This post is actually for a friend of mine, who asked me if I could help him make naan at home. Yes, naan – that pillowy, crispy, slightly charred Indian bread that is so delectable I would happily eat order after order, all by my myself.
Unfortunately, I told him, most of what we love about naan – that seductively crisp yet soft texture, comes from baking it in a clay tandoor oven, which is difficult, if not impossible, to recreate at home (I have some ideas, but none that I’ve tested out yet). However, I told him that I’d try a recipe for another Indian flatbread that you can cook in a skillet – no tandoor oven required – the paratha.
The paratha is an unleavened bread that gets its rise from layering clarified butter into the dough. It’s traditionally cooked on a tawa – a flat, disk-like pan – but a cast iron skillet will do just as well. This paratha is made with a mixture of half whole wheat and half all purpose flour, but it can also be made with chapati flour (a very finely milled whole wheat flour). It can be filled with cooked onions, potatoes, or any variety of vegetables (just check out the Wikipedia page for an idea of the endless variations), but this particular version is filled with spiced meats.
And it is wonderful. As in, I’m getting a strong urge to make it again as I write this post. I served it not once, but twice for dinner, where it got rave reviews from taste testers. The dough is crispy and buttery and the meat filling is flavorful and savory, full of onions and garlic and Indian spices. The only problem I encountered is that my paratha didn’t puff up as the recipe promised – perhaps because the layers of clarified butter I brushed into the dough were absorbed into the flour. Still, it was a small issue with an otherwise hearty, crave-worthy dinner.
The recipe is from The Bread Bible – it’s one I’ve always meant to try and I’m so glad I did. I’m including the original recipe below, which calls for toasting and grinding your own spices. I didn’t do this because I wasn’t going to go out and buy whole spices when I had pre-ground ones on hand. I’m sure it would have been better with the whole spices, but don’t let that stop you from making the recipe. I substituted about ½ teaspoon for of each the whole spice quantities called for here (except cumin which, um, I was out of).
Makes 4 7-inch parathas
2 cups (10.2) oz whole wheat chapati four or half whole wheat and half unbleached all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
¾ cup water (6 fl oz)
Mix the flour and salt together in a medium bowl. Make a well in the center, add half the water, and stir with your hand or a spatula. Gradually add just enough of the remaining water until a soft dough forms and all the flour particles are incorporated.
Knead for 10-15 minutes on a clean, unfloured work surface – wetting your hands if the dough starts to dry out at all. The dough should be soft and smooth and just a little tacky.
Let the dough rest in an oiled bowl, covered with plastic wrap for 30 minutes or up to three hours.
While the dough is resting, make the kheema filling.
2 tbs (1 fl oz) vegetable oil
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 ½ inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ tbs coriander seeds
½ tbs cumin seeds
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tbs plain yogurt
1 tbs tomato sauce
1 lb ground beef
⅛ tsp mace
⅛ tsp ground nutmeg
¾ tsp salt
¼ to ½ tsp cayenne pepper (use the larger amount if you want a spicier filling)
¼ liquid cup (2 fl oz) water
¼ liquid cup (2 fl oz) clarified butter or ghee
In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, heat vegetable oil until hot. Add the bay leaf, cinnamon stick, and cloves and heat until the bay leaf darkens. Turn heat to low and add the onions, garlic, and ginger. Saute, stirring frequently, until the onion browns – about 10 minutes.
In another saucepan, toast the the coriander and cumin seeds over medium heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant. Let cool and grind in a spice or coffee grinder.
Add the coriander, cumin, and tumeric to onion mixture and saute for two minutes. Add the yogurt and tomato sauce and cook, stirring constantly, for four minutes.
Raise heat to medium and add the ground beef. Saute until browned, about 5 minutes, breaking up any lumps of meat with a spatula or slotted soon. Add the mace, nutmeg, cayenne pepper and water. Lower heat to low and simmer, stirring every 10 minutes, for 45 minutes (if the mixture gets too dry before the 45 minutes are up, add a tablespoon of additional water) – the filling should be dry when finished cooking. Taste and add salt if needed. Discard bay leaf, cinnamon stick, and cloves. Let cool.
Shape the paratha
On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a rope and divide into 8 equal pieces. Working with one piece at a time (and keeping the others lightly covered with plastic wrap to keep them from drying out), roll the dough into a 5 inch circle. Brush off any excess flour and brush the circle with a little of the clarified butter. Fold the circle in half and brush again with clarified butter. Fold in half one more time (it will look like a little triangle). Repeat with remaining pieces of dough.
Working with two pieces of dough at a time, gently roll the folded dough into a 7 inch circle (if needed, stretch the dough with your hands). Spread one piece of dough with ¼ of the kheema filling, leaving a ¼ inch border around the edge of the dough. Top with the other circle of dough and fold over edges about ¼ of an inch, pressing gently.
Flip the partha over (seam side down) and roll into an 8 inch round – use a gentle touch so that the filling doesn’t come through the dough. Repeat with remaining pieces of dough and filling.
Cook the paratha
Heat a cast iron skillet to medium hot – until water droplets sizzle when flicked on the skillet. Turn heat to low and brush skillet with a little of the remaining clarified butter. Place paratha in the pan and cook on one side until brown and crispy – about 1-2 minutes. Brush the top of the paratha with clarified butter, flip over, and cook on the other side until brown and crisp – about 1 minute. The dough should puff up, but will deflate after cooking. Cook remaining paratha.
Serve hot, cut into wedges using a pizza wheel or sharp knife.