Malabar Paratha (flaky flatbread)
My introduction to the Malabar Paratha was too late in life - just two years ago! I've had rich experience [making, but mostly eating] many other Indian flatbreads - my mother's chapatis (roti), puris, and of course, north Indian naan. But the malabar paratha came to my attention in 2015, as I traveled India's spice coast for the first time. After our engagement, my husband (then fiance) and I wasted no time in choosing India as the destination for our wedding. Actually, my American husband (Indian at heart), basically refused to have our wedding anywhere else. Within hours of getting engaged in the Canadian Rockies, I had chosen our wedding destination: Kerala.
Kerala is undoubtedly the most beautiful place in India. Kerala is India's southernmost state. It's tropical and wildly lush. Days spent in Kerala are floating down winding canals dotted with houseboats, finding epic palm trees hanging over land's edge into the water, and passing fluorescent lotus ponds and an array of stunning birds. Its villages remind me of the beautiful and quaint village my mother grew up in, located in the state of Andhra Pradesh. While I always dreamed of having my wedding where my mother grew up, Kerala has a bit more travel infrastructure. Somehow, it maintains tourism while retaining so much of its natural beauty and charm, something other tourist destinations in India have much to learn about.
Kerala's greatest draw, equivalent to the scenery? The food, of course. Flaky malabar parathas are dipped into seafood curries - prawns, fish, crab, squid - all directly off the coast. And while a bounty comes from the sea, an even greater find from land: Kerala is the main source of Indian spices. My husband and I had the great pleasure of hiking through Munnar's spice fields - intensely fragrant and delightful cardamom, cinnamon bark, black pepper, and more all come from the vast spice farms found in Kerala. Pair those lovely spices with amazingly fresh seafood, and then add on this flaky, ghee-laden, unctuous bread?! I'll just stop there and let you imagine it ;)
My mama recently admitted that she's known how to make this for years...and she hid it from me for all this time?!? She claims to have made it several times while I was growing up, without any interest from me...it's true that I've always been more of a rice gal, so it's completely possible I overlooked it. Overlooked no more! Recipe for my mother's kerala paratha below.
mama's kerala paratha
4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups water
1/3 cup ghee + extra 1/3 cup melted ghee for brushing
1 tsp kosher salt
(some choose to add a tsp of sugar, and replace 1/2 cup of water with milk. I prefer this simple version, but I'm in no way hesitant about adding a little - *a lot* - of ghee)
Mix wet and dry ingredients separately. Slowly pour water/ghee mixture into flour/salt mixture, kneading as you go. Knead dough for 5 minutes, and alternate with 5 minute periods of rest, for 20 minutes total. Spread a little ghee onto the inside of a large bowl, and place ball of dough inside. Brush the exposed dough with a little ghee. Cover with a wet cloth, and let sit for two hours.
Tear dough into 8-10 small balls. Keep remaining dough covered with wet cloth as you work. Get a non-stick or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet hot over medium-high heat. Do not add any ghee to the pan.
(I used to have a video of the following - I forgot to save off of insta stories...sorry!! Will update soon.)
1. Flour your work surface very lightly. Roll dough super thin. The thinner you get your dough, the more flaky your paratha. It shouldn't break, but should be close to it.
2. Pull up one edge of the rolled out dough, so one edge remains on the work surface. Pleat your dough into an accordion shape, by moving your hands forward and then backward, letting the dough fold on top of each other. You should end up with a long strip - a rectangular accordion - about 4-5 levels high.
3. Turn the strip on its side, so you can see all the folds. Starting from one end, roll the strip inwards, so you end up with a snail or cinnamon roll-like circle.
4. Flatten the dough with a rolling pin to your desired thickness of bread.
5. Toss in the hot skillet, with a pastry brush and melted ghee ready. After 45 seconds - 1 minute, flip the bread with a spatula. Brush the ghee onto the cooked side. Flip the bread again, and brush ghee onto the second side. Use your spatula to press down on segments of the bread, causing it to puff up throughout. You should hear a little sizzle as you do this. Flip and brush two more times. The bread should be puffy in places, flat in places, with bits of char, and super flaky.
Makes 8-10 parathas. Serve with curry, chutney, or achaar.