It usually starts on an early morning; the art of roti making for me. In this post, we’re highlighting paratha in particular. Paratha is a flaky, layered kind of flatbread that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner and as a snack. It’s indigenous to Indian cuisine and usually accompanied by a combination of fillings or the paratha itself can be stuffed with one (like aloo/potato or peas) to make it more wholesome by itself.
There’s something so relaxing and purposeful about prepping dough for roti, especially when the sunlight is soft and neighbourhood quiet. It can take awhile but is worth the time and effort, especially when you taste the different filling flavours, hear the response when the meal is served and get to eat with your hands.
Prepping the dough for paratha is done in 3 stages with 2 “resting” points where you let the dough ‘sit’ for a bit to rise and soften in texture and pliability.
Those pauses in between can be handy for doing things like:
- washing, sorting and soaking peas
- making sure all pots & pans you’re using are washed and dry
- cleaning off the counter top (where you will roll out the dough)
- gathering the ingredients and setting them out in one central space for easy access
Because prepping dough involves a degree of attentiveness and concentration, it helps any you focus on the task (literally) at hand and set any distracting thoughts aside. As you work with the dough getting it where it needs to be for whatever stage it’s at, you might find that light, peaceful thoughts float in and out of the mind as opposed to the conveyor belt of things on your daily to-do list. At least, that’s how it is for me.
The 3 stages of dough prep
- making a shaggy dough
- shaping the loyas (layered dough balls)
- rolling out the roti to set on the tawa
(A tawa is a flat cast iron hot plate set on the stove and used to heat the roti.)
Ingredients (for dough)
Serves 4 (P.S: I use teacups not a measuring cup)
3 cups of plain or chapati flour (I use tea cups)
1 and 1/2 tsps of baking powder (I usually just pinch out how much)
A pinch of salt (optional)
A pinch of sugar (optional)
1 and 1/3 tea cup of warm-hot water (room temperature water works too.)
3/4 stick of Anchor butter or some ghee or a light oil (from the loya-making stage, not shaggy dough step)
Fresh coriander or dill (to add extra flavour to the paratha if you like)
- 1 tawa (a large flat-as-possible frying pan or baking tray can also work depending on paratha shape and size)
- Mixing dish
- A belana (rolling pin) bay-lay-na
- Clean kitchen towels/tea towels or a damp paper towel (to cover dish when dough needs to ‘rest.’)
- Utensils (to measure & to slice butter)
- make sure your hands are clean since you’ll be scrunching, folding, kneading, shaping the dough at different stages.)
- Dabla/Cou-cou stick or spatula & wooden spoon (to turn roti on tawa)
Eating with your hands
Growing up with a parent from Trinidad & Tobago (and on Trini food), eating with your hands for some meals is something you get used to, and roti – like doubles is one of those moments.
Feeling the textures of your food makes the flavours spring forward even more and taps into that tactile part of our brain where we fully engage in the experience and are more connected with the food with eat. It also reminds us that utensils are handy but not necessary to enjoy a meal.
Think flavours, colours and textures. From peas and potatoes to greens and tomatoes, there’s no limit to the amount of fillings you can make to fill or scoop up with your paratha roti (skin.)
Curry, masala, geera, cilantro and salt in different quantities are a given when it comes to making a fundamental filling that usually involves some kind of peas, whether it’s channa (chickpeas/garbanzos) split peas or red lentils. Each of those has health benefits and taste points. I ‘chunkay’ (temper) whatever peas being used as a main filling in that (after soaking them and before boiling) in a special spice blend I’ve tested and fine-tuned over time.
Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl then add the heated water gradually, as you scrunch (NOT knead) the dough. Scrunch the mixture until you can knuckle-press it and it becomes less sticky (like in the next pic on the left.)
Pat the bouncy, moist dough into a circular-enough shape. Pat around it with either a splash of oil, butter or ghee, then cover with a damp paper towel and a thick kitchen-towel Let it ‘rest’ for at least 15 mins.
Here’s the artsy part. Make 4 dough balls from the 1 blob. Put 3 in the bowl, covered again and roll one on on a clean and lightly-floured counter.
With a sharp knife, slice a line the center of the rolled-out dough to the bottom, smear butter and sprinkle flour all over (this is how we get those flaky layers when it’s ready.) Now from the bottom left flap where the slice is at the base, start to roll the roti skin in a clock-wise direction all the way around until you’re left with a floppy cone-shape. Gently tuck the pointy edge into the other side and form into a loya (or ball.)
Once you have that one loya, one by one roll the rest of the dough balls til you have 4 loyas. With buttered hands, moisten the outside of each loya and let them ‘rest’ in the same bowl covered same way for at least 1/2 hour. If yours are on the sticky side, sprinkle a dash of flour around them. As you make more along the way, you’ll get the consistency just how you like it.
When it’s time to fry the paratha, before heating the tawa (or the largest-flattest frying pan you could find) prep the space you’re using to roll out the loyas. Even though you’re frying them one by one, it’s a conveyor-belt motion and the frying time can be anywhere from 30 seconds on the first side to 2 minutes or so on the tawa or if you’re including part direct-on-the-stove-burner style. I usually prep 2 paratha skins at a time (one straight to the tawa and the other reading and waiting in line.) If you’re now starting out, it’s best to work patiently and not to ‘rush the brush’, even if that means turning off the burner in between and letting the tawa heat up again. Don’t let making roti overwhelm you; it’s an intricate process depending on the type you’re making but paratha is a good place to start. Pace yourself and have fun with it.
Roll out a loya that’s just under the diameter of your tawa or griddle so it rests and cooks evenly. Carefully pick it up in one hand and slap it onto the heated tawa. Drizzle a little oil or brush butter onto the side facing you and twirl the roti clockwise for a bit. In about 30 seconds (or just as is starts to react to heat), flip the roti over and sprinkle with oil or brush butter on that side too.
Flip the roti again and turn it clockwise (for about 30 seconds), using a wooden spoon to make sure the oil or butter on the tawa gets evenly around the roti. Flip it again and do the same thing.
“Buss Up Shut” | Trini paratha roti
If you heard of roti but never heard of ‘buss-up shut,” we ha’ to talk about Trinidad & Tobago who came up with it to describe roti dat lookin’ like ‘ah buss up shut, oui!‘ – A BUSTED-UP-SHIRT.’ Here’s how to do that when you’re making roti.
Alright, with one a wooden spoon, gather the roti sides together like a piece of fabric and beat the roti a few times so the layers (in the cooked dough) start to show. Right after that, pick up the steaming roti, use the spoon to fold it and place it snug inside a clean kitchen towel. Do this same process with the rest of the roti skins, putting them one by one in a folded stack wrapped in the towel so they stay warm and flexible. Let them cool for about 15-20 minutes before serving.
The Plating Process
Like how the Ethiopian food favourite, injera is served on a colourful plate with complementing fillings, roti offers the same tactile culinary journey – just with its own flour foundation, distinct curry flavours and standard set of filling favourites.
Roti can be stuffed, wrapped (like a filled floured pocket of mixed contents) or enjoyed as a scoop-what-you-like-and-eat-as-you-go style meal. Even if you don’t have any prepped fillings, roti ‘skin’ can be tasty as ever with butter on it for breakfast or as a daytime snack. It takes some time to get the pace right when it comes to dry-frying the paratha on the tawa while rolling the next one in line, but you can prep a few beforehand so as soon as one is ready to be taken off the tawa (and wrapped in clean tea towels to stay warm and soften) another is ready to go on.
There are different ways to make roti and many different styles of roti. It’s definitely an art that both requires and generates patience, but when you get to enjoy the wholesome meal of a well-made roti with the right combination of delicious fillings, you’ll understand why so many are willing to spend hours preparing it. Once the dough is made, you can save some in the fridge (for a couple days) or freezer so the rolling and heating process takes less time.
Ever had roti? What 3 fillings would be in your ideal roti?