Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Two Flatbreads from India: Puran Poli & Aloo Parantha

America's Test Chicken consists of two separate chickens, each with her own take on this cooking thing. Check out Chicken One's related blog, A Travel for Taste where she shares travel stories and recipes collected whenever she ventures abroad. And give Chicken Two's new, also-related blog, Poop from the Coop a read. There you can find stories about her personal adventure re-experiencing the kitchen after many years away. Please join our Facebook group to share your own recipes, kitchen practices and know-how. We are also on Pinterest and Instagram.

The complete recipes appear at the end of this post.

From Chicken One:
Puran Poli

As we mentioned in our last post, the first time we tried these flatbreads from India it was a total SCAFU (Situation Chicken All Fowled Up)! So, get your mango chutney and chickpea filling ready, because the second time was the charm and today you can see our success with these things.

My recipe is from Indian Harvest by Vikas Khanna and is a variation on Marathi puran poli, sez the author. Well, those words meant nothing to me, so I ran a quick search online after my first attempt. I found that the Marathi is large group (about 120 million souls) in and around western India's state of Maharashtra. Their language is also called Marathi.

Puran poli is a festival bread for special occasions, which I'd guessed because it's so sweet. The sweet filling is the 'puran' part and the flatbread is the 'poli'. Side note: flatbreads in general can also be called 'roti', which is easy to remember because - round!

I should have run my internet search before I tried the flatbread the first time, because I found this great, step-by-step description with lovely photos here.

So, after wrestling with a very stiff, brittle dough in the first attempt (don't look at these photos from the first time)...
...I realized I needed much more moisture in the dough to make it more elastic and allowing - the direct opposite problem that Chicken Two had over there in column 2 the first time!

So here is a much more authentic-looking, elastic dough from Round Two.You're supposed to roll it out very flat then put a dollop of the puran filling in the middle:
After that you bring the dough up around the filling (this is where my brittle dough broke on the first try) and pinch it together, kind of like a Chinese dumpling.

Once it's sealed, roll it out as flat as possible. You can see here that I need a couple of decades more practice before I can get it to roll out the second time without squishing out through the dough:
After that, you lay it on a hot, oiled griddle (read, cast iron skillet) for a couple of minutes on each side til the dough becomes bread. I really think mine was still too thick.
I ran out of puran filling about halfway through (because I'd eaten so much of it beforehand!), so I made plain poli with the rest of the dough.

The whole thing is supposed to puff up, but the closest I got was one side puffing up, but at that point I felt like I'd won the flatbread Olympics!
You probably see the smoke in the pictures above. It's from excess flour on the flatbread. Chicken Two and I worked out a system during our experimentation of brushing off the excess flour with a dry pastry brush (not the silicon type) before putting it in the skillet, then brushing the other side which is now facing up while the first side cooks. It's that burning flour that causes the smoke (and smoke alarm!), so wipe out that skillet between rounds. This also prevents burnt flour from affixing itself to the next poli.

We are so happy we did this a second time! In addition, we had fun using our new chaklas and belans - and we learned just how appropriate to the work those tools are.

A word about the taste: the puran filling is very sweet and delicious. The flatbread, however, as the vehicle to deliver the flavor, is very neutral and bland, though it has coconut in it.

Try these recipes and let us know how you fare.

From Chicken Two:
Aloo Parantha
For contrast, I chose aloo parantha.(That's potato chile bread to the rest of us!) from Raghavan Iyer's Indian Cooking Unfolded.  It's a stuffed flatbread recipe with just enough filling to make it interesting. The filling is actually mashed potatoes with lots of spices and chopped chile peppers.

If you've been following my Poop from the Coop, you know I tried this a while ago and failed miserably. (I highly recommend reading will find some helpful hints) This second attempt was much better, being oh so much wiser this time! I made the recipe the night before (not something mentioned in the directions), wrapped it in plastic wrap and refrigerated it. (also not mentioned. Hey, what's a little departure from the instructions, right?)

This actually dried it out slightly and made it much easier to roll out. I still used lots of flour to roll it out, but not nearly as much as I did last time when trying to get it to roll without sticking to everything.

In fact, I found that if I made a ball, then patted the ball flat with my hands, and then tried to roll it out, it was much easier to work with.

Overall, the experience was much better and I'm glad we repeated the process so I could at least get closer to the intended result. I'm convinced that the humidity in Florida, in spite of the a/c, makes a big difference in how dough reacts.

I will say this....after refrigerating it
overnight, I was able to taste the fact there was a nice little kick to the bread as an after taste.

These breads are great vehicles for some awesome dips and chutneys!

Give this a try and let me know how you did!

Puran Poli (Jaggery and Cardamom Festival Flatbread)
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour + more for dusting
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 tablespoons grated coconut
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 3/4 cup water
Cooking Directions
  1. Toast the coconut in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly until it begins to brown, about 2 minutes.
  2. Combine flours in large bowl with coconut, yogurt and 1 teaspoon oil. Mix well. Add 1 tablespoon of water at a time, mixing well after each, until a pliable dough forms (about 3/4 cup water total). Cover with damp towel and let rest 30 minutes or more at room temperature.
  3. Divide dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. Flatten a ball on a floured surface and roll to 6-inch-diameter disc. Brush lightly with oil.
  4. Spoon filling into middle. Gather edges of dough and crimp around filling, pressing out all air. Seal dough well and flatten ball with palm. Roll into 4-to-6-inch disc.
  5. Place on oiled griddle or cast iron pan over medium heat. Cook 1-to-2 minutes per side until lightly browned with dark spots and puffy areas.
  6. Remove to serving plate. Repeat with rest of dough.
  7. Serve warm or cool.

Aloo Parantha (Potato Chili Bread)

  • 1 pound russet or Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed fresh cilantro leaves and stems
  • 6 pieces fresh ginger (25-cent size; unpeeled)
  • 2 fresh green serrano chiles
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 cup durum wheat (semolina) flour
  • 1/2 cup pastry flour + more for dusting
  • ghee or melted butter
Cooking Directions
  1. Boil potatoes until soft and mashable. Save about 1/2 cup of the potato water when draining.
  2. Combine cilantro, ginger and chiles in a food processor and, using pulse, mince until fragrant but not watery.
  3. Combine potatoes to the minced herb-chile blend, add salt and the garam masala.
  4. Add the durum and pastry flour. Add a few tablespoons of warm potato water, stirring as you go. Keep adding water by the tablespoon until the mixture forms a soft ball.
  5. Gather the dough and knead into a soft ball. If it's too wet, dust it with a little more pastry flour and knead until you get the right soft-dry consistency. (remember my warning!) Cover with plastic wrap until ready to use.
  6. Roll dough into an 8-inch log and cut crosswise into 16 pieces. Shape each piece into a ball and press flat.
  7. Heat a medium skillet (preferably non stick or cast iron) over medium heat.
  8. While the pan is heating, roll out a dough patty into a round of about 5 or 6 inches in diameter. Make sure it's evenly thin.
  9. Place the round in the skillet and cook until some bumps and bubbles appear and the underside has some brown spots and looks cooked, 2 or 3 minutes.
  10. Immediately turn the round over until the second side has brown spots. Brush the round with ghee and turn it over to sear it, about 15 seconds; repeat with other side.
  11. Remove from pan and slip between two sheets of foil to keep warm.
  12. Repeat with remaining dough.
  13. Best served fresh and warm but they will keep, wrapped in foil and refrigerated, for up to 4 days. Reheat, still wrapped in foil, in a 250 degree oven F for 20 minutes.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Indian Sweet Chickpea Spread and Mango Marmalade (Chutney)

America's Test Chicken consists of two separate chickens, each with her own take on this cooking thing. Check out Chicken One's related blog, A Travel for Taste where she shares travel stories and recipes collected whenever she ventures abroad. And give Chicken Two's new, also-related blog, Poop from the Coop a read. There you can find stories about her personal adventure re-experiencing the kitchen after many years away. Please join our Facebook group to share your own recipes, kitchen practices and know-how. We are also on Pinterest and Instagram.
The complete recipes appear at the end of this post.

From Chicken One:
Indian Sweet Chickpea Spread/Flatbread Filling
I'm excited to bring you this recipe. Besides this being a dish completely new to me, it's a recipe from my new Indian cookbook, Indian Harvest by Vikas Khanna. Even if you never cook a single thing from this book, it would make a beautiful coffee table book because of the stunning photography inside. It's a joy to use!

Another reason for my excitement: two new ingredients. The first goes by several names, including Bengal gram and chana dal. Here they are with the dried version on the left and ones I soaked overnight for this recipe on the right:
It actually consists of immature chickpeas, dried, polished and split. It looks a lot like lentils, and many people refer to them as such. Dal is the Indian word for beans and lentils and such, so that explains the chana dal moniker.

The second new ingredient is jaggery, a name that does not describe how sweet it is! Basically, it's unrefined sugar in block form.
Jaggery can be made from sugarcane juice or other plant-based juice such as that of the date palm. Mine was from sugarcane.

The worst part of working with jaggery is that I had to grate it. See knuckle-protection advice over there in Chicken Two's column! Next time I'll buy the grated type.

Although this recipe can be used as a gluten-free, vegetarian spread for toast or anything else you like, it's actually intended to be a filling for a festival flatbread.

We were going to present the flatbreads first in this post, but there were some major SCAFUs (Situations Chicken All Fowled Up) in the kitchen regarding those. Therefore, we are going to try making the flatbreads again with better success before we give you those recipes. Look for them (we hope) in the next post!

Meanwhile, enjoy the sweet stuff this week on toast or crackers until we get you the authentic (again, we hope!) delivery vehicle.
From Chicken Two:
Mango Marmalade (Chutney)

I have to tell you that since we started cooking Indian cuisine, my exposure to different spices has definitely changed what I like in flavors! Now, when I taste a dish, if it doesn't leave just the right amount of pucker, I say it's missing something.

There's nothing missing from mango marmalade, let me tell you! It's simple ingredients taste wonderful and will reach out and smack you in the kisser when you're not looking. Oooeeee! Hot stuff, and I love it.

To quote the author of this recipe, "crisp - tender unripe mango, puckered with natural sourness that was balanced with a smothering of sweet sugar, blood-pumping cayenne and sensuous cardamon". I mean, who can resist anything described with such passion?

The recipe comes from what has become our go-to Indian cookbook, Indian Cooking Unfolded by Raghavan Iyer. We've mentioned him in previous posts. He waxes poetic in his very detailed instructions!

The recipe is below, but a word or two of caution:
You will need to grate a peeled mango. It gets pretty slippery so watch your knuckles! I had a couple of close calls. You can also use a mandoline, but I felt it was just another opportunity to slice and dice my hand! Better to be safe!

I. Sweet Chickpea Spread and Flatbread Filling
  • 1 cup dried Bengal gram (dried, split chickpeas; chana dal)
  • enough to soak chickpeas + 3 cups water
  • 3/4 cup grated jaggery
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
Cooking Directions
  1. Place the chickpeas in a large bowl and cover with water plus one inch. Soak them overnight.
  2. Drain and rinse chickpeas. Place in saucepan with 3 cups fresh water and cook til very soft, about an hour.
  3. Drain and place in food processor with jaggery and cardamom. Process til very smooth.
  4. Serve as a spread or use as filling for puran poli, an Indian festival flatbread.

II. Indian Mango Marmalade (Chutney)
  • 1 pound unripe mango
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons ground red cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
Cooking Directions
  1. Peel the mango and, using a box grater, shred on all sides as close as you can get to the pit. You should end up with about 4 cups of shreds.
  2. Place mango in a medium-sized saucepan and stir in sugar, vinegar, cayenne, and cardamom. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Once the liquid starts to evaporate, after 8 to 10 minutes, reduce the heat to medium-low and continue simmering, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the sugar starts to caramelize and look bubbly(about 10 to 15 minutes).
  3. Remove from heat and let it cool. It can be stored in a glass container for a month in the refrigerator. Best served warm, so you can microwave it for a minute or two before using.
  4. Makes about 2 cups

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