Curry is the gateway to Indian cooking. It is the backbone of Indian cooking, it’s the glory of Indian cooking. 660 Curries (Workman Publishing, 2008), by Rhagavan Iyer, is jam-packed with easy one-dish dinners that dance on the palate, in recipes created from the home kitchen. This recipe for Griddle-Cooked Corn Bread is from the section “Spice Blends and Pastes.”
Griddle-Cooked Corn Bread
You say “Makkai ki roti ” to a Punjabi, and he or she will reply, “Sarson da saag.” This flaky, grainy, succulent bread is a must for scooping up mounds of ghee-drenched mustard greens, providing a perfect balance to the greens’ bitterness. This simple food satisfies the hardworking individual, especially at lunchtime: All that’s needed is a stack of these breads, a mound of pureed greens, and a few fresh green cayenne chiles to bite into in between mouthfuls of addiction.
• 2 cups finely ground yellow corn flour (like the Mexican masa harina; see tip below)
• 1-1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt
• 8 lengthwise slices fresh ginger (each 2 inches long, 1 inch wide, and 1/8 inch thick)
• 8 fresh green Thai, cayenne, or serrano chiles, stems removed
• About 1/2 cup warm water
• Ghee or melted butter for brushing
1. Combine the corn flour and salt in a medium-size bowl.
2. Combine the ginger and chiles in a food processor, and pulse until minced. Add this to the flour mixture.
3. Drizzle a few tablespoons of the warm water over the mixture, stirring it in as you do so. Repeat until the mixture starts to come together to form a ball; you will use about 1/2 cup warm water altogether. Feel the ball: It should be slightly moist, and there should be no flour in the bottom of the bowl. With your clean, dry hand, gently knead the ball to form a soft dough—which will feel bumpy, thanks to the ginger and chiles (do this in the bowl or on a lightly floured surface).
4. Divide the dough into 10 portions, and shape each portion into a ball. Keep the balls covered with plastic wrap or with a slightly damp paper towel.
5. Tear off a large sheet of aluminum foil, fold it in half lengthwise, and set it aside. Tear off 1 sheet of wax paper about 12 inches wide, plus 11 sheets, each about 8 inches wide.
6. Place a ball of dough on the 12 inch piece of wax paper (leaving the others under cover). Press it down to form a patty, and then use your fingers to stretch it out as you press it into an evenly thin round, roughly 4 to 6 inches in diameter and 1⁄8 inch thick (the shape might be not be a perfect round, especially the first few times you try this). Gently peel the round off the paper, plop it onto a smaller sheet of wax paper, and cover it with a second sheet. Repeat with the other dough rounds, stacking them between sheets of wax paper as they are formed.
7. Preheat a small nonstick skillet over medium heat.
8. Transfer a round to the hot skillet. Cook until the underside has a slight sheen with light brown patches, 2 to 4 minutes. Flip it over and cook the other side, 2 to 3 minutes (this side won’t get that sheen; instead, it will look like a parched landscape). Brush the sheen side with ghee and flip it over to sear it, about 30 seconds. Brush the parched side with ghee and sear that side too, about 30 seconds. Slip the round between the layers of foil to keep it warm. (The steam created inside the foil will drench the parched side and make it just as appealing as the pretty side.) Continue cooking with the remaining rounds. Then serve.
Tip: Look for bags of masa harina (corn flour) in the ethnic-foods aisle of your supermarket. You can also find it in Indian and Pakistani markets, as well as Hispanic stores. Regular cornmeal yields a grainier texture and does not hold together as well to make a spreadable dough.
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This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from 660 Curries by Rhagavan Iyer, and published by Workman Publishing, 2008.