There are a million good reasons to visit South India. The people, for one, are amazing – warm-hearted, generous, and absolutely vibrant in culture. Then there’s the setting – think, the most amazing beaches you have ever seen. Tropical trees heavily laden with sweet fruit. Winding waterways through villages, making it a “Venice of the East”. But even if none of that existed, I would still make the trek for one inimitable pleasure – flakey, buttery parotha and a creamy curry, consumed without such complications as plates or cutlery, but rather with a banana leaf and bare fingers – and a good dose of utter, shameless delight.
If I had to choose just one food to eat for the rest of my life, this flatbread would be a sturdy candidate. I really don’t think I could get tired of pulling apart buttery layers of chewy bread – with or without a blazing hot curry to for dunking. Quite frankly, it blows my mind that Kerala Parotha, known in some circles as Malabari Parotha (and can also be spelled Parotta, or Paratha – just to complicate things) has not yet taken over the world. Because, in my opinion, once tasted, it is impossible to go back to life without it. And there are quite enough Indians on every corner of the globe to introduce it around… so why it hasn’t spread like wildfire? I’m baffled. Maybe it’s just meant to be one of life’s little secrets, that only a select few outsiders come to know of. Well, now you’re in on the secret! Now go make it and see what I mean about never going back.
The best part about it, beyond its general mind-blowing-ness, is how easy and fun it is to make! The dough is whip ups up in a jiffy – just flour, an egg, some oil, and water, kneaded into an elastic lump then allowed to rest. After about an hour, break off pieces the size of limes, and roll them out as thinly as possible. Brush the circles with some ghee (clarified butter – but I just used regular melted butter), roll it up into a rope, twist the rope in on itself to make a coil, then flatten it out again with a rolling pin into a thin circle. Toss it on a hot cast-iron skillet with some oil, and the steam generated from moisture in the butter will cause it to puff up, making the layers separate… which distinguishes it as the lustworthy little bread-y temptation that it is.
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tbsp oil
3/4 cup water
4 tbsp butter, melted
oil, for frying
1. With a fork, mix the flour and salt in a medium bowl. Add beaten egg, oil, and water, and mix with fork till dough starts to come together. Turn out on floured surface and knead into a smooth, elastic ball, about 10 minutes. You may need to add more flour or water to make the dough a workable consistency.
2. Return dough to ball and cover with a damp towel. Leave it to rest for 1 hour or more.
3. Pinch off lime-sized balls of dough, and roll them out into thin circles on a floured surface. Brush a thin coat of ghee over entire surface. Starting at one end, roll dough into a thin roll (like rolling up a jelly roll, or cinnamon buns). Holding one end of the roll between fingers, twist the dough in on itself in a spiral, pinching loose end into the circle to secure. Allow dough to rest for 15 minutes.
4. Heat 2 tsp oil in a cast iron pan over moderate heat. Flatten the spirals of dough with the palm of your hand, then thoroughly flatten them into thin circles using a rolling pin. Transfer to hot pan, and cook until air bubbles form in dough, about 2 minutes. Brush with butter, and flip. Continue cooking till golden brown, about 1 minute longer. Transfer to a serving plate and tent with foil to keep warm. Add another 2 tsp oil to pan and fry next parotha, continuing the same procedure for all the dough.