Thursday, 2 August 2012

besan ki roti - pakistani roti made with gram flour

besan ki roti with spinach yoghurt
many years have passed since i ate besan ki roti so i decided to take it from the preserve of memory by making it for dinner. in my house it was my dadi (paternal grandmother) who made it, usually for sunday brunch. the mustard yellow gram flour was made lively with lots of chopped coriander, finely diced red onion and fresh chillies. pomegranate seeds provided tartness and crunch. large pats of butter would be glided across the surface leaving melted trails in its wake. it was eaten with kunday wallah dahi - that loose and watery yoghurt set in shallow earthenware dishes. mama and baba bought it by the kilo in rana market. the dahi wallah would scoop it in quick precision using a metal utensil that looked like half a bowl into clear plastic bags before knotting it tightly. i have never been a fan of that dahi preferring prime or nestle yoghurt for its more substantial consistency.

since i was making the roti for dinner i decided to dress up the yoghurt with spinach to give it more body. i wanted the spinach yoghurt to be sturdier than raita, something along the lines of tzatziki but with spices that complimented the roti. i adapted spice spoon’s recipe for borani esfanaaj to make thick spinach laced yoghurt.

besan ki roti is a labour of love and patience. the dough is very simple and yet it does not lend itself to being kneaded or rolled easily. o was far from happy with the large patches of flour on the kitchen counters. i had to oil my hands to fashion little balls of dough and use liberal amounts of white flour to dust the rolling surface. keep the flour handy to replenish as you go along. besan roti’s are meant to be thick otherwise they will be fragile to cook. my roti’s were a little over five inches in diameter and around half a centimetre thick. i used a thick-bottomed frying pan to cook the roti’s brushing their surfaces with melted butter as i went along. as with pancakes you can keep the roti’s warm in the oven whilst cooking the batch. when you are ready to eat serve the besan ki roti with more butter, spinach yoghurt, some finally sliced red onions sprinkled with salt and then rinsed to tame their sting and some chutney if you have it handy.

this roti demands lots of butter as gram flour is dry and crumbly without being treated to some kind of fat. in pakistan most people would use ghee but i much prefer butter. o had a field day with the butter and honestly a little indulgence does not hurt. the besan ki roti turned out so much like my dadi’s that i was actually quite amazed. however, the state of my kitchen and the clean up was such that i doubt i’ll be making this anytime soon. perhaps your efforts will be less messy than mine now that i’ve told you what to do. and perhaps nostalgia itself will make me do it all over again, sooner rather than later.

{besan ki roti and spinach yoghurt}

two and a half cups gram flour
half a teaspoon salt
half a teaspoon cumin powder
one tablespoon ground pomegranate seeds
two tablespoons diced red onion
a handful of chopped fresh coriander
finely sliced rings of fresh red or green chilli
two tablespoons sunflower oil
one tablespoon yoghurt
approximately a quarter cup of water
a rolling pin
white flour for rolling
melted butter for brushing plus more for serving

combine the flour with the spices and fresh seasonings stirring them to make sure that they are evenly distributed.

add the oil and yoghurt and stir again to begin the formation of the dough. at this stage the mixture will look crumbly. oil your hands before you use then to bring the dough together. pour in a little water and start working the mixture into dough. add as much water as you need to make firm dough.

once the dough is ready set it aside for at least ten minutes before you shape it into rounds to roll it out. the quantity of dough above should give you five golf ball sized rounds. once you have shaped all five dust your rolling surface with ample amounts of flour. flatten the dough with your hands before you roll it into a roti around six inches in size and a maximum of half a centimetre thick.

melt a large knob of butter in a mug and keep a pastry brush handy. heat a thick bottomed frying pan/tawa/pancake griddle on high heat, reducing to medium-high once it is hot. brush one side of the roti with the melted butter and place it in the pan buttered side down. press it down lightly so that it picks colour here and there. brush the uncooked surface with melted butter. it is ready to be turned over when the bottom has deepened in colour.

once cooked place on a foil in a warm oven until you are ready to serve.

{spinach yoghurt}

eighty grams spinach
one clove of garlic minced
one tablespoon olive oil
a pinch of salt
two hundred and fifty grams total greek yoghurt

steam the spinach and squeeze it to remove all the moisture in it. finely chop the spinach.

sauté the minced garlic over low heat. it should soften but not catch colour. then add the spinach and let it fry briefly. remove from the stove and let cool.

meanwhile whip the yoghurt with a fork until smooth. add the spinach to the yoghurt when it cools stirring it to mix evenly. add more salt if necessary.


  1. I love the story behind the roti. I was thinking of making it after reading your vignette, but it may be a bit labour intensive at the moment :) x s

  2. I love the way you described the butter gliding across the roti. have never tried roti made with besan before, but would love to try it. have recently acquired a bag of besan flour just for trying out a certain recipe for cabbage dumpling but have since come across many many recipes using it especially in Indian cooking. It's a great replacer for egg when you need a binder of sorts, helps that it looks so gloriously yellow too. will try this one out, thanks m!

  3. yes, both pakistani and indian cuisine use gram flour. my dadi used to make a delicious halva by toasting gram flour in butter and then adding sugar syrup to thicken it. she would sprinkle it with chopped nuts (usually pistachio) after setting it in a shallow tray and scoring it in diamond shapes. i too use it as a binder and one of my our favourite recipes are baked sweet potato falafel with besan. another popular snack pakora (fritters) is based on besan too. a batter of gram flour with chillies is used to coat vegetables which are then deep fried.