OLD DELHI AND NEW DELHI ARE two different worlds. The labyrinth of Old Delhi's streets and narrow lanes, often open only to foot traffic, contrasts vividly with New Delhi's spacious, tree-lined boulevards with their stately homes and gardens tucked neatly behind compound walls. It was in Chippiwada, in the Chandni Chowk section of teeming Old Delhi, that Srila Prabhupada resided, printed books, and spoke about Krsna in the late fifties and early sixties.
In 1970, I visited Delhi for the first time and met some of the people Srila Prabhupada had lived and worked among many years before. One of the most fascinating and helpful was a Mrs. Joshi, a devotee with connections to Vrndavana's famous Sri Radha-Ramana Temple. This kind and intelligent woman not only became a good friend and nursed me back to health after my first serious bout with dysentery, but more important she was a veritable treasure house of stories about Srila Prabhupada and his many trips to her home.
Mrs. Joshi was an inspired example of spiritual standards in the kitchen. She had deep devotion to Lord Krsna, and her intuition, skill, and experience merged with the subtle compositions of her dishes. In Mrs. Joshi's capable hands, her kitchen brought forth excellence.
Which brings me to her griddle-fried breads called parathas, the subject of this cooking class. While not as common as griddle-baked capati flat-breads, they are popular treats for everything from a lunch box to a late-evening meal. Made from a dough of ghee-enriched flour and water, the breads, in their simplest form, are rolled, layered, brushed with ghee, folded, turned, and rolled out again. When they're slipped onto a hot oiled griddle, the layers of dough separate, fill with steam, and puff into flaky leaves of pastrylike bread. Parathas can also be stuffed, usually with mashed potatoes, minted peas, mixed vegetables, or shredded radish.
While in Chippiwada, I sampled radish parathas made by various cooks, but Mrs. Joshi's were the best. They were similar to those mentioned in the class textbook, Lord Krishna's Cuisine. She sometimes served these to Srila Prabhupada, and he liked them very much.
On one of my first outings through Chandni Chowk's famous food bazaar, to my amazement Mrs. Joshi brought me to a street called Paratha Gully. Behind scores of coal fires, cooks enticed passersby to sample an endless variety of the flatbreads, their fragrance wafting through the air. No doubt Paratha Gully has been there for decades and, barring a catastrophe, will likely be there for decades to come.
If you are following the classes in this column, it's time to dig in and learn about making paratha dough and then cooking the parathas. (See pages 119-136 of Lord Krishna's Cuisine.) If you don't have access to an Indian store where capati flour is sold, buy whole-wheat pastry flour from a natural-food store and combine it with unbleached pastry flour. Then try doughs with pastry flour alone, or pastry flour mixed with rye or triticale flour. Prepare simple layered parathas, and then you can try two or three stuffed varieties.
If you want to sample a quick paratha, redolent of Mrs. Joshi's original, give the following recipe a try.
Quick Radish Parathas
(Makes 6 parathas)
This is a simple nontraditional way to make a paratha that will give you a good idea what traditional parathas are like. I hope they'll inspire you to try some of the paratha recipes in Lord Krishna's Cuisine.
1 cup finely shredded radish, pressed dry
¼ teaspoon crushed chili flakes
1 teaspoon crushed coriander seeds
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
½ cup finely shredded rennetless cheese (optional)
salt and freshly ground pepper
12 capatis, half-cooked
corn oil or butter
2 ½ cups organic whole-wheat flour, or 1 ½ cups sieved organic whole-wheat flour mixed with ¾ cup unbleached white flour
¼ teaspoon salt (optional)
2/3 cup warm water (or as necessary)
sieved whole-wheat flour for dusting
Place the dry ingredients for the capatis in a large bowl and mix well. Add 2/3 cup of water, pouring fast at first, then in dribbles, until a rough mass of dough forms. Knead until silky smooth, about five minutes. Add flour or water as necessary. Roll the dough into a smooth ball, cover well, and set aside for half an hour, or up to two hours, at room temperature.
Knead the dough briefly, divide it into twelve smooth balls, and cover them with a damp cloth. Warm a heavy griddle over moderately low heat for several minutes. Press a ball of dough into a patty, dip both sides in flour, and roll it into a thin round, just over six inches in diameter. When rolling, use just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the counter.
Half slap, half slip the disk onto the griddle. If there are wrinkles, wait until the bottom of the capati is firm before trying to press them out. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until the top of the capati lightens in color and small bubbles begin to appear. Turn thecapati over and cook for ½ to 1 minute. Set aside. Repeat for the rest of the capatis. (Normally the capatis would be cooked over a flame when they come off the griddle, but we're skipping that step for these capatis. We'll cook them more in the paratharecipe below.)
Combine in a bowl the radish, chili flakes, coriander, cilantro, and cheese. Season with a little salt and pepper and toss to mix.
Place the capatis on a work surface and liberally brush the edges with water. Spread the radish mixture evenly over six of the capatis. Place a capati over each of the filling-topped capatis, and then press to seal the edges.
Preheat a griddle over moderate heat and brush on a film of butter or oil. Gently lift a stuffed capati and slip it onto the griddle. Cook it for about 1 ½ minutes on each side, until it's golden brown. (The cheese helps bind the filling and prevent it from slipping out of the paratha. If you're not using cheese, handle with care.)
Offer to Krsna hot off the griddle.
Yamuna Devi is the author of Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking and is a regular contributor to The Washington Post.