So, I’ve taunted you for a while with the claim that I was fortunate to spend a morning in the kitchen of my friend Srividya Venkatasubramanya. Finally, I’m sharing the details!
I was fortunate to meet Vidya when our two oldest children attended Evergreen Academy in downtown Rogers. She and her family had only recently moved to northwest Arkansas (from Minneapolis, as I recall?), and our daughters became friends at school. I loved that like me, Vidya was enthusiastic about languages (she had taught Spanish and had some French as well), and our exuberant personalities were a good match. Eventually, her daughter Matangi joined our Girl Scout troop as well. We don’t get to see each other as much any more despite living in neighboring communities, but she knows me well enough that she didn’t find it odd in the least when I begged for a crash course in Indian cooking! I’m becoming more and more willing to simply ask my friends to share their native foods with me – I find they are often happy to do it.
In case you missed it, last week I posted my friend Paula Jo (of Crepes Paulette) Chitty Henry’s recipe for typical French ratatouille, and I think I have a few more fun things to share with you soon!
For now, back to my adventure in Vidya’s kitchen…
She prepared several traditionally North Indian recipes, and told me that in India, everything is cooked on the fire or deep fried – there was not usually any concept of an oven until Muslims and Christians brought this idea to India. We prepared (well, Vidya prepared – I mostly just stood around in her way) Tandoori Roti and Malai Kofta. I’m including links to the recipes for these dishes by some renowned Indian chefs that Vidya recommended for their helpful videos and instructions, because I don’t think I can properly tell anyone how to make these two dishes correctly. I’m still experimenting myself! However, I’ll include some of the tips and quips Vidya shared with me for each recipe. Enjoy!
Rotis are like naan, but naan is yeast-leavened (see Indian bread definitions below). Vidya uses about a cup of atta flour (atta is the whole wheat flour at the base of most Indian breads) to three cups of water, added a bit at a time. The dough should be soft, but not too soft. While she noted that you could add salt or butter, Vidya makes her rotis plain, and I care most about trying to make the dishes properly as they are intended to be prepared, so I didn’t want to know about some of the other ways they might have been adjusted or Americanized!
Ultimately, she rolled the dough out into a thick tube and started forming the rotis into flattish ovals about an inch thick by 2 – 3 inches in diameter. She dipped these briefly in atta and rolled them out on a special round, raised marble pedestal-type surface to about the size and thickness of a thick homestyle tortilla.
They are dropped for a few seconds onto dry heat – no oil – on a cast iron skillet on the stove top, and then flipped using tongs to cook the other side. Finally, she used tongs to hold them directly on the open gas flame for a few seconds on each side, causing the roti to brown and puff, and then placed directly into the roti dish (which looks like a tortilla holder or rice cooker). Vidya used a Mother’s Pride brand thin, flat cast iron skillet (such as those pictured here).
Ultimately, the end result looks a bit like a thick tortilla but the direct flame causes the roti to puff up and brown nicely. These were a bit bigger and ultimately made about 10 rotis – the size can be larger or smaller as desired. I don’t think I captured the puffed roti very well in photos, but here’s a good reference in an article on phulka.
One thing that confused me throughout the cooking of the rotis were all the interchangeable terms. To the best of my best of my understanding, here are some simplified definitions:
Roti is the basic word for most Indian breads.
Chapati is the term for rotis flattened between the palm of the hands (chappat in Hindi means flat). These are usually thicker or thinner than a more predictably-shaped roti made using a rolling pin, roti maker or press.
Phulka is a roti made without oil or grease, roasted a bit and then finished on an open flame and puffed. Honestly, this is closest to what we made.
Tandoori Roti simply means the roti is cooked in a clay oven or tandoor.
My impression after cooking with Vidya and then researching all that we discussed further is that all of these terms are very interchangeable! I bet she will correct me on anything I’ve misstated or incorrectly represented. A couple of additional tips: when making the atta for the rotis (dough), make it half an hour ahead and let it sit. Vidya recommends for cooking that you use direct heat or a pure charcoal flame, and cook the rotis like a tortilla – you don’t want them to puff up on the skillet, just on the direct heat very quickly and then into a tortilla holder for serving.
There was so much information that we covered in our session that I’ve broken it up into separate posts, so in the next one we’ll cover the basmati rice, malai kofta (like a vegetarian meatball) and sauce as well as all the interesting things found in Vidya’s kitchen and larder (or pantry).
Let me know what you think, questions for Vidya and other favorite Indian dishes you’ve tried!