Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Punjabi food is a luxury

It is quite normal to assume the kind of food people would usually prepare and consume based on their ethnic background.
If you are from the northern parts of India, expect Roti, Sag and Tharka Dhall. These are the most common Punjabi food found in every Punjabi house. Roti is something you MUST have (if not for all three main meals at least for dinner).

It's not like we Punjabis don't enjoy other types of food. We do, but nothing quite does the bhangra (a form of jam-packed, heart pumping and soul uplifting dance) like the famous aloo paratha in your mouth. I am pretty sure those fortunate few who had the chance to devour this particular dish would share the same sentiment. I kid you not.

But the down side to this is, the preparation time. Wonderful Punjabi food takes a lot of effort, time and involves some level of martial arts.

What martial arts? You may ask

Every Punjabi girl will give you a nose bleed if you don't treat her well. Her knuckles have hardened over the years from the punching training in the kitchen whilst preparing the dough for the roti. My grandmother used to make sure I am able to knead the dough into a perfectly smooth texture before adding any ghee (clarified butter). She used to say, "Gaal saun when you are kneading the dough, you must only use water. Ghee is like gold, use it sparingly".

She would sit on a stool with a jar of ghee held tightly while I was on my knees punching and beating the dough in a silver bowl (talk about military training). Each time I asked for some ghee, she will poke my dough with her skinny finger and say "hajje nahee!" (not yet). Only when the dough didn't stick to her finger, she would give me some ghee like when you spare some change to a beggar.
You'd be surprised at how many levels there are in preparing such a simple and humble roti.
I have been trained in preparing roti and have graduated each level with just enough credits to move to the next.
My humble puffed up roti

The roti process (Skip ahead if you know how to make roti)

You start off by learning how to knead the dough (atta gun'h). According to my nanima (grandmother), you know a person is skilful when after kneading the dough, their hands and fingers are not sticky with dough (I barely made through this level because I usually needed a lot of ghee rubbed onto my hands to get rid of the sticky dough).

Put 2 cups of whole wheat floor into a deep bowl, add a tablespoon of yogurt and mix it with a fork (I just use my hands). Add water, little at a time and work the dough so that it all comes together (sticky). Keep adding water while kneading the dough so that it forms into a soft and smooth consistency. You may start rubbing some ghee at this point and knead for a further 5 minutes. Leave it aside for 1/2 hour before you start making the roti.
Whole wheat flour with a spoonful of yogurt
Perfect kneaded dough in my cake tin instead of a silver bowl

Next step is making some phaday (golf sized balls) from the dough and it must be homogeneous so that we will end up with right size and shape roti when it is rolled out into a flat pita like bread.
While the tawa (flat pan or skillet) is heating you dip each dough ball into a little flour and roll it into a thin disc. You will need to keep dipping the roti into the flour to prevent it from sticking to the rolling surface.
Dust off excess flour from the roti and place it onto the hot tawa and flip to the other side once you see tiny bubbles appear. Let it cook for 20 seconds and then you can move it to open flame and see it fluff. Using tongs turn to the other side for 5-10 seconds and store it in a heat insulated container. You may want to rub some ghee on the roti.
If you don't like or don't dare cooking roti on the open flame, just keep flipping it on the tawa till its cooked. You know it's cooked once it feels lighter and has some brown spots on the roti. If you get big huge burnt spots (which I used to get all the time), means you overcooked it.

After you have mastered the humble roti, you move onto to making paratha. Somehow in my case, I am able to make better paratha than roti. (My best thus far is cheese paratha, a recipe shared by a fantastic mother, cook and friend who has left her bodily form to be one with the maker)
A paratha is two pieces of roti joined together with butter (and some other filling like cheese, potato, radish, onions or chilies) and toasted on a hot tawa (same method as cooking roti but) with loads, I mean loads of ghee. So much ghee that if you had a smoke detector in your house, it would go off.

But seriously, no. I made it sound like a full on greasy and fatty food just to make it sound awesome like the way Nigella does in her shows.

To make paratha, roll out a roti, fill it with boiled mashed potato and shape it back into a golf ball. Then roll it again to a 5mm thin disc, slightly fatter than a roti. Rub off excess flour and place the paratha onto hot tawa and smear ghee once it almost cooked on both sides. Parathas are best served hot! 
You can quite simply have these roti or poratha with a little cream cheese and fried eggs but it is best served with Paneer Makhani (cottage cheese curry).
I've been told you can make your own paneer (and that is it fairly easy) but for someone who has no time to prepare even a simple roti, I will let the more talented paneer maker, work his magic in turning milk into paneer.

Paneer Makhni (Butter Paneer)
500gm Paneer, cut into cubes
150gm (about half tin) canned tomatoes (must be blended or chopped fine)
1 1/2 large onion, chopped or blended
5 cloves of garlic, chopped or blended
1/3 thumb sized ginger, chopped or blended

Dry Masala:
1 tsp Garam Masala
1 tbs chillie powder (you may reduce it if you don't want too much heat in your curry)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder

250ml cooking cream (reduce it by half and replace with skimmed milk, an option)
2 tbs butter or 4 tbs ghee
2 tbs oil (recommended if you using butter. Omit if using ghee)
salt to taste
sugar to taste
Coriander leaves, chopped

Heat oil and butter. Add onions, garlic, ginger and fry till fragrant. Add tomatoes and the dry masala. Cook till the oil separates on low medium heat (takes about 15 - 20 minutes). You may add some sugar if the paste is too sour.
Then add the paneer and simmer for 5 minutes (if you wish to serve later, stop cooking now and store it).
Finally add the cream and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the salt, coriander leaves and serve immediately.
White cubes of paneer

I made two versions, one without the chick peas and the other with.
With chick peas:
Just add the frozen chick peas together with the cream and cook for 5 minutes.

Thank you for stopping by at A cuppa for my thoughts

Lets get connected:


  1. OMG!!!!! so delicous.... thank you for the recipe my dearest. I still need to learn how to make the paneer, I heard it is super easy. Love the roti story.. similar to mine and many girls our age, any age... hahaha!!!! Keep writting!!

  2. Thank you.
    Almost every punjabi girl can relate to this experience. I remember how I hated it then but am cherishing the opportunity and the moment I had spent with my mom and mom's mom.

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