Way back in the 1970s, my maternal grandmother picked up a copy of one of Tarla Dalal’s first cookbooks—The Delights of Vegetarian Cooking . A lot of our family’s tastes developed from there. I think Tarla Dalal should be given credit for introducing middle class India to International cuisines. She definitely had her own take on them, but at least it was a starting point. Many years later, Sanjeev Kapoor came on the scene and changed everything—he showed the nation how to chop an onion like a professional chef, he taught us new terms such as “sauté” and “blind baking,” and took us all over the country and abroad, inviting us to imagine new flavor marriages. But it all started with the homely, Indianized cooking of Tarla Dalal, who took our favorite flavors and put them in strange sounding dishes like Khowsuey and Canneloni.
As a teenager just developing an interest in cooking, I would pull out the many cookbooks in the house and read them like one reads novels. I would imagine flavor pairings and presentations, textures and aromas. A lot of the cookbooks we had around were published in the western part of the world, and several critical ingredients were not available locally as they are today—a fact that left a very eager teenager quite irritated. It was Tarla Dalal’s The Delights of Vegetarian Cooking that usually came to the rescue. It was well written and all the ingredients were easily available in my mother’s tiny pantry. I would follow recipes very religiously for a while before I developed the confidence impatience to make my own experiments. The book is now without its jacket, and the pages are yellowed, if not torn. But it sits proudly in Amma’s kitchen bookshelf, and catches my eye every so often.
As I was browsing through it today, I was tempted to try the recipe for dinner rolls (she recommends ghee instead of butter or any other kind of fat!) to go with the pasta that Amma was making for dinner. The only change I made was adding bran, shaping them as a pull-apart loaf, and sprinkling some stuff to jazz things up. They turned out great, and were polished off at dinner today.
Here’s the recipe (adapted from Tarla Dalal’s The Delights of Vegetarian Cooking)
- 450 gms flour
- 3 tbsp. wheat bran
- 2 tsp. dried yeast
- 1 and ½ tsp sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 25 gms (about 2 tbsp.) ghee (or other fat of choice)
- Sesame seeds, chili flakes, cheddar cheese powder for topping
- 1 tsp. oil for brushing
- Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees centigrade.
- Place the yeast and sugar in a small jar or glass and pour on some lukewarm water (about ½ a cup) and leave in a warm place for about 10 minutes.
- Place the flour and bran in a large basin and combine lightly.
- Once the yeast is frothy, pour the liquid into the flour and knead to a soft and pliable dough.
- Cream the ghee and the salt together and work into the dough. Knead well until you have a smooth and soft dough, adding more water as required.
- Cover with moist muslin and leave in a warm place (like on top of your oven) for about 20 minutes or until double in size.
- Meanwhile, grease a pan of choice; I used an 8-inch round, loose-bottomed, non-stick pan. Grease lightly and dust with flour.
- Knock back the dough and knead lightly once more. Divide the dough into portions according to your need. I made mine about the size of a medium tomato. (Remember, the rolls will rise to double their size)
- Place not too far apart nor too close in the pan, allowing just enough space for them to rise and stick to each other just a bit.
- Prove again, for 20 minutes.
- Sprinkle some water on the rolls and adorn with choice of topping.
- Bake for about half an hour or until double in size and browned to your liking.
- Remove and brush with oil. Allow to cool completely.
- Eat with family and friends over a noisy and laughter-filled dinner table.