Saturday, September 19, 2009
I wanted to share today step-by-step instructions for a very simple yet decadently delicious Indian bread, a Poori or Puri, to flag off an occasional series on my blog that I'm calling Vegan Cooking Class. I will post here detailed instructions and photos for recipes that appear simple enough but can sometimes befuddle even an experienced cook.
I intend to add here every little detail I can think of, and everything that can go wrong, to ensure that when you cook things are as fool-proof as possible.
So why the fuss about pooris, you'd say? Well, pooris are simple enough to make once you know how, but trust me, they are not as forgiving as, say, a roti or a chapati. For instance, making the dough too sticky, rolling them out unevenly or frying them at the wrong temperature will not allow them to puff up. And while you might have an edible bread, it won't be just right. And you wouldn't want to settle for that, would you?
In India, pooris enjoy special status: they always make an appearance on the menu during special occasions and celebrations. Part of the reason for this is that that they are deep-fried: which puts them in the league of those gorgeous foods you savor only once in a while.
Like most Indian breads, pooris are usually made with the very basic ingredients of flour, water, oil and salt. I sometimes add soy yogurt to them to give them a crispier, flakier texture. In India the bran is typically removed from the wheat flour used for making pooris, but I find that using whole-wheat durum flour makes the recipe healthier without compromising even a tiny bit on the taste.
Here's a great tip: heating your oil to the perfect frying temperature (between 360 and 375 degrees) and maintaining it there while frying ensures that your food will absorb almost no oil, taking the guilt out of eating deep-fried foods. And don't forget to drain the pooris on paper towels before you serve them to get rid of any residual oil.
I buy the whole-wheat durum flour in 20-pound sacks from the Indian grocery store. You can also find it at health food stores and at Whole Foods. If you absolutely cannot find it, use regular whole-wheat flour, although be warned that the poori might not be as light. Try not to use all-purpose because pooris made with highly refined flours tend to stiffen and harden up after just a few minutes.
2 cups whole-wheat durum flour (can use regular whole-wheat flour)
1 tsp canola or other vegetable oil
About 3/4 cup of water for kneading
1/4 cup soy yogurt (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
Canola or peanut oil for frying
In a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the ingredients other than the water until the flour resembles coarse crumbs.
Adding the water a little at a time, knead the flour into a stiff but pliable dough. You may need more or less water, sometimes depending on the humidity in your area that day. Add more flour if the dough becomes too sticky. Continue kneading for a couple of minutes after the flour comes together.
Place the dough in an airtight container or in a bowl covered with plastic wrap and set aside for at least half an hour.
Now break off a piece of the dough and roll into a smooth ball between the palms of your hands, about 3/4-inch in diameter. Roll the ball in some flour and then roll into a circle about 3 inches in diameter. The dough should not stick easily, but if it does, flour the surface as needed.
Do not use a rolling pin with ball-bearings-- the kind you'd use to roll pie dough-- because it is too heavy for the job. Instead, get a slender rolling pin about an inch in diameter, at most, and use that. It's lighter and easier to manipulate and within no time you'll be a pro at using it to make all sorts of Indian breads. I bought mine from the Indian grocery store in my area. Tip: to ensure that your pooris fluff up perfectly, try and roll the dough evenly. Don't press down on the rolling pin: apply the gentlest of pressures with your palms, just enough to keep it rolling. A great way to also ensure that you get a perfect and even round is to rotate the dough just a little bit each time you roll -- that will make the poori perfectly round and even.
Continue making pooris with the rest of the dough. You can lay them out on a cookie sheet and it's okay if they overlap a bit- when the dough is fresh they won't easily stick to each other.
Meanwhile, in a frying pan (a kadai or any container with a rounded bottom works best for this. I don't have a kadai so I use a 6-inch cast-iron skillet), pour oil to a depth of 1 inch.
Heat the oil to 375 degrees-- a frying or candy thermometer is a great investment. But another way to do this is to break off a teeny tiny bit of the dough and put it in the frying pan. If it sinks to the bottom and rises immediately, your oil is hot enough. If not, wait. Putting foods in cold oil is a surefire way to make the food suck in all the oil and what you'll get is oil-clogged, limp and inedible pooris.
Once the oil is perfectly hot, place a poori in the center of the frying pan. Using a kitchen spider or a spatula with holes in it (I've no idea what it's called) like the one I have, push down the center of the poori into the oil, gently with the edge of the spatula, until the poori begins to puff up.
After the poori has puffed up completely, turn over and cook the other side for another 30 seconds or until that side becomes golden-brown.
Remove to a plate or preferably a colander lined with paper napkins and allow the pooris to drain for a minute. Serve hot with any spicy Indian curry or kurma. I think they go especially well with potato subzi and chickpea curry.
Hope that was clear enough. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.
And enjoy your weekend!