I’ve been thinking a lot about India lately, and I miss it. I miss the beauty amidst the rubble, the food (my favorite in the world), the thrill of adventure, the kind people and their intricate belief system. My toes aren’t yet getting itchy enough to actually research plane tickets, but I decided this week’s cooking assignment could take me there via my taste buds.
I mentioned in my post about cooking Pad Thai last week that I’ve been carrying around a sack of authentic spices since I left India. That was in February, and I didn’t put them to use until Monday night when I made a traditional North Indian breakfast dish: Aloo (potato) Parantha.
I ate a different variation of parantha almost every day of the six weeks I spent in India, so it’s fair to say I know what it should taste like, and that I love it. However, this was beyond my limited cooking experience, and I wasn’t confident it would actually turn out.
I thought I might mess up the first part – mixing whole-wheat flour with water and kneading it into a ball. I’m not sure how anyone can mess that up, and I even helped prepare chapati several times in India, but I feared doing it alone could mean disaster. It didn’t.
Then I thought I probably wouldn’t get the spices right. I have about five different clear bags filled with colorful ingredients, but none of them are marked, and seven months is too long for me to remember which is which. I gave it my best guess, and it was flavorful. I call that a win.
The next terror came when it was time to flatten the dough balls, fill them with the spicy potato and veggie filling, ball them up once more and flatten again, keeping all the insides in place. I tried it the way the recipe said, using one flat dough ball and pinching the sides around the filling, but it came out much smaller than I remembered the authentic version to be. So I used two flattened balls to surround the insides. Not only did it make my job much easier, but it became larger and the paranthas were more sturdy, holding up nicely in the transfer from table to pan.
After grilling each circular piece, I served them with plain yogurt and olives (as close as I could get to the original versions), and suggested my friends eat with their hands. None of them had tried Aloo Parantha before, but all gave stamps of approval. Two even went back for seconds – proof they weren’t actually lying to me.
I call that success!
I learned something about myself with this assignment. I found that because this was a homework assignment, meaning I actually had to do it, I didn’t dwell on the two hours it took from start to finish. My problem with cooking (aside from the scary part) is that it often takes too much time; I’d rather do something I might consider more productive. Plus, when I’m hungry, I want to eat now.
I noticed, however, that because I knew I had to cook, and that I was going to do it on Monday night, I was prepared to start before my stomach started rumbling, and I was equally prepared to block out the majority of the evening for such a task. Had I not been able to strike through my To Do list with a black, ballpoint pen directly after, I’m sure I would have eaten a sandwich or salad and spent those two hours catching up on the nearly 200 pages of weekly reading I have, or written an essay, or any of the thousands of other things overfilling my plate right now.
But because it was on the list, and because I was prepared to work around the time it would take me, I actually enjoyed myself. Enjoyed. Whoa. That’s a big step.
I also managed to find it slightly relaxing. My brain has been a jumble of all the things required of me after a long weekend of job training and jumping into my third week of school. I feel like I’ve been swimming through a fog, trying to keep my head afloat, and this break gave me a chance to forget about it all, to put deadlines on hold and the pressures of two new jobs aside. It allowed me to cook a good meal (albeit breakfast for dinner), to sit down with friends and, most importantly, to get the taste of India I’ve been so dearly missing.
Click here to view the Punjabi recipe I used from Sanjeev Kapoor’s website. I also received valuable tips from Bhuwan Chand, avid reader, writer, researcher, family man, and devoted follower of my site whom I can’t thank enough. Read his blog here.
A Successful Indian Breakfast Dish: Aloo Parantha