How not to make parathas. The accidental jowar bhakri story. Covid 19 Lockdown Journal 40

The result of my paratha ban gaya bhaakri story

K decided to make paneer bhurjee for the first time recently as she had ordered a slab of frozen paneer online.
I told her how I make it. She heard me out and then, as she always does, she trawled the internet and decided to use a recipe from Archana's Kitchen. Why do I even bother! Though, as she says, this practise of her does add variety to our kitchen menu.
I don't know what came upon me next, but I suddenly said that I would make parathas to go with the bhurjee.

The thing is that neither K nor I know how to make parathas or puris or rotis or any kind of Indian breads. Or western for that matter!
Our mothers do not either.
While I make very good rice thanks  possibly to my Bengali genes, I have always had a mental block against even attempting to make rotis or parathas.

Where to source rotis from was a perennial problem for us in the early years of our marriage till our mothers appointed Banu to be our roti maker in the mid 2000s. She was just the house help earlier but had gone and pitched for the job of roti making, enterprising woman that she is, to both our mothers in our absence.
Since then, rotis, bhaakris (Maharashtrian rotis), parathas and occasionally luchis ('maida puri' as I would tell her) have been her responsibility and Banu is very good at it.

We had without Banu because of the lockdown and have given her paid leave. Our roti supply at home has therefore been cut.

There have been occasions in the last 70 odd days when K and I both thought of giving roti making a shot. Her mama, who makes lovely Parsi rotlis himself, suggested that we try making parathas first. He said that these are easier to master than rotis.

We did not act on it though. We depended largely on the 'paratha express,' that I referred to in my last post, for our roti/ paratha needs. I am talking of the weekly stack of fresh parathas that come to us from the house of our friends the Grovers. We portion and even freeze these to make them stretch.


The glorious paneer bhurjee that Kainaz had made which started off this story

Something clicked that day and I decided to give paratha making a shot.
Thanks to being alone in the lockdown, my mother at the age of 72 has begun to make rotis for herself in Kolkata. This incident had goaded/ inspired me at some level perhaps.
I remembered buying a bag of aata (wholewheat flour) just after the lockdown started. It was unopened as Banu could not come to work after that and it lay neglected in the pantry.
I requested K to find me that from the lower shelf and to give me the flour in a container. (I am supposed to avoid bending forward).
She soon gave me a large white empty bucket of Gowardhan dahi full of flour.
I checked YouTube for ideas. Looking at recipes for once in my life. The one that looked useful was on a channel called 'Happily Veg.'

I followed the instructions and poured out the aata on a plate. Added some oil to it and mixed it. Then made a hole in the middle of the heap (I remembered doing this from the bread making class by Christina that I had attended at La 15 Studio years back). I added a bit of water to the flour and kneaded it.
It felt a bit like wet cement at the end. I added some more dry flour till the dough began to get some shape. As instructed in the video, I covered the dough with a bowl and let it rest for a bit.
I returned and saw that the dough was still soft. Did I add too much water, I wondered. I added some more flour and patted the dough gently into shape.
I then made little dough balls with them. They felt disconcertingly soft.
I decided to not give up.
I rolled the dough balls out with a rolling pin.
I 'tried' to roll out, that is.
They tore!
How would I make parathas, I wondered. Had I failed?
I was not ready to give up.
I added a bit more dry flour and made the dough balls again and set on them with the rolling pin.
They tore once again.
I looked at them flummoxed and suddenly noticed black specks among the white of the dough balls.
I went to the bedroom where K was on a work ZOOM call and said, "did you give me jowar (sorghum millets flour) instead of aata (wholewheat)?"
"I don't know," said K after muting herself on the call. "I found a container with flour and gave that instead of opening a new pack."
That's when the penny dropped! K had given me the jar in which Banu keeps jowar instead of giving me the aata that I had requested! Since neither of us had worked with aata before, we had not realised the gaffe.
I was therefore using a recipe to make wholeheat aata parathas while working with jowar (millets)! 
A bit like Boris Becker trying to apply grass court tennis play to clay and we know that this did not work!

A fistfull of hope


I was wondering what to do next when a nebulous memory kicked in. I remembered how Banu uses her palm to thump and flatten the jowar bhakri dough ball out, rather than using a rolling pin. I decided to try that method even though I had not observed her in detail.
A disc did begin to form as I gently thumped on the dough ball. It did not tear thankfully unlike when I had tried the rolling pin.
I heated a saucepan and put a bit of ghee in it and then slid in the disk of jowar dough in it.
The disk began to take shape. Emboldened, I began to thump out another disk. Then tried to turn it over in the pan.
It tore. It had not cooked enough!

I was a man on a mission by then. I had smelt blood.
I continued to flatten out the next dough ball with my clenched fist and put it on the pan with more ghee.
I flattened out two more balls while this cooked in the pan. The third was a bit too moist so I added a bit more dry flour and rolled it to make firm.
The disk in the pan began to look toasted. I gently lifted it with a spatula wondering if this too would break.
It did not! Hell yeah!!!!!!!!
I put it back on the pan with the reverse side up. I cranked up the heat of the hob and pressed the spatula on the jowar disk. It started to look increasingly nice and crisp till I knew it was done.
It was the best of the batch.
I pushed it to a corner of the pan and one by one, repeated the process with the other two jowar disks.
They came out creditably. I was excited.
Had I made a jowar bhaakri, I wondered.

The thali that connected the #spalifekitchen and the #finelychoppedkitchen

I then re-heated the paneer bhurjee in the pan and took that and a bhakri to K who was on her work Zoom call in the bedroom. She loved it!
She loved it so much that she wanted seconds. Thankfully I had made three so we had one and a half each.
I loved it too. It was one of the nicest jowar bhaakris that I have had. Loved the crunchiness it had in comparison to the ones Banu makes which are a bit limp.

The paneer bhurjee that K had made was fabulous too. More dhaaba-like thanks to the recipe she followed, than the very light one I make inspired by the bhurjee at Crystal, Chowpatty.
I took a bit of the hot red chilli thecha from Velankini which went well with the bhakri and some of the brilliantly rich (and more expensive than other packaged brands) dahi from Sarda farms.

I realised that while I had started the session thinking I was making my first aata tava parathas (a north Indian dish), I had actually ended up making making first jowar Maharashtrian bhakris instead!
In other words, I thought I would be Kalyanjit Kaur and ended up being Kalyani Tai! (using the female versions of the my name in Gurmukhi and Marathi).

Folks on social media later told me that you should use lukewarm water while mixing the dough for jowar bhakri. That you should not add oil to the dough. That you should use your palms and not a rolling pin to flatten it. That you should apply ghee on the bhakri before eating.

I will keep these tips in mind the next time.

The important thing is that I had broken my mental block against roti making. I was happy that I made jowar bhakri at the end rather than aata paratha. The former is rarer to get, more local and supposed to be better for ones health as they are made with millets and not wheat.

As comebacks go, I would rate this right up there with Kapil Dev's 183 against Zimbabwe in the '83 World Cup. Proving once again that we never give up in the Finely Chopped Kitchen!

PS: I don't know if Annu had seen the pictures of the bhaakri that I had posted on social media and decoded it as a cry for help, but the 'paratha express' did roll in the next night with a stack of parathas and lovely potato curry.

The 'paratha express'

Also of interest:

  1. The role of the kitchen during the lockdown
  2. Introducing the 'paratha express'
  3. How Banu become our cook

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