It's pretty fair to say that I'm rather partial to my sleep. So much so that I get excited about going to bed-fordshire in the evenings. Sadly, my sleep doesn't seem to be quite as partial to me as I am to it and I'll often find myself wide awake in the middle of the night.
Sometimes I’ll plod downstairs and invariably rummage around in the fridge (never quite managing to find leftovers as exciting as those Nigella finds in hers during her midnight feasts); other times I’ll contemplate calling my best friend for company, because undoubtedly anyone would deem it a privilege to be woken up at 4am simply because I require entertaining; but more often than not, I will lay in bed listening for signs of life from the outside world through my bedroom window.
Strange as I know this will seem, one of my favourite things to listen out for - if I happen to be awake at the ‘right’ time - is that of the milk float rumbling gently down the street, bottles clanking against one another, ready for delivery. For some reason I find comfort in it. Maybe it’s the fact that someone else nearby other than me is awake; maybe it’s that I know this noise signals dawn is approaching, one of my favourite times of the day.
There are other, arguably less strange, things that I draw comfort from in life: settling down in the cinema to watch a film that will preferably allow me to focus more on working my way through the oversized tub of popcorn I’m cradling than on the plotline; planting innumerable kisses on my adorable nephew’s perfectly pendulous cheeks; and of course cooking and eating my favourite foods, amongst which, parathas rank pretty darn high.
Parathas are flaky, buttery, melt-in-the-mouth flatbreads, almost like a South-East Asian equivalent to croissants you might say. Admittedly, not something I’d be encouraging you to eat too often given clarified butter (ghee) is a key ingredient, but as far as comfort food goes, they’re pretty hard to beat. They are the perfect complement to a curry or eaten as a wrap filled with tender chunks of juicy lamb, but if I’m honest, my favourite way to eat them is on their own - unadulterated, fresh and warm straight off the stove.
Ingredients (makes about 20) - can be halved or doubled as required
- 1kg medium chapatti flour (available at the supermarket. Alternatively you can use wholemeal chapatti flour or if you can’t get chapatti flour, use half normal wholemeal flour and half plain white flour)
- 1½ tsp table salt
- 650ml lukewarm water (half freshly boiled and half from the tap)
- Vegetable ghee/clarified butter (you will need about 250-300g and it should be at room temperature, making it soft but solid, not liquid)
- Shallow bowl of extra flour for dusting
To make the dough (this process is identical to making roti dough)
If using a free-standing mixer, attach the dough hook to the mixer. Weigh the flour out into the bowl of your mixer, then sprinkle over the salt.
Pour about a third of the water into the flour and salt and start to combine the ingredients on a low speed.
As the water and dry ingredients begin to come together, slowly add another third of the water and turn the speed up to low-medium. Continue to combine.
Scrape down any dry or sticky dough clinging to the sides of the bowl occasionally.
Finally, add the remaining water, turning the speed of the mixer to high. Combine the ingredients on this high speed for a good 4-5 minutes, until all the water and flour are combined.
Your dough will be ready when it is tacky and bouncy to touch (see before and after photo below). Furthermore, there should be no dry flour left on the sides of the bowl. If you find the dough is hard when you prod it, add a touch more water and continue to beat until you have the desired consistency and texture. You cannot overbeat this dough, so if you’re unsure, keep mixing for a few minutes longer.
Transfer to an airtight container. Before placing the lid on the container, wet your hands well and then pat down the top of the dough so that it is all wet. This helps to prevent the top from going hard and crusty.
Cover with lid and leave the dough to sit at room temperature for an hour (you can leave it for longer than this if you like, or if you want to make your roti the following day, once the dough has sat at room temperature for an hour, place it covered in the fridge overnight. Remove an hour before needed to soften it up again)
If making the dough by hand (be warned, you will need some muscle power as this takes quite a lot of elbow grease!), place the flour into a very large, wide rectangular bowl (if you have one in your kitchen sink, this is the type you want to use).
Sprinkle the salt over the flour.
Add the water bit by bit, mixing with your hands to combine. Once all the water has been added, knead the dough for a good 10-15 minutes until it is pliable and tacky/sticky. Once ready, follow the instructions as above for storing the dough.
Laminating (rolling, layering and shaping) the parathas
Dust your hands very lightly with flour and then use them to scoop out pieces of dough that are roughly 70-75g each (the size of about two golf balls together).
As you scoop out each piece of dough, dip it very lightly in flour, shaking off any excess and place it on your work surface.
Once you have about half a dozen of these ‘balls’ of dough, place the lid back onto the container of remaining dough so that it doesn’t dry out whilst you are cooking the parathas.
Take one of the lumps of dough and cover the rest with a damp tea towel, again to prevent the dough from going hard or crusty.
Working quickly, roll out the piece of dough into a very rough rectangle that’s about 10x5cm.
Place 1.5-2tsp of ghee onto the rolled out piece of dough and spread it all over the surface of the dough with the back of your spoon or with a butter knife.
Next, taking with the long end of the rectangle that is furthest away from you, with your hands start rolling the piece of dough up towards you, rolling it as tightly as possible, until you end up with a sausage-shaped piece of dough. Once it is fully rolled up, press down the rolled end gently to seal it.
Now place both your hands on the sausage and gently - so that it doesn’t stick to your work surface - start to roll it to extend it to about 35cm in length. Try to ensure it is even in thickness throughout.
Pick up your sausage-shaped dough, with one end in one hand and the other end in the other hand. Starting from whichever end you prefer, start to curl the sausage up into a ball as tightly as you can (see photo sequence below). Once you have rolled the sausage around itself once, start to roll the rest of it on top of itself. When it’s all rolled up, tuck the top end into the middle of the curled-up ball and place to one side.Repeat the laminating process with the remaining lumps of dough that you had set aside on your work surface.
To cook the parathas
Place the tava on the stove on a high heat so that it is ready and hot for when you’ve finished rolling out your first paratha and line a flat tray with a sheet of tin foil.
Take your first curled up ball of laminated dough and with the palm of your hand, press gently down on it to flatten it slightly, then dip both sides of it into flour, shaking off any excess.
Place the slightly flattened round onto your work surface and flatten it further with your hand so that it’s a circle roughly 8cm in diameter, as in the photo below.
Take your rolling pin and roll out the flattened ball. You don’t need to roll with a heavy hand, just press down lightly with the pin, lifting and turning the dough as you go along to stop it from sticking, to keep it as round in shape as possible and to ensure it is rolled out evenly.
Once you have a round that is about 17-18cm in diameter (approximately 7”) and about 1.5mm thick, it’s ready to cook.
Your tava or frying pan should be nice and hot by now. Turn the heat down slightly to medium-high and place your rolled out paratha onto the tava (see top picture in photo below).
After about 10 seconds, lift it and turn it over. The side now facing upwards won’t be fully cooked (see second picture in photo below), but don’t worry, you will be turning the paratha over again later.
Now continue to cook the paratha, twirling it around on the spot with your hands every few seconds to allow the underneath to cook and turn an even golden colour and to prevent it from sticking to the pan.
After about 30-40 seconds, lift the paratha from one side to check that the underneath is beautifully golden. If not, continue to cook for a few more seconds. Once it’s evenly golden (as per the bottom picture in the photo above), flip it over again to cook the other side.
Continue to twirl the paratha round on the spot to cook the underneath. Once both sides are beautifully golden, place the cooked paratha on your tray lined with foil and repeat with the rest of the rolled up, laminated balls.
Once they are all cooked, start the process again until all the dough in your container has been used up. As you get more proficient, you will find you will be able to roll out one paratha whilst another is cooking on the tava.