I like to cook Indian food. My main source is the book written by Das Sreedharan about the food from his London restaurant Rasa and his childhood in Kerala: “The New Tastes of India”. I have other books with Indian recipes, but Das almost always provides very interesting, very easy and very delicious dishes. I trust his judgement. I would put an Amazon link but Amazon avoids paying taxes fairly in Europe and so I’d say that you can get it from the Book Depository if you need to.
Last Saturday I picked a few things out of the book and made a dinner for friends. I made the Parathas, a kind of flaky bread with wholemeal flour. I made them a bit differently from how Das describes, and they were much the better for it. I substituted time for effort, along the lines of the famous “no-knead bread” from Jim Lahey, popularized at the NYT by the great Mark Bittman. Most bread you can make quickly, but it will be foul. The best things happen (with the flour, with the biochemistry) if you wait. I applied this principle to the Parathas, and made them at about 14h30. I just threw the flour, water and oil together and left a very wet, unusable sticky mess on the counter, covered with a cloth, for about 4 hours. Das suggests 1 hour so this is not a major difference. But I didn’t knead it.
Over the four hours, the dough gradually transformed. There’s no yeast, so it didn’t grow. But the wholemeal flour very slowly absorbed the water. When I came to roll them out (with one of our guests) they were amazingly soft and pliant, and stretchy too. All the hallmarks of very long chains of gluten. To find a bit more about the science (or engineering, more) of bread making, I recommend the encyclopedic “Local Breads” – it’s mainly recipes of course.
The long-play Parathas fried up beautifully, and disappeared with polite haste.
The other tweak I made was Dal. Most of Das’ recipes don’t take soooo long to make. They are not bubbling on the stove for 3 hours. But Dal has to be made this way. I tried various recipes before, but always felt them to be a bit, well, crappy. Das doesn’t have a Dal recipe in his book.
The Guardian has run a great column for the last few years : “How to cook ….“. They have one for Dal. I followed the suggestions, and got great results, again cooking for about 3 hours. I didn’t soak at all. Some interesting advice in the column seems to derive from the book “Cooking with my Indian Mother In-Law“. It seems to be out of print but I sourced it via Book Depository and eagerly await its arrival.