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Sunday, 27 September 2015

Traditional Mauritian Roti and Fillings — Part 1/3: Roti / Farata or Paratha (oil-free version)

Mauritian Roti/Farata and Fillings

Embedded in the local food culture, rotis have been puffing on the Mauritian tawas for decades. Served with a few dollops of the typical white bean curry and rougaille sauce, roti or dal puris are the ultimate street comfort food that also happen to be accidentally vegan.

As humble as roti and curry may sound, the tingling spiciness of the white bean curry, the tartness of the rougaille sauce and the freshness of the chutneys along with mouthwatering hot and spicy pickles and chilies, all rolled up into a soft freshly made flatbread create the most satisfying treat for the palate. No wonder that through the ages, roti and curry remains one of the most popular food.

Mauritian Roti/Farata and Fillings
Photo/video clip credit: Parveena Dahari @oneshot_oneword

Quite inadvertently, roti and curry became my most revered sustenance during the one year that I spent in Mauritius after I became vegan. That said, they were one of my most relished street food even during my pre-vegan days. Finding vegan places in Mauritius is certainly quite a bit of a challenge. You would have thought that for the fact that there are a good number of people who regularly fast on vegetarian food, some decent vegetarian options at least, let alone vegan, would be more available but, not quite. Admittedly, roti and curry takeout would almost always save the day.

Mauritian Roti/Farata and Fillings

A recent request that came from a YouTube subscriber to feature the typical three to four toppings that is served with the Mauritian roti urged me into making these posts and videos series. While toppings may vary slightly depending on where the roti is being purchased, there are at least two that are the most common ones — the curry and the rougaille — and optionally, pickles along with preserved chilies. Some places also serve steamed taro greens or steamed/sauteed pumpkin; I will keep these preparations for a later post as we already have a lot on our plate for this series.

Mauritian Roti/Farata and Fillings

In parts 2 and 3, I will share the curry, the rougaille and the chutney. So, in the first part (which is this one) let's start with making the roti itself. You can certainly make the roti, the curry, the sauce and the chutney, all on the same day. While it does seem like a lot, it is very doable in about an hour and a half, I would say, if you are organised and can moderately multi-task.

The commercial roti (farata or paratha type) calls for oil in the dough and, more often than not, are liberally smeared with oil when being made into folded parcels and then again when cooked. This gives the roti a much softer texture and more flavour. However, I am personally not a great fan of the oil-drenched flatbreads that feel like a brick on the stomach despite being delicious. When making them at home, I get the chance to make them more on the healthier side. As such, in this recipe, they are completely oil-free while still remaining delicately soft and tasty. However, you may, as per your liking, brush the rolled out or flattened dough with a little oil before folding the edges in to form the parcel of folded layered dough. Undeniably, using a little oil at this stage will create a better multi-layered farata.

Mauritian Roti/Farata and Fillings

Mauritian Roti/Farata and Fillings

To help this oil-free roti retain its velvety soft texture, the water that is added to the flour has to be boiling hot, just out of the kettle. The amount of flour and hot water needed may vary slightly depending on the type of flour you are using and the temperature of the water. If the temperature of the water is slightly lower than boiling hot, you will need more flour. What we are looking to achieve is a soft, supple and non-sticky dough.

Watch the recipe video.

Oil-Free Roti (Farata) Recipe

Ingredients (yield 6 rotis)
1 1/2 cup [240g] all-purpose flour (you may also use atta flour but you will need to adjust the water)
200 ml boiling hot water (adjust with 1-2 tablespoons depending on flour type)
More flour for dusting

In a large mixing bowl, add the flour. Make a well in the centre and carefully pour in the hot water. With the help of a spoon, stir the mixture to combine the flour and water. Keep mixing as much as possible to start forming a dough.
Once the mixture is a little cooler and comfortable to handle by hand, start to knead it into a supple dough. At this stage, you can either add a little more flour if the dough is sticky or a little water if it is too dry.
Once a soft and non-sticky dough is obtained, smooth it into a ball and place it back into the mixing bowl.
Cover with a lid or tea towel and let it rest for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile you can start to prepare some of the ingredients for the upcoming curry and rougaille recipes.

After 15 minutes, knead the dough for a couple of minutes. Then roll it out into a log and cut into 6 equal pieces. Roll each piece in the palm of your hands to form a nice smooth ball then flatten it. Lightly press all around the edge then dip in a bowl of flour to completely coat the dough with the flour. Set the floured dough aside and do the same for the rest of the dough pieces.
On a floured board, place one piece of dough and begin to roll out. Try to keep a more or less circle shape and roll out to about 2 mm thick.
Then at this stage, you can brush the surface of the flatten dough with a thin coat of oil, if you want, before folding it. Otherwise, fold 1/3 of the circle of dough toward the centre and fold the opposite edge over to form a long rectangle. Now fold, the two shorter ends toward the centre to form a square.

Repeat for the rest of the dough. Keep all the dough pieces and folded ones covered while you are working on the rest so that they don't dry out.

Now take the folded dough parcel and place on a floured board. Begin to roll out to about 2 - 3 mm thick. The shape will more or less remain square which is one of the characteristic of the farata.
Place the rolled out farata onto a floured plate and continue with the rest flouring them between each layer so that they do not stick to one another. If you are making a bigger batch of roti, I do not recommend that you stack more than 10 as with time, the gluten will relax further and the rotis at the bottom will start to stick to one another.

Before starting to cook the faratas, turn the whole stack over so that you may start with the first rolled out roti.

Make sure the tawa or crepe pan is hot and the heat kept on medium-high. You may need to adjust the heat later if the pan gets too hot. Allow the roti to cook for about 30 seconds on one side and then flip over and cook for another 30 seconds until it starts to bubble. Then flip it over again and it will start to puff up. Gently press on the side of the puff to push and distribute the air inside the roti for a more even puffing.
Then remove the roti from the pan and place on a plate. Keep the roti covered with a clean tea towel to keep it soft.

Cook the rest of the rotis and stack them on top of one another. Occasionally flip the stack over. This will keep the freshly cooked ones soft with the steam.

These rotis are best enjoyed fresh and on the same day.

Now all we need is some curry to go with it. So stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 where I will be sharing the fillings which are the curry, the rougaille sauce and the chutney recipes.

Mauritian Roti/Farata and Fillings

Also in this series:

Part 2: White Bean Curry
Part 3: Rougaille sauce and coriander chutney

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