Wedges of these spicy kulchas are great as an appetizer with any legume curry. Of course they are best when they are hot off the grill, but you can make a batch ahead of time; wrap them in foil and rewarm them in a preheated 300ºF oven for about 10 minutes. Like many of the Indian flatbreads, this freezes very well for up to 2 months.
For the Dough:
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
About 1 cup warm water
Ghee, for brushing (recipe follows)
For the Filling:
1 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
4 to 6 fresh green Thai, cayenne, or Serrano chiles, to taste, stems removed
1/2 teaspoon black salt, coarse kosher, or sea salt
For Grilling or Baking:
Rock salt, gently pounded, for sprinkling
Ghee or melted butter for brushing
Ghee (Clarified Butter)
1 pound unsalted butter
1. To make the dough, thoroughly combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
2. Pour the buttermilk over the flour mixture and quickly stir it in. The flour will still be very dry, with some wet spots.
3. Drizzle a few tablespoons of the warm water over the flour mixture, stirring it in as you do so. Repeat until the flour comes together to form a soft ball; you will use about 1 cup warm water altogether. The dough should be very soft, close to being slightly sticky, so if you add an extra tablespoon or so of water, it won't hurt it. Using your hand (as long as it's clean, I think it's the best tool), gather the ball, picking up any dry flour in the bottom of the bowl, and knead it to form a smooth, soft ball of dough. If it's a little too sticky to handle, dust your hand with flour to handle the dough, but do not add any more flour to the dough if possible. Knead it for a minute or two. (If you used your hand to make the dough from the start, it will be caked with clumps of dough. Scrape them back into the bowl. Wash and dry your hands thoroughly, and return to the dough to knead it. You will get a much better feel for the dough's consistency with a dry hand.)
4. Cut the dough into 8 equal portions. Lightly grease a plate with oil. Shape one portion into a round resembling a hamburger bun and put it on the plate. (To get a smooth round, cup the dough in the palm of your hand and use your fingers to fold and tuck the edges underneath; then rotate, folding and tucking all around the get an evenly smooth ball.) Repeat with the remaining dough.
5. Brush the tops of the rounds with ghee, cover them with plastic wrap or a slightly dampened cloth, and let them sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
6. While the dough is resting, make the filling: Combine the onion, cilantro, chiles, and salt in a medium-size bowl, and stir together well.
7. Place a pizza stone or unglazed pottery tiles on the grill rack. If it is a gas grill, heat it to the highest heat setting. If it is a charcoal grill, build an intensely hot fire and allow the charcoal to turn ash-white and red-hot. The temperature should hover between 600º and 700ºF.
8. Tear off a large piece of aluminum foil, fold it in half lengthwise, and set it aside. Tear off 5 sheets of wax paper, each about 8 inches wide.
9. Lightly flour a small work area near the grill, and place a dough round on it. Press it down to form a patty. Roll the patty out to form a round roughly 3 to 5 inches in diameter, dusting it with flour as needed. Make sure the round is evenly thin, with no tears on the surface. Spread one fourth of the onion filling over the dough. Take another dough round and roll it out in the same fashion. Drape this round over the filling and press the edges of the dough together, pinching them as hard as you can to seal them. Sprinkle a little rock salt over the top, and gently press it into the dough. Lift the filled dough round, flip it, plop it on a sheet of wax paper, and cover it with a second sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough rounds and filling stacking them between sheets of wax paper as they are filled.
10. Transfer the filled round salt side down, onto the hot pizza stone. Within seconds, the dough will start to bubble in spots. Cover the grill and cook until the dough turns crispy brown on the underside, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn the kulcha over and cook until that side turns light brown, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove it from the stone, liberally brush the salted side with ghee, and slide it between the layers of foil to keep it warm.
11. Continue cooking the remaining rounds, stacking them on top of the previously grilled kulcha.
12. Cut each one into four quarters, and savor them with curries.
Ghee (Clarified Butter)
Makes about 12 ounces (1-1/2 cups)
1. Line a fine-mesh tea strainer with a piece of cheesecloth, set it over a clean, dry glass measuring cup or pint-size canning jar, and set it aside.
2. Melt the butter in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat, stirring it occasionally to ensure an even melt (otherwise, the bottom part of the block melts and starts to bubble while the top half remains firm). Once it melts, you will notice that a lot of foam is gathering on the surface. Scoop the foam out with a spoon or just let it be; the melted butter will eventually stop foaming and start to subside. Now you can start to carefully skim off the foam. Some of the milk solids will settle at the bottom and start to brown lightly. This light browning is what gives Indian ghee its characteristic nutty flavor. This process will take 15 to 20 minutes.
3. Once the liquid appears quite clear (like oil) with a light amber hue, pour it through the cheesecloth-lined strainer, leaving the browned milk solids behind, and set it aside to cool.
4. When the ghee is cool, pour it into a storage jar (if it isn't already in one) and shut it. Keep it at room temperature, right next to your other bottled oils; it will solidify, even at room temperature. (I don't find it necessary to refrigerate ghee, but if you wish, by all means do so. I have kept mine at room temperature for many months, without any concern for rancidity or spoilage. Because ghee has no milk solids in it, and that's what can turn butter rancid, I do as millions in India do, and leave it out.)
Tips: A few do's and don'ts:
Don't use margarine or any butter substitutes that want you to think they're just like the real deal.
Do use a heavy-bottomed pan to prevent the butter from scorching. Cast iron, stainless steel, carbon steel, and ceramic-coated cast iron are all fair game. In fact, I use a cast-iron or carbon steel wok if I happen to be making a large batch, as the fat seasons the pan.
Don't turn up the heat beyond the low setting, as much as you may be tempted to do so; if you do, the milk solids will start to burn.
Do make sure the glass jar is clean and dry before pouring in the ghee. Moisture will promote the growth of mold, which is the same reason why you should let the ghee cool completely before screwing on that jar's lid.
From 660 Curries: The Gateway to Indian Cooking by Raghavan Iyer (Workman Publishing, 2008). Copyright © 2008 by Raghavan Iyer.
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