How to Make Indian Breads in a Canadian Kitchen

ROTI

Step 1: Watch your mother roll perfect circles of dough on the kitchen counter. Consider asking her how she makes the dough. Consider asking her to ask your grandmother some questions about cooking but don’t actually ask. If you ask, you admit that you don’t know how to do this by heart, and might betray your cultural allegiances.

Step 2: Attempt to replicate your mother’s rolling pin movements, but only succeed in creating lopsided ovals that look sad and embarrassing and reflect your inability to cook like your mother.

Step 3: Place the uneven dough-oval on a hot tawa. A tawa is a flat pan with a long protruding handle that your mother brought from Delhi many years ago. Try not to hit the handle with your sleeve, because your roti will fly across the room. This happened once.

Step 4: Turn the roti too early (or too late), cooking unevenly for three (or is it five?) seconds, while worrying about your sleeves.

Step 5: Do not show your mother the final product.

Step 6: Eat your mother’s perfect roti and your lopsided roti with your mother’s channa (chickpeas) or sabzi (any vegetable).

*Note: If desired vegetables are unavailable, insert sliced turkey and cheese, roll up the roti, and eat before your mother gets home.

PARANTHA

Step 1: Learn to pronounce parantha without overemphasizing the “n” or the “th,” with minor success. Mumble your way through it if it seems too difficult. After all,  you are Canadian,  and sometimes you say the letter “a” in that nasally way.

Step 2: Watch your mother roll out a perfect circle of dough and evenly fold it over and over into a triangle. Watch her roll out the triangle into a circle, then refold the dough into a flattened square.

Step 3: Attempt to make your own folded dough, but forget to add ghee (clarified butter) after every layer. This causes the dough to stick together in a clump, but you don’t know that yet.

Step 4: Remember the issue with the sleeve. Carefully place the folded dough on the tawa and cook evenly on both sides (or as close to even as you can before your mother steps in to help). While the parantha cooks, think about the tawa. When did your mother buy it? What else has she cooked in it? Will she even want to talk about her life before she moved here? You’re not sure. You’re also not sure if you want to know about how she left everything, and everyone she loved, to move to a new place and start her life again. In comparison, your struggles with the dough are laughable.

Step 5: For advanced paranthas, add layers of seasoned potato and spinach every time you fold the dough. Do not let the filling escape, because there isn’t any more where that came from.

Step 6: Best eaten slightly warm, on an airplane, at the beginning of yet another 18-hour journey to Delhi.

*Note: If your parantha is clumpy, do not despair. It’s still good for a midnight snack, even if it is a little chewy.


My mother, who never measures anything, says Madhur Jaffrey’s World of the East Vegetarian Cooking provides the best measurements. Madhur says to use 2 cups of whole-wheat flour (durum wheat flour, found in an Indian store) and up to 2 1/2 tablespoons less than 1 cup of water. My mother says to put the flour in a bowl and slowly add water until you can gather the mixture into a dough (it should resemble pizza dough). Knead the dough for 7 or 8 minutes, then form into a ball and put in a bowl. Cover with a towel and let sit for 30 minutes. To roll the roti, roll the dough into a circle. Place dough on a hot tawa or skillet for 3 seconds per side until cooked. To roll the parantha, roll into a circle, then fold over each side until the parantha resembles a triangle. Roll out into a circle and refold dough until the parantha looks like a square. Roll out a third time into a circle and place on a hot pan (like you would a roti). Cook for 3-5 seconds per side and remove.


PURI

Step 1: Heat vegetable oil in a karahi (shallow frying pan), taking care not to splash oil onto your shirt. You were supposed to wear an apron, but you didn’t. Your mother tries not to say “I told you so.” Your mother has had the karahi for as long as you can remember, and she also makes French fries in it when feeling generous.

Step 2: Watch your mother make dough that is slightly drier than the dough used for parantha and roti. Make a mental note to ask her what the difference is, but forget to follow through for months.

Step 3: Separate the dough into tiny balls, and dip each one in oil for frying.

Step 4: By this time, you will feel confident enough to try rolling out the dough again. There is no folding involved, and the amount of dough is smaller. Roll each ball into a circle and lay them out on the counter. Accidentally drop one on the floor.

Step 5: Test the oil with a small bit of dough. If the dough rises to the top of the oil, it is ready for frying. Place the dough circles in the oil one at a time, and turn using a slotted spoon. Wear an apron for this.

Step 6: When the puri puffs up in the oil, remove it with the spoon and place on a plate or paper bag. If it doesn’t puff, eat it anyway, no matter what your mother says.

Step 7: Puri is best served hot, eaten after school with your best friend, because this is the only Indian food you think she’ll like. You’re wrong, of course; Indian food will become something that most of your friends eventually eat, even if it’s mainly butter chicken.

*Note: Your mother wants to talk. So do you.


For puri, use the same amount and type of flour as for roti and parantha, but much less water so that the dough is stiffer. Add a pinch of salt, knead the dough, and let sit for 30 minutes. Make tiny dough balls and dip each one in vegetable oil before frying. Heat 1/2 cup of vegetable oil in a wok or karahi. Roll out each ball into a circle. Drop each circle into the hot oil and wait for it to puff up. Turn the dough over and wait until the puri comes to the surface of the oil. Remove with slotted spoon and place on plate, paper towel, or paper bag. Your first puri will never be just right.


Manisha Aggarwal-Schifellite is a writer and editor based in Toronto.