Making the bread flat

India began to flatten its rotis, thanks to the Aryans, says Dr Padma Vijay in her new book, Indian Breads

On a trip through the rural districts of Maharashtra, Dr Padma Vijay was served a blood-red puri at a food joint. After the meal, she went up to the chef to douse her curiosity. “I was told they had added tomato puree to it,” the 57-year-old tells us over the phone.

In a heavy Telugu accent, she tells us that she jotted the recipe in her notebook which has now become a repository of every Indian flatbread she has came across during her travels across the country in the ’80s.

Dr Padma Vijay
Dr Padma Vijay

A plant physiologist who studied nutrition in 1982, Vijay went on to write cookbooks and even freelanced as a nutritionist writer for magazines and newspapers. Last month, she released her recipes and nuggets in a book titled Indian Breads: A Comprehensive Guide to Traditional and Innovative Indian Bread, published by Westland publication. “The book is a compilation of flatbread recipes I have served my family since the 1980s,” says the Vashi resident.

She also has a theory on when rotis introduced across India. Rotis, she says, originated in the Aryan civilisation in northern India. But, it did take a little time before we rolled out the dough though. “Take Rajasthan for example — their popular dish, dal bati choorma consists of dough balls baked and dunked in dal, or even Gujarat’s dal dhokli, which have small circular discs of dough boiled in the toor dal. So, we took our time before flattening our breads,” she smiles.

Flatbreads per region
Flatbreads, Vijay will tell you, differ from region to region in India. While flatbreads made of wheat flour are popular in northern, western and central India, it is bajra, jowar, ragi/mandua in the west, maize grows in Punjab and Rajasthan. Rice flour, of course, is staple in the south, east and northeast.

What lacha paratha is to north India, parotta is to Kerala, what phulka is to Maharashtra, rotli is to Gujarat, and what puris is to north India, luchis are to West Bengal. Mughal-influenced regions, including Kashmir, Lucknow, Awadh and Hyderabad have a sweet tinge to their flatbreads with the presence of sugar or dry fruits. “In Kashmir, you get khooba roti, which is sugary, while in Hyderabad, you get rogani roti, which is baked. They stuffed their savoury Indian breads with meat,” she says, adding that shapes too have a story.

Explaining the difference between Kerala’s pathri and orotti, Vijay says, “Two thin pathri, made of grated coconut and cumin seeds, equals one parotha. In the south, the flour is mixed in hot water so it semi-cooks before it is turned into dough.”
Apart from the common parathas and rotis, the book mentions unleavened fried luchis of Bengal, crisp Punjabi mattiri, Kerala’s coconut-laden pathiris, orottis stuffed with fish, chicken and minced meat. “Andhra Pradesh serves deepfried odappalu, while Rajasthan has tikkars. “I served a lot of parathas stuffed with cooked dal, pulses. Did you know Biharis have sattu paratha, which is stuffed with roasted gram flour?” And then there are flours without any wheat, rice or millets. “For example, the waterchestnut flour is common in Hyderabad and Maharashtra. This is consumed as a fasting food,” says Vijay. Interestingly, in many Mughal areas, they used to make rotis using almond flour.

This was a dish to showoff the king’s status. The book, Vijay hopes, inspires the young generation to eat healthier. “Instead of consuming complex carbohydrates from whole wheats, jowar, bajra, the current generation is addicted to white flour, which is low on minerals and vitamins,” she signs off.


Ingredients for 4 orottis
>> 2 tbsp grated fresh coconut
>> A pinch of salt or to taste
>> 1 cup rice flour
>> 2 tsp oil

Orotti is thick rice flour flatbread from Kerala
Orotti is thick rice flour flatbread from Kerala

>> Add the coconut and salt to 1 cup of boiling water, simmer for 1-2 mins and make the dough
>> Boil 1 cup of water in a pan and dissolve the salt in it
>> Gradually add the rice flour, stirring vigorously for a minute to prevent lumps from forming. Remove from the heat
>> While still warm, knead the rice dough for 10-15 mins
>> Cover the dough and leave it aside for about 20 mins
>> Knead it again for about
>> mins
>> Divide the dough into 4 portions and shape them into balls
>> Press a dough ball on a greased plastic sheet into a 4-inch circle
>> Smear a pan with ½ tsp oil and put it on low heat
>> Invert the plastic sheet over it so that the orotti slips on to the pan
>> Cook on low heat, till golden brown on both sides
>> Repeat with the remaining portions of dough
>> Serve hot with any curry

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