Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bangladeshi Flatbread and Hummus

I just spent two weeks working in Bangladesh. The capital city, Dhaka is one of the most crowded, congested, polluted cities I have ever been to, but once you get out of the city and head to the south coast it’s a different story. I was in Khulna which is really beautiful and full of very friendly and welcoming people:

A village on the edge of the paddy fields

And of course there’s the food. I ate a lot of pretty spectacular curries and also manage to taste some new foods which is always an adventure. Syruppy, milky, gently spiced Bangladeshi sweets with enough sugar to have you bouncing off the walls for the rest the day. But my favorite food I encountered over breakfast which was surprising for me because unless it’s late enough to become brunch, I’m not usually very interested in breakfast. But this flatbread – paratha – was the heavenly.

Paratha is a warm flakey bread, pan-fried and mercifully simple to make. These lads were making and cooking the dough fresh in front of a busy roadside stop where there was a constant stream of people arriving for breakfast:

They were super friendly and talked me through the process, which I have converted into this recipe. I was tempted to have a go but their production line was so efficient that I was worried about disrupting their slick machine – and I had no desire to come between the hungry customers and their daily bread!

Parathas are often served with channa masala, a chickpea curry, so the pairing with a Bangladeshi version of hummus feels quite natural. I served this to some friends as they arrived home after a day of sightseeing in Bangkok. It took no more than three minutes for them to devour every last scrap.

Time: 45 mins - 1 hour (depending on whether you use a food processor or mortar and pestle)
Rating: much easier than you would expect!
Serves: 4-6 as a starter/snack


For the parathas/flat breads:

100g plain flour + 2-3 tbsp extra for dusting your surface
100g whole wheat flour
½ tsp salt
Water to make the dough
A few tbsp vegetable oil

For the hummus:

1 tin chickpeas, drained
40g sesame seeds
2 cloves garlic
1 inch ginger finely grated
1 fresh green chilli (seeds and all)
10g fresh coriander leaves
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp salt
Juice of 1 lime
5-6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Small handful of pistachio nuts and a drizzle of olive oil to garnish

    1. First make your hummus. Toast the sesame seeds in a pan on low heat until they brown lightly. Then grind them either in a food process or pound them with a mortar and pestle until they make a fine powder.
    2. Put the ground sesame in a food processor/blender with the chickpeas. Finely chop the coriander leaves and add these.
    3. Very finely chop the garlic, chilli and ginger, or pound with a mortar and pestle. Add these to the chickpeas along with all the remaining hummus ingredients.
    4. Blend in a blender/food processor until smooth. Taste and add more spices, salt, oil, lime juice if you want to adjust the flavour or texture. Transfer to a plate or small bowl to serve.
    5. Toast some shelled pistachios on a baking sheet for 5-6 minutes, shaking about half way through. Allow to cool and coarsely chop and set aside.
    6. Next make your flatbreads. Combine the two flours and salt in a bowl. Add water a little at a time, kneading with your hands until you have a firm dough. It should be soft enough that it’s easy to manipulate but not so sticky that it sticks to your hands.
    7. Continue to kneed well for 5-6 minutes
    8. Divide the dough into 6 equal portions and roll them into small balls about the size of a ping pong ball. Allow to rest for 10-15 mins.
    9. Dust the surface you will use for rolling with some plain flour. Roll one of the balls out slightly so it’s about the size of a lemon. Pinch it in the middle so it looks like a figure of 8. Dab some vegetable oil in the centre of both circles and fold the dough over so you have a single ball again.
    10. Smooth the dough back into a neat circle and roll out evenly to a thickness of about 2-3mm and a diameter of about 10-12cm.
    11. Heat a heavy bottomed pan. When it is really hot lift the rolled-out dough onto the pan. Brush one side with a little vegetable oil. Using a spatula, turn it over and brush the other side too. If you don’t have a brush, use the back of a tablespoon. Cook on each side for about 1-2 minutes until the parathas start to turn brown on both sides and go crispy.
    12. While one paratha is cooking you should be rolling out the next one. As one comes of the heat, you should be ready to put the next one on. Repeat until all six parathas are made.
    13. Sprinkle the pistachios on top of the hummus and drizzle with olive oil when you are ready to serve.
    Cooking ahead? The hummus can be made several hours in advance and kept in the fridge. Though the parathas are best served fresh, you can make them in advance, wrap them in tin foil and reheat in a microwave or oven when you are ready to serve.

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