6 tbsp ghee, plus another 2 tbsp for brushing
- 1 tsp baking powder (optional, see step 1)
Serve with: curries, eggs, tea, lassi, yogurt, etc (I’ve even had the bread served as a wrap, around curried chicken, and heard of pizza-stuffed paratha, so feel free to use this anytime it sounds good)
What you will need: large mixing bowl, measuring cups and spoons, small bowl and kitchen brush for ghee, rolling pin, non-stick frying pan, spatula, plastic wrap
1. In the mixing bowl, measure out the flour, salt and baking powder (if you’re using it). Baking powder will make your bread a bit puffier when you cook it. I’ve made it with and without, and don’t really have a preference. Using a clean hand, stir the ingredients together until an even mix is achieved.
2. Begin adding water to the dough, about 1/4 of a cup at a time. Work the water into the flour with your free hand. 1 cup of water should do it (or even be a little bit too much, so you be the judge). Once the full cup is added to the bowl, work the dough with both hands until all the water is absorbed into the flour.
3. Wash your hands. They’re probably covered in very sticky dough right now and won’t be ideal for kneading the dough properly. Wash them, then return to the bowl to knead the dough for a few minutes until you get a nice smooth dough ball (see above). Add a splash of flour here and there if the dough is too sticky. The surface should be soft, but not sticky.
4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit for about 30-60 minutes. This allows the gluten in the flour to form elastic bonds, which in turn allows you to roll it out thinner without breaking. That’s good.
5. Uncover the dough, and break it into 4 to 6 roughly equal parts. Re-shape each piece into a ball, take one ball and, on a floured surface, flatten it into a thick patty (see above photo).
6. Using the rolling pin, roll the patty out into a round shape approximately 8″ in diameter and 1/4″ to 1/3″ thick.
7. Brush the top surface generously with ghee, using the kitchen/pastry brush. It doesn’t need to be thick (unless that’s how you like it) but the entire surface should be shiny with brushed-on ghee.
8. Once the surface is ghee-coated, roll the round into a log-shape.
9. Roll the log into a tight spiral-shape, as shown above.
10. Once the spiral-shape is made and is holding together, roll the spiral-disc back into a flat disc again (see above photo). It should be the same size as the first time you rolled it out. About 1/4″ thick, if you can.
11. Heat a non-stick frying pan (or seasoned tava) on medium heat (5 on my dial). When the pan is hot add the first paratha disc. The top surface will start to gently bubble in about 10-20 seconds, perhaps. Flip the dough over (there should be small light brown circles on the bottom or something similar) to begin cooking the other side. Brush the top with ghee now. Just a gentle coating, that’s all – it should melt almost immediately. When the bottom looks lightly browned, flip the dough over again (this will let the ghee you just brushed on sear that side of the dough). Brush this side with ghee as well, and after the bottom is seared and browned (see finished photos) flip the dough over one final time to sear the other side. Synopsis: cook one side lightly, flip, cook other side lightly, brush top with ghee, flip and sear, brush other side with ghee, flip and sear, done.
12. Now repeat that process for the remaining dough balls. I promise you’ll get pretty quick at this by the 3rd one.
That’s it. The above photo shows a completed fried paratha, ready to be torn apart and devoured. Below is a diagram I’ve created to show an alternate folding method to create triangular pizza slice-shaped parathas. Also common is a square-shape which I’ve never tried making myself, but this should be enough to get people started.