Mooli Paratha

My friend Garima’s parents are visiting from India, and I was very excited to get an invitation to cook with her mother this week! Garima and I used to work together, and we still get together occasionally to cook and bake, and to watch Hindi movies at the Galaxy theater. A few times, I have taught her to bake something, but mostly she teaches me to cook Indian dishes. 

This time, the lesson was mooli paratha, shown here. If you’ve eaten at Indian restaurants, you may know that paratha is a type of filled flatbread. It can be filled with different vegetables – in fact Garima and I made cauliflower paratha in a previous session. But for this meal, we filled them with mooli, or daikon radish. I had previously run into the daikon radish mainly in Asian cuisine, particularly Japanese and Korean cooking. I didn’t know until now that it is also grown and used as an ingredient in India. It’s a long white radish, often with just a tinge of green at the top where it has been exposed to the sun above the soil.

This recipe is fairly time-intensive, but the end result was very worth it! The first step is to peel and shred the mooli for the filling.

Next, Garima squeezed the juice from the radish into another bowl. Be careful with this step, the radish juice can be irritating to sensitive  or chapped skin (as we found out the hard way!). This radish juice was then used to make the dough, while the squeeze-dried radish was cooked for the filling.

To make the filling, the shredded radish was sauteed with anise seed, finely minced green chiles, ground red pepper, asafetida, and salt. This was stir-fried for about 5 minutes until well-mixed and slightly softened. The filling was removed from the heat, and chopped cilantro was stirred in. The filling was then spread out on a larger plate to cool quickly before filling the paratha.

The dough, which you can see in the larger square container above, was made from an Indian whole wheat flour called atta, which is much lighter than our typical whole wheat flour. You should be able to find this in any Indian grocery store, it looks similar to semolina in color, and I imagine if you tell someone you’re making paratha they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.

Unfortunately, I can’t really give you the amounts because this is one of those recipes that is done by feel, until it’s “right”….  But basically, Garima’s mom made the dough by mixing together the atta flour with a large pinch of salt, and adding strained radish juice, plus water as needed, to achieve the appropriate dough texture. She kneaded the dough for a minute or two in the bowl and set it aside to rest briefly until the filling was ready. It was stiff enough to knead, but very soft dough – one of those things that you have to try until you figure out the perfect consistency, I’m afraid! But it seems from our discussion that the softer the dough is, the better it will actually work in this recipe, stiffer dough might tear more easily rather than stretching to accomodate the filling.

She oiled her fingers a bit to grab off a small piece of dough, so that it wouldn’t stick. The dough was then worked into a small disc, dipping it in extra atta flour as needed to work it and then roll it into a circle about 5-6 inches in diameter. A large spoonful of the filling was placed in the middle as shown above, and then the edges all brought together above to seal in the filling (shown below).

This is the really tricky part, because then you need to roll the filled dough ball out into a thin paratha, more like 8 inches diameter, preferably without breaking through the dough and letting the filling spill out. I had tried this with the cauliflower paratha and knew that I’d make a mess of it, so I left that to the experts [plus, I was too busy eating the delicious paratha as they came off the griddle!]

The flattened, filled paratha is fried on one side on a griddle. After flipping to the second side, either vegetable oil, or ghee (clarified butter) is lightly spread on the top with the back of a spoon. This motion makes it puff up like this, if you’re an expert paratha maker, anyway…  And that’s how you make mooli paratha.

Now for how you EAT mooli paratha, I became an expert on that after eating my 4 for the evening :)  We made a simple raita of yogurt, toasted and coarsely ground cumin seeds, and black salt (you can use regular salt, but black salt has a unique sulfurous flavor that’s recommended if you can get it).

The paratha are eaten with the fingers, tearing off a small piece and eating it with this raita, tamarind chutney, and other spicy additions like spicy mango pickles or hot sauce. Delicious! It was a great evening of cooking, eating and chatting, as a couple of other folks dropped in to help eat the mooli paratha. I’m already looking forward to the return trip of Garima’s mom in March so we can cook again!

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