Go meve hazaaro’n hain aur hain neamate’n laakhon
par sab se saris ham ne maza naan mein dekha.
Although, there are millions of bounties— Nayan Sukh
I have found the most satisfaction in a naan.
For anyone who grew up in North India, particularly Punjab and western Uttar Pradesh, this verse will strike a chord of resonance. For us, no meal is complete without some bread, be it paratha, roti, poori or naan. Rice, to most of us, is secondary.
In our region, rice was cooked rarely and never just boiled – it had to be made into a khichri or biryani, pulao and tahiri. If someone had an upset tummy, they were fed rice because it was considered easier to digest.
As a child, I was an outlier. I loved rice but would only be allowed to eat it after finishing my share of the chapati, which for some reason was deemed healthier than starchy rice. We looked forward to the winters because they meant hot pooris or parathas for breakfast and lunch. I can still feel the sun on our freshly-washed hair on Sundays as we sat in the aangan (courtyard) for lunch. In summers, the service arrangement would be reversed and we would have dinners in the aangan. There were no air conditioners in those days, of course, and we lived in sync with nature. Summers meant earthen surahis (pitchers) and ghadas (pots) kept out on the grass to cool in the dew-laden night. Winters were made for heating bath water in huge iron pots on wood or coal fire. But I’m digressing: let me return to the subject of wheat delicacies.
Wheat has been grown as a staple grain in India since ancient times. Food historian KT Achaya writes that what we know today as wheat was evolved in the Fertile Crescent area of West Asia between 8000 BCE and 3000 BCE. A variety of it from around 6000 BCE was found in Mehrangarh in present-day Rajasthan. Excavations in Indus Valley sites too revealed wheat and barley as staple grains.
Over the course of centuries, India became home to a multitude of flatbreads and bread dishes, but modernity corralled many of them into restaurants. We no longer have the luxury of time to plan meals, so toast is an easy breakfast option. I still remember the days of my childhood when everyone wasn’t pressed for time, when the breakfast table was bountiful.
A favourite breakfast was roghini roti and aloo ki qatli, a unique Awadhi dish. My mother would knead the dough for the roti (roghini means oily) in balai, or cream, skimmed from the surface of the milk used at home. In fact, balai – baala means above – would be saved for this meal.
I haven’t come across this breakfast in other states. It is something I still cook at home, but today, in keeping with modern sensibilities, I only use milk instead of balai in the dough. The khastapan of the roti depends on the dough, so it’s cruial to use milk that contains cream at least.
A small digression: I have always used the word khastapan for savouries, such as samosa, namak para and kachori, but never really wondered about it. To me, it meant crisp. As I looked for the meaning, I realised that the Persian origin word khasta is used for something ruined, crumbling or in tatters. We use khasta for crisp food because the crispness makes it crumbly.
I found a cookbook published at the beginning of the 20th century, Khwaan Neamat e Kalan, that lists 44 varieties of roghini rotis. I am sharing one called khassagi – from khaasa (food for royalty) – which has all the ingredients of a bygone era.
Roghini Roti Khassagi
Maida/Atta 1 ser (around 900 gm)
Ghee ½ ser (around 450 gm)
Doodh 2 ser (around 1.8 kg)
Zafran 3 maasha (around 3 gm)
Elaichi 3 maasha (around 3 gm)
Namak 3 tola (around 22 gm)
1. Boil and reduce milk till it becomes thick and creamy.
2. Add the balai and ghee to the maida/atta.
3. Finely ground zafran, elaichi.
4. Knead them into the dough.
5. Make the rotis on tawa or tandoor.
This book presumes we know the recipe of making the tikias (what we called rotis because of their small size) but I will spell it out here.
1. Make small pedas (balls) of the dough and roll them out.
2. Leave slightly thick like in photos.
3. Prick the surface so that it gets cooked inside.
4. Cook on very low heat and turn when done on each side.
This will be accompanied by Aloo ki Qatli and lahsan-mirch ki chutney. I am giving my family recipe.
Aloo ki Qatli
½ kg potatoes
2 tbsp oil
¼ tsp cumin seeds
¼ tsp peppercorns
1 whole red chilli
1 onion, finely sliced
Salt to taste
1. Cut potatoes into thin rounds and place in cold water.
2. Heat oil. Add cumin seeds, cloves, peppercorns and red chillies, and sauté.
3. Toss in finely-sliced onions and fry till golden brown.
4. Add potatoes and a little bit of water and salt.
5. Cook covered till potatoes are tender. They take on a beautiful caramel hue from the fried onions.
Lahsan Ki Chutney
1 pod garlic
2 whole red chillies
1 tsp desi ghee
1. Grind the peeled garlic and chilli together into a fine paste.
2. Heat the desi ghee in a small pan and sauté the other ingredients.
This article is part of the project “Forgotten Food: Culinary Memory, Local Heritage and Lost Agricultural Varieties in India”, curated by Tarana Khan and edited by Siobhan Lambert Hurley and Claire Chambers. It has been funded by Global Challenges Research Fund through the Arts & Humanities Research Council in the United Kingdom.
Read all the articles in the series here.