Posted on: Tuesday October 13, 2009
A look at the most endearing foods today tells us that our favourites are those that have fed mankind through the ages. They are foods that are so ingrained in the fibre of our everyday diets that we’ve forgotten how delightful they really are.
A startlingly simple mixture of flour and water, there are small variations in the recipes for bread that amount to significant differences– especially in India where there is such a breathtaking variety of indigenous breads. Marked by definitive flavours and remarkable textures, even the modest delights of everyday cooking speak of a deep appreciation for breads and the simple sensibility that pairs them perfectly with the right foods.
Leavened and unleavened breads pose a simple enough difference. Unleavened bread is new bread made from fresh dough, and breads like chapatis, phulkas, pooris, and parathas are basic examples of unleavened bread made in the Indian Subcontinent. The making of leavened bread, in many ways, relies on its making yesterday. Flour and water are mixed, kneaded and left for a while, to rise. Most often, dough from past makings is used to help speed the process along and so, unlike unleavened bread, leavened bread tells of a past. Good or bad, this bread connects us fundamentally to our moments on this earth gone by.
The charm of a rustic meal can be surprising. Marked by definitive flavours and remarkable textures, the earthy delights of makki di roti and sarson da saag, chola bhatura, zunka bakhar or even the thepla speak of a deep appreciation for breads and a simple sensibility of which foods to pair them with.
Makki di roti is a flat bread made of cornflour, generally grainy and quick to crumble. They are usually eaten with sarson da saag, a soft creamy dish made with mustard greens and garnished with butter. Similarly, chola bhatura is an ideal combination, pairing the thick and spicy chola with the thin and crispy bhatura bread. A more prosaic combination is zunka bakhar, a dry preparation of gram flour, mustard seeds and assorted spices with soft bread made from sorghum. Then there is the delightful thepla, a flat bread made from a mix of gram flour and wheat spiced with coriander, methi, turmeric, green chillies, ginger, garlic and other assorted spices. Given the attention lavished on this particular bread, it is often paired simply with butter, curd, or a deliciously tart sweet mango chutney.
There are, of course, far more elaborate breads all paired with very particular foods to ensure absolute enjoyment of both the bread and what it complements. The wide array of Mughlai breads was invented for royalty. Even the plainest naan, for example, the Roghni naan, is brushed with saffron water and the Khurmee naan is coated with a mixture of dates and jaggery cooked together. The delectable Sheer-mal has Persian influence, made with saffron, eggs, milk and raisins, and the Bakarkhani is an elaborate naan which is mixed and kneaded for hours before it is cooked, with a double sprinkling of milk as it cooks.
However, the several joys of naans, bhaturas and kulchas in their many incarnations are profound to be sure, but there is no richer an experience than that offered by potted breads.
The dough is first mixed, kneaded and left to rise in a terracotta pot. Not only is the dough leavened during this wait, but moreover it absorbs the rich earthy flavour of the pot itself. This dough is then baked in the pot itself in a powerful oven. The pot is thus cooked twice in the fire, imbuing the bread within with an even deeper sense of the earth that cradles it. Once baked, the bread is torn and eaten from the pot itself. The perfect garnishes complement both the crackly and crusty texture of the loaf, but also the delicious flavour and aroma of the smoky clay.
Join us in discovering a novel delight, giving thanks for the first time in a long time for our daily bread.