In Kerala, one can’t get enough of pathiris during the month of Ramzan
While even the traditional pathiris vary from one place to another, there are umpteen varieties that are eaten as snacks
It is the month of Ramzan and in Kerala, pathiris — gluten-free flatbread made with roasted rice flour — are everywhere, especially in the northern districts of Kozhikode, Kannur and Malappuram.
Even traditional pathiris vary from place to place, within these regions. The finest version called neriya pathiri or nice pathiri in Kozhikode becomes a slightly thicker orotti or kai pathiri in Vadakara, Thalassery and Mahe. Tyre pathiri, the plumpest of the lot, resembling a bun, is popular in Wayanad. Ranging from the basic flatbread to layered and deep-fried varieties, one is spoilt for choice.
Rice pathiris are usually rolled out by hand or with the help of a mechanical press. Then there are the ones made of refined flour (maida) or wheat flour, that can be prepared in a variety of ways — fried, steamed or baked.
Madakki pathiri or kannu vacha pathiri (square-shaped fried bread made with wheat flour), thenga (coconut) pathiri, silky pathiri, mixed rice pathiri, kinna pathiri, and arachu chutta pathiri are a few other variations. Ney pathiri or ney pathal is deep-fried variety with shallots, grated coconut and cumin in it.
Abida Rasheed, doyenne of Moplah cuisine, says: “I make all the different kinds of pathiris during Ramzan at home since my mother and husband are from different parts of Kannur, and my father is from Kozhikode.”
Dough it right
The three basic ingredients of rice pathiri are roasted raw rice flour, water and salt. The dough is made by cooking flour in boiling water. Kneading the dough itself is an art, and has to be done while the dough is still warm.
The bread has to be dusted generously with rice flour (that is why they are called podi pathiris as well). If these conditions are not met, pathiris may not puff up when they are cooked. “The flour should be of good quality. Besides this, the proportion of the flour to water will have to be correct to get the right consistency. It is not an easy process, but even now I make my own pathiris at home,” adds Ummi Abdulla, an 86-year-old expert of Moplah cooking.
Although pathiri or orotti flour is available in the market, many still use freshly milled flour. Rafiya CK, a home-chef from Kozhikode, says that at least five kilograms of rice flour, roasted and plain, are stocked in most households during the month of Ramzan to make pathiris alone. “While I use a press, at my in-laws’ place they make heaps of it using a rolling pin. And all of them look identical,” she says.
While the thin pathiris are rolled out using rolling pin or in pathiri press, the thick ones are hand-pressed by flipping the dough in the hands. Experienced cooks stretch and flatten the balls in no time with their hands. “Pathiris taste better if you cook them on a banana leaf instead of directly placing them on the pan,” says Abida.
Tyre pathiri, a hand-pressed variety made of boiled rice, is placed between banana leaves and cooked in clay pots. Then it is held upright using two spatulas and wheeled around in the pot to cook its edges. It tastes best with coconut milk, explains Rafiya. The trickiest to make is the super-light nura (foam) pathiri. A batter of rice flour and eggs is beaten vigorously, and the foam that rises to the top is poured on a hot pan.
- Ingredients: Eggs: 15, Refined flour (maida): 250 gm, Sugar: 300 gm, Couscous: 50 gm, Ghee: 100 gm, Cashew nuts: 50 gm, Cardamom powder: 1 1/2 tsp, Raisins: 50 gm, Milk: 1 glass, Refined oil: 2 tbsp, Water and salt: as needed
- Method: Knead the refined flour (maida) and make 12 balls. Roll them out as paper thin chappathis. Half-cook them on the pan and keep them aside. Whisk four eggs, one-third of the sugar and some cardamom powder and make a scrambled mix. Fry cashew nuts and raisins in two tablespoons of ghee. Fry the couscous without adding ghee. Mix the remaining eggs, sugar and cardamom powder and keep aside. Also, have the milk ready in a flat vessel. Place a non-stick pan on the stove and pour remaining ghee to it. Place a chappathi inside after it is dipped in the milk and then in the egg mix. Spread the scrambled egg, nuts, raisins and couscous on top of it. Continue the process with each chappathi. Pour two tbsp oil and the remaining egg mix on top. Close the pan and cook it on low flame for 30-40 minutes. When it is ready, cut it into desired shapes and serve.
- Recipe by Rafiya CK
Although coconut milk is considered the best accompaniment for pathiris, Abida says it can be combined with any curry, such as mutton stew or kurma, chicken curry with roasted coconut or fish curry. The katti pathiri-cumin chicken combination is a favourite at her home, says Rafiya. And among her favourites for Ummi is a dish made with maas or dried fish.
And then there are the pathiris that are prepared as snacks for Iftar. Popular ones include meen pathiri (steamed rice pancake with fish masala), irachi pathiri (double-layered puri stuffed with meat) and niracha pathiri (with sweet filling). Chatti pathiri, athishaya pathiri and ithal pathiri are all layered ones. While the first two are prepared with maida and has sweet and savoury fillings respectively, ithal pathiri is made using rice flour. “Ithal pathiri or ithal roti is so yummy. At the same time, it takes time to get the layers correctly,” says Ummi.
Thurkki pathiri or a spicy-sweet deep-fried dumpling is a traditional snack popular in parts of Kannur, she adds. Kunji pathiri (kakkarotti or kunji pathal) or steamed coin-shaped pathiris mixed in a meat gravy is also prepared in many households.
All said and done, the fillings can vary from one kitchen to the other. It all depends on the preferences of the family members.
However, in central and northern Kerala, while rice pathiri and orotti are a must, the accent is not much on the stuffed or layered pathiris, says chef Naushad, who hails from Thiruvalla in Kottayam district. “I prefer orotti to pathiri. We also have neypathiri, in which we add sesame and, sometimes, turmeric,” he says.
Thiruvananthapuram-based Nabila Shanavas, a home chef and restaurateur, prepares both the traditional and snack varieties, at home and to be sold as iftar snacks at her restaurant, O’roti. “Thanks to my sister-in-law who is from Kozhikode, we have a scrumptious spread of pathiris at home. Some of the dishes — muttapathiri or ottada, for example — come from my mother’s side who is from Thiruvamcode in Kanyakumari district. While we prepare it with rice flour and egg, in Malabar region they use maida. We have a special clay pot to cook this pathiri and it goes well with coconut milk or ghee, and sugar. Chakkoli is our version of kakkarotti. Then there is omana pathiri, which is basically maida dosa with a sweet filling,” Nabeela says.
The list just goes on, as experienced hands across the State experiment with taste, technique and ingredients in their kitchens in this holy month of fasting and feasting.