These delicious deep-fried pastries are tricky to make,
but the extra effort makes them extra pleasing to Krsna.
There’s a particular spot in Old Delhi, a confined area compact with wall-to-wall stalls, that’s always crowded with people eating breakfast, brunch, lunch, a snack, or dinner. And you can always smell the natural goodness of fresh whole-wheat breads sizzling in clarified butter on flat iron griddles. This is “Paratha Gully,” famous for its outdoor paratha stands. These unleavened, shallow-fried flat breads, served plain, stuffed, or sweetened, are favorites one can enjoy any time of the day. They’re especially good for traveling, as they keep well without refrigeration.
Srila Prabhupada thoroughly enjoyed well-cooked, flaky parathas, and he often included them in his travel menu, along with nuts and fresh fruits, hot milk or juice, and a dab of chutney or jam. Knowing of Srila Prabhupada’s fondness for parathas, one of his cooks, Yamuna-devi dasi (she writes the recipes for Krsna’s Cuisine), visited Paratha Gully to observe the masters. There she saw family-trained specialists from eight to eighty sitting hour after hour making nothing but parathas for locals and tourists alike. So the next time Yamuna made parathas for Srila Prabhupada, she followed their technique.
“Where did you learn to make parathas like this?” Srila Prabhupada asked her after he had taken a few bites.
“I learned in Paratha Gully, Srila Prabhupada,” Yamuna replied.
“Oh, yes, I also have seen them making parathas. An observant cook can learn simply by watching and hearing. Even as a child I learned to cook by watching my mother, maternal aunt, and the street vendors.”
But even if you go to Paratha Gully in Old Delhi, you may not see them making the kind of parathas we’re featuring this month. This paratha, called werkie, is the Bengali version of the age-old favorite.
Unlike others, werkie parathas are deep-fried, so they turn out more like a pastry than a flat bread. They’re multilayered and have a rich, buttery flavor that goes well with either sweets or savories. They’re ideal as a breakfast treat or an afternoon snack. But werkies are for those who want a culinary challenge: they’re tricky to make.
The first parathas I ever had were not werkies but regular ones. It was during the summer of 1971, in Vrndavana, the small town ninety miles from Delhi where Krsna enacted His childhood pastimes. My husband and I had rented a house there for a month so we could take pictures of the town, and we became friends with an old man who lived across the street. Each night he invited us upstairs to his veranda, where he treated us to hot milk, ripe mangoes, and fresh, warm parathas he had just cooked. We still occasionally remember those evenings, when we sat under the stars as the heat of the day yielded to night’s welcome coolness, the air gently vibrating with the sounds of distant temple bells ringing and devotees chanting, while we relished that wonderful combination.
At that time I was interested only in photography, not cooking, so it wasn’t until six years later that I learned how to make parathas—from Yamuna-devi. Although I’m lazy when it comes to cooking, parathas are so good that even I can muster the energy to make them, especially when we travel.
Now, ordinarily werkies are harder to make than regular parathas, but Yamuna has made the recipe so clear and easy to follow, with numbered instructions and diagrams, that they’re an approachable—and rewarding—dish to prepare and offer to Krsna.
As we’ve mentioned before in this column, since Lord Krsna is the ultimate proprietor and enjoyer of everything, He asks us to offer our vegetarian dishes to Him before we eat. Thus a devotee of Krsna, to awaken and express his love for the Lord, will meditate on Him as he cooks his food and offer it to Him before partaking himself. Such an offering, made with a mood of devotion and service, is the means to approach God. It’s not necessary to be rich, learned, intellectual, or aristocratic. All that’s required is love. If an offering is made with love, the Lord will accept even simple things—fruits, flowers, water, even steamed vegetables.
If you’re like me, when you hear this you’ll immediately ask, “If the Lord will accept simple dishes, why struggle with parathas, what to speak of werkie parathas?“But there are good reasons why. For one, werkies are a delightful change from the norm. Also they’re delicious. And that they’re a challenge is also in their favor, since to spend a little more time and effort cooking for Krsna’s pleasure is a sign of love for Him—a sign that will not go unnoticed, for He notices everything.
To cook with Krsna in mind, to offer the food for His pleasure, and then to taste the offering while remembering Him—that is Krsna consciousness, the perfection of life.
(Recipes by Yamuna-devi dasi)
Deep-Fried Spiraled Flat Breads
Preparation time: 1 ½ hours
Parathas, whether plain, sweetened, or stuffed, are best when cooked in ghee, or clarified butter. Parathas drink in the flavor of this delicate, distinctively sweet oil. If you must substitute, try using equal quantities of ghee and oil before resorting to plain oil. As a rule, parathas are served for breakfast or as a late-afternoon snack. When they are stuffed with potatoes, cauliflower, or other vegetables, they are filling and make good traveling companions.
Ingredients for the dough:
2 ½ cups white pastry flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon sugar
2 ½ tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
1 ½ tablespoons water
Ingredients for the butter paste:
2 ½ tablespoons melted butter or ghee
1 ½ tablespoons white flour
To prepare the dough:
1. Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl and mix well. Using your finger-tips, rub in 2 tablespoons ghee until the mixture resembles dry oatmeal.
1/3 cup plus 2. Pour 2/3 cup water into the flour mixture and vigorously work the dough with the hands until it begins to hold together. Add as much additional water as is necessary to prepare medium-soft, pliable dough.
3. Knead for about ten minutes, form into a smooth, compact ball, and cover the surface with a film of ghee. Cover with a damp cloth for ½ hour.
To prepare the spiraled parathas:
1. Knead the dough on a smooth surface for 2 or 3 minutes. Divide into 8 pieces and roll each piece into a smooth ball.
2. Flatten each ball slightly, dip both sides in flour, and use a rolling pin to roll it into a round, flat disc about 6 inches in diameter. Smear one teaspoon of the butter paste over the surface. With a sharp knife, make a Cut from the center of the disc to the outside edge. Roll, from the cut, to shape a cone.
3. Place the small end of the cone up and press the tip down to form a patty. Dip both sides in flour and roll into a 6 inch disc. Shape remaining cones the same way.
To fry the parathas:
1. Pour ½-inch of ghee into an 8-inch frying pan. Heat over a medium flame.
2. Gently slip a rolled paratha into the hot ghee and immediately begin to gently press the hot surface of the bread with a slotted frying spoon. As it cooks, the paratha will try to surface and balloon. The downward pressure of the spoon encourages the paratha to swell. Fry for 2 minutes on each side, or until the paratha is reddish gold. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paper. Offer to Krsna immediately, or keep warm in a 250°F oven.
Preparation time: 1 ½ hours
Ingredients for the dough:
4 cups fine whole-wheat flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ½-2 ½ cups water
Prepare dough as in previous recipe.
Ingredients for the cauliflower stuffing:
3 tablespoons ghee
½ tablespoon peeled ginger root, minced fine
1 teaspoon green chilies, minced fine
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
3 cups shredded cauliflower
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 teaspoons coriander powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
To prepare the stuffing:
1. Heat ghee over medium flame in a 12-inch frying pan. Stir in minced ginger, chilies, and black mustard seeds, and fry until seeds pop and sputter.
2. Add the cauliflower, turmeric, coriander, cumin, cayenne, and salt, and stir-fry for 3 minutes.
3. Add the sugar, reduce flame, cover, and cook for 10 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender. Remove from flame, cool to room temperature, and divide into 8 portions.
To assemble and cook:
1. Knead the dough for 2 minutes and divide into 16 even-sized pieces. Roll the pieces into smooth balls and cover with a damp towel.
2. Flatten one of the balls into a patty, dip in flour, and roll into a round disc 6 inches in diameter. Roll another disc in the same way.
3. Spread a portion of the filling evenly on the surface of one disc, leaving a ½-inch border around the edge. Using your finger, brush a light film of water around the clean edge, then lay the second rolled disc directly over the disc with the stuffing. Gently press the edges to seal them.
4. Preheat a griddle or frying pan over a medium flame. Brush the surface of the pan with ghee, and carefully slide a stuffed paratha into the pan. Cook for ½ minute, then drizzle 2 teaspoons of ghee around the edges of the paratha and cook for another minute. Turn the paratha with a spatula, again drizzle with ghee, and cook for another minute or so. Both sides should be reddish gold. Offer to Krsna hot.