I’m not in the habit of baking my own bread. The crackling loaves that I can pick up at the shop around the corner surpass anything I could make at home.
Flatbreads, on the other hand, are a whole different matter. I can’t buy good ones in nearby stores, which means either ordering in parathas and naan from my local Indian restaurant, or making them myself.
Whipping them up from scratch is a lot more gratifying, and not the least bit hard.
Of the two, it’s the parathas I prefer. I adore their flaky texture, which is achieved by brushing melted butter over the surface of the rolled-out dough, then folding the dough to create layers. When the dough is fried, the butter trapped in the layers causes the breads to puff up and bubble in spots.
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Pulling parathas apart while they are still warm and dunking them in dal (spiced split peas) or a raita (yogurt mixed with cucumbers) is one of the simplest yet most satisfying pleasures of an Indian meal.
But the burnished, buttery breads also shine in other contexts. Try putting them out at your next gathering as a nibble with cocktails and any dip you’re in the mood to make. They work just as well with hummus as they do with raita. Or set a pile next to some grilled chicken or steak and let your guests wrap up morsels of meat with the supple bread for an Indian-inspired variation on fajitas.
The dough itself is a cinch to make: an unleavened mixture of just flour, salt, butter and water that you can stir together with your fingers in about three minutes flat. Once they are rolled out and buttered, the flatbreads can sit in your fridge for a day before you cook them, making them extremely convenient for entertaining.
In summer, I prefer to grill the flatbreads rather than to fry them, mostly because it seems easier once I have the grill going anyway (which I often do this time of year). And I like the char the grill gives. But you can do either.
Traditionally, parathas are made either plain, or stuffed with some kind of cooked vegetable (potatoes and onions are popular) or spiced ground meat – or both.
In this version, I replace the usual savory filling with sliced dates. The fruit adds sweetness without making the breads seem like dessert. Or leave the dates out for something more classic.
But do try these flatbreads with the yogurt dip, a garlicky raita variation to which I’ve added crushed walnuts for crunch.
Date-stuffed parathas with yogurt dip
For the parathas:
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour, more for dusting
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more as needed for the bowl and brushing
1/2 cup sliced pitted dates (4 to 5 large pitted)
Olive oil, as needed
For the dip:
1 cup Greek yogurt, preferably whole milk
2 Persian cucumbers, coarsely grated (1/2 cup)
1 small garlic clove, grated on a microplane or minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped mint, plus torn whole leaves for garnish
Fine sea salt, to taste
1/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Crushed dried rose petals, for garnish (optional)
1. Prepare the parathas: In a large bowl, whisk together flours and salt. Pour 4 tablespoons melted butter over the flour mixture. Use your fingers to rub the butter into the flour until the mixture becomes moist and crumbly. Knead in 1/2 cup water, a little at a time, as needed, until a soft dough forms.
2. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and knead dough until it is smooth and slightly elastic, about 5 minutes. Roll dough into a ball and transfer it to a buttered bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.
3. Divide dough into 6 equal-size balls. Transfer one ball to a lightly floured surface (keep other dough balls covered with a clean dish towel). Roll the dough into a 6-inch circle. Using a pastry brush, coat the surface of the dough with melted butter, and sprinkle half with 1 generous tablespoon sliced dates. Fold the dough in half, forming a semicircle over the dates. Brush the surface of the semicircle with butter; fold it in half again to form a triangle. Gently roll out dough to a thickness slightly less than 1/4 inch. (You can prepare the parathas up to this point the day before; store in an airtight container with a sheet of plastic wrap or parchment between each paratha, in the refrigerator.)
4. Make the dip: In a medium bowl, whisk together yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, mint and salt to taste. Garnish with walnuts, black pepper, torn mint leaves and rose petals if using. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
5. Light a high-heat fire in a gas or charcoal grill. Brush parathas with oil and place on the grate. Cover and cook, turning once halfway through, until parathas are dark golden brown and crisp, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side. Serve hot, with yogurt dip alongside.
Yield: 6 flatbreads