This week I went to a good friend’s house to cook an Indian feast with him and his family. His son in particular wanted to learn now to make stuffed paranthas. Because my friend is currently on a low carb diet, instead of potato stuffed paranthas, which are very commonly made, I decided to try making paneer- Indian cottage cheese- stuffed paranthas. They turned out pretty well, but a bit under salted. I meant to take pictures, but didn’t. So, here is a picture-less recipe, with the adjustments I would make if I did it again.
Paneer Parantha (Serves 4-6 as a main dish)
A) Make the paneer:
- 2 litres milk (full-fat/homogenized)
- ¼ cup lemon or lime juice
Bring the milk to a boil and remove from heat (stir frequently while heating, watch carefully, and be prepared to remove the pot of milk from the stove at a hat’s drop- the milk will boil over quite quickly). Drizzle the lemon or lime juice into the milk. Do not stir. Let stand for about 15 minutes. The milk will separate into curds and whey. Line a colander with 6-8 layers of cheesecloth, drain the curds from the whey, reserving the whey (do not, absolutely do not, commit the travesty of pouring this delicious, highly nutritious liquid down the drain). You will have approximately 1 ¼ cups of densely packed paneer, but this may vary depending on the milk. This is what I had when I made the paneer from full-fat goat’s milk.
B) Make the dough:
- 2 ½ cups whole wheat flour (ideally durum wheat/chapati flour, but whole wheat is perfectly fine)
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp oil (optional)
Mix salt and optional oil into the flour. Use enough whey (or water, but this is a great way to use some of that whey*) to form a smooth, firm, elastic, non-sticky dough. Divide into 8 equal sized balls.
C) Make the filling:
- 1 large onion- finely minced
- 2 tbsps finely minced ginger
- 1-2 jalapeno’s/dried red chillies/other hot peppers, finely minced (optional, but delicious- and the paneer reduces the heat factor, so you will need more than you normally would use)
- salt to taste (oversalting is better than under, as the dough will be very undersalted and will temper the flavour of the filling)
Combine the paneer with the onions, ginger, chillies, and salt. You can also add a tsp of cumin and/or coriander and/or garam masala and/or any other such spices, if you wish. Use your hands (clean!) to mash everything together thoroughly. Divide the mixture into 8 equal sized balls. These balls should be smaller than the dough balls- about 2/3 the size. Pinch off extra bits of the filling if the balls are too big; the left-overs will be delicious spread on toast or crackers as a pre-dinner snack.
D) Forming the paranthas:
You need a rolling pin, a plate with about half-cup of flour on it, a heavy skillet, and some cooking oil.
Using your fingers or a rolling pin (a wine bottle will do, I discovered, as a poor newly-wed living for a short time in a place that was far from where I wanted to set down roots. Minimalistic husband and I refused to buy any not-often-used items that we would have to either cart home across the country or chuck before we moved back—bad for our planet as well as our wallets), flatten a ball of dough until it is about 4 inches in diameter. Place one of the balls of filling into the middle of the dough, and pinch up the edges to seal. You will now have a ball of dough, with delicious seasoned paneer in the middle. Gently flatten and roll out into a 6-8 inch circle using a rolling pin, being careful to not let the filling leak out. Dredge the parantha in flour lightly, as needed, to keep the dough from sticking to the rolling pin and counter top. Repeat with remaining dough and paneer.
Heat the heavy pan or cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Place a parantha in the dry skillet, and let cook for about a minute. Flip, and while the other side is cooking spread a small amount of oil on the slightly cooked side, using either a brush or the back of a spoon. Flip again, and let it brown. Repeat with other side. The parantha may puff-up during this process. My mother claims the intended receiver of a chapati or parantha that puffs when cooking must be very hungry. Of course it is hard to determine who will be eating which parantha when you pile them all up and take them to the dining room or kitchen table, but traditionally each family member receives a parantha or chapati in turn, as it comes fresh off the stove, and they continue waiting and taking turns receiving one until everyone is full. Only then does the cook, usually mother or daughter-in-law, get to eat. I know it seems very unfair, but it’s actually kinda fun. Paranthas are usually eaten for breakfast, so everyone who is freshly showered huddles together in the warm kitchen. Sitting on low benches, they are sometimes wrapped in blankets to keep their backs warm against the cool morning air. They all have chai-tea- to keep them until they receive their parantha, and while they eat the next person receives his/her’s (usually his…the fathers/husbands/boys always receive first. Yes, it is very sexist- this is the unfun part). Sometimes the flat-bread gets passed out in order of who is in the biggest hurry to get out to work or school on time. The elders usually only want one. The kids too, depending on their age. And while they eat and wait in the warm kitchen for their first or next parantha, they talk, laugh, or argue.
Where was I? Oh yeah.
Remove from heat, and repeat with remaining paranthas.
As mentioned, aloo (potato) paranthas are far more common in my home. Although the paneer paranthas were fun for a change, my favourite is still the potato stuffed alternative. To make 8 aloo paranthas (to serve 4-6, as before), boil 2 large potatoes, and mash. Season to your liking-depending on what is in the house, my mother adds any combination of cumin, coriander, anise, fennel, cinnamon, cardamom, red chillies, green chillies, mint, cilantro, onion, ginger, pomegranate seeds, etc, etc…the options are endless. Do what you feel, and you will always have a tasty surprise on your hands. You could pay homage to your Eastern European roots by adding dill or caraway. Or add some garlic (not my favourite in paranthas, but you may feel differently). Or basil and oregano and thyme. Or just salt and pepper! Make it your own. Follow the rest of the steps as for paneer paranthas.
Serve your paranthas -paneer, potato, or otherwise-freshly made, with a tangy fruit chutney or pungent mango pickles. Potato paranthas are especially delicious with clotted cream or plain yogourt. They make a lovely breakfast. With a hot cup of chai. Just sayin.’
*other options for how to use your whey: use in place of water/milk/buttermilk when making bread, biscuits, cornbread, muffins, naan, or chapati. You can also make a surprisingly delicious drink, by adding lemon juice and sugar to taste, and a little sprinkling of salt (salt is optional, but really good if you are into sweet-salty tastes like me). I always freeze this in small, one-cup or so proportions so that I don’t have to worry about using it all up right away if I have a lot. Just…the idea that you may possibly pour this down your sink when draining the paneer is making me cringe. Please don’t do that.