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Breads and Pancakes

The aphorism Bread is the staff of life has a much fuller meaning in India than in the West, where most of us eat denatured bread with few life-giving qualities. In India natural, wholesome homemade breads are a part of almost every meal. Varied in shape, texture, and taste, Indian breads are easily and quickly prepared.
The Vedic way of serving bread adds a special touch to a meal: as soon as your guest finishes one hot bread, you immediately serve him another.

You may wonder how you can offer the bread to Ka and still serve it hot to your guests. The trick is to cook the bread last. Just before the offering, cook enough for Kas plate. Then, while the offering is on the altar, cook the rest and keep it hot. (For large gatherings, you may find it more practical to cook all the bread before the offering and warm it in the oven just before you serve it).

In Western dining, we often use bread to push other foods onto the fork. But in Indian dining the bread itself is the fork. The Indian way is to tear off a small piece of bread, wrap it around a bit of food too soft to pick up with your fingers, and pop both your food and your fork into your mouth.

At each Hare Ka center, every day we have a simple Vedic lunch of rice, dal, vegetables, and chapatis. Like most Vedic breads, chapatis are made with a kind of stone-ground whole-wheat flour called chapati flour or atta. This flour, available in Indian stores, is quite different from the whole-wheat flour in supermarkets and health food stores. Chapati flour consists of whole grains of wheat finely milled to a buff-colored powder. Doughs made with atta turn out velvety smooth, knead readily, and respond easily to shaping. If chapati flour is unavailable, whole-wheat pastry flour is the next best. If coarse whole-wheat flour is all you can get, sift it to reduce its coarse texture or mix it with unbleached or all-purpose flour. Two parts sifted whole-wheat flour to one part all-purpose flour generally gives good results.

In most of the bread recipes, the amount of water given is aproximate. It will vary with the quality of the flour and the moistness of the air. Start by adding a little less water than specified, and if that isnt enough, add more, a little at a time, until the dough has the desired consistency. Then knead the dough.

The most important step in preparing any dough is the kneading. If the dough has been evenly and thoroughly kneaded, the rolling and cooking are easy. Here is how to do it. Lightly flour the dough and your hand, then push the heel of your hand into the dough, away from you. Fold the dough over, give it a slight turn, and push down again. Keep pushing, folding, and turning until the motion becomes rhythmic. Knead the dough in this way until it is smooth and elastic. If the dough still sticks to your hands or the bowl after youve added all the ingredients, keep kneading and adding flour a little at a time until the ball of dough comes away clean.

The breads in this chapter are either cooked on the tava (a heavy, slightly concave cast-iron frying pan) or deep-fried in a karhai or wok. Usually you set the tava on the flame before you cook the first bread. A pre-heated tava or pan cooks the bread faster and prevents it from becoming dry and brittle. The karhai or wok saves ghee, and its wide concave sides give plenty of room for deep frying. If you dont have a tava, you can substitute a cast-iron frying pan; if you dont have a karhai or wok, any wide, heavy saucepan will do.

Rolling these breads calls for a little practice, but dont be discouraged if it seems difficult at first. After a few times, youll become expert. Besides, even your mistakes will taste good.
At the end of this chapter youll find recipes for three types of savory pancakes, each made with a different kind of flour.




Kela puri



Alu paratha

Besan roti


Masala dosa

Atta dosa