I have a vivid memory from my childhood of being propped up on the kitchen counter while my mom or my grandma cooked parathas (Indian flat bread). I could start eating pretty early in the morning as the gentle winter sun streamed in through the window bathing the stove top in golden light.
Coming from a Punjabi family, most breakfasts consisted of a seasonal sookhi sabzi (vegetable stir fry) and a couple of beautifully done golden parathas.
Sometimes the parathas were triangular, sometimes layered, sometimes they had lachhas (rings) and were flaky and sometimes they were square.
Besides these so called ‘plain’ parathas there were parathas with namak and ajwain (salt and carom seeds) served with mix fruit jam or even ketchup. They were the go to snack for my mom to prepare when she found us kids hungry at some unusual time of the day or when we refused to eat anything else. A simple salty ajwain paratha always seemed to satiate our hunger. On weekend mornings while we waited for our favourite cartoons to start, we would be treated to stuffed parathas filled with spiced potatoes or finely grated cauliflower or shredded radish or boiled chana dal, topped with butter, and when lucky we’d find freshly churned homemade butter- a beautiful creamy white in color, along with a serving of plain homemade yogurt.
Homemade yogurt or Dahi has been a standard with stuffed parathas as it cools down the steaming hot parathas to a perfect temperature – just right to not burn our tongues. As we grew up and could handle spicier things we started devouring them with pickles, most of them homemade.
Come September, the heat and humidity post monsoons would subside in Delhi, cooling it down and bringing in new vegetables in the markets. Cauliflower, or phool gobhi in Hindi, is the best that time of the year. If you think this is a boring vegetable- you need to try the gobhi mattar (cauliflower and peas stir fry) with paratha cooked up in my mother’s kitchen. Not just this, parathas stuffed with a spicy mix of gobhi, onions, ginger, garlic and coriander would be at their best form till late spring months.
As it would became colder, our parathas slowly turned to the greens. The dough would now have the best seasonal palak (spinach), baathu (also called fat-hen) and methi (fenugreek leaves) mixed into it. My brother and I found ourselves breaking our own records at how many fresh parathas we could gobble. The greens we would otherwise hesitate to eat in other forms would be allowed on our plates. The season also brought aloo methi (potatoes with fresh fenugreek) which has become my favourite dish to complement the parathas.
My Masi (maternal aunt) was someone who had rasa in her hands. Her visits meant an unlimited supply of delicious food and a friendly but firm takeover of the kitchen that translated into a forced holiday for my mother. She made some of the best parathas I’ve ever had. Crispy and flaky on the outside and, soft and steamy on the inside; always with just the right amount of ghee or oil. The precision and earnestness with which she cooked, making sure each part of the flatbread was a lovely golden brown, is something I haven’t seen in anyone else. Needless to say, her parathas were always in high demand!
The other person whose hands are magical is my grandmother. The opulence of ghee on her parathas kept us full well past afternoon. Lately, she’s begun to prop herself on the kitchen slab, just as I would as a child, to make parathas as she can’t stand for too long. Cooking food for us is her way of expressing her love.
But my mom still takes the cake! Her everyday parathas that are just right, the perfect thickness with just enough oil or ghee. She still wows me every time when she starts dishing out gloriousness after gloriousness in the name of this humble Indian bread.
As I sit and write this in Dubai on a Saturday spring morning, I am craving for some of these parathas. Oh how I would love to have parathas by any of these three women to satisfy my hunger.