Winter special: Gujarati Methi Thepla [Indian flatbread with fenugreek leaves]
Fenugreek or methi is one of my favourite greens. In Bombay markets, we would find two varieties - one with the bigger leaves, somewhat milder and ones that were sold in tiny tight bunches, small leaves, more like shoots, and these were intensely flavoured. I don't seem to find the latter in Bangalore, so I make do with the big leaf variety. Methi greens are bursting with freshness in winter and the aroma wafting through the kitchen is so delicious and warming on a winter day
I have quite a few favourite recipes with methi - the first one being Thepla, a Gujarati roti which has quite a few spices and is good to eat on its own. The other is a Methi Muthia that is added to Undhiyo, another Guju winter specialty. I also like adding finely chopped methi leaves sauteed in ghee, along with other spices to dal. It tastes unique and delicious. Do find kitchen gardening tip on how to grow methi at the end of the post.
Gujus love their theplas, they have it for a snack with tea, or even the previous day's leftovers for breakfast. These also make the perfect travel food or for kiddie lunchbox. It's dry and doesn't make a mess, just roll one up and munch! This is an easy unleavened flatbread recipe with whatever fresh greens you can lay your hands on and trust me it is delicious
You can make this vegan by omitting yogurt, and using only water to bind the dough. A squeeze of half a lemon will give it some extra flavour, when you omit the yogurt
I know of Gujarati families that add a spoonful of sugar while binding the dough, again to balance out the flavours and to neutralise the mild bitterness of methi, but this is entirely optional. The mashed ripe banana is used for this very effect, so if you use that, then don't use the sugar
Kitchen Garden Tip:
Soak seeds in water for four hours, discard floating seeds (these won’t germinate) and sow the others, in a flat tray with good quality soil + compost, or in the ground. Snip as you see methi leaves coming up and you will get new leaves again. This can be done for 3-4 times
Recipe for Methi Thepla
- Prepare the methi leaves by cutting off the roots and tough stems. Soak the rest in a big bowl of water or in the sink, swish until all the soil falls off. Remove them out and repeat process 2-3 times. Drain well, and finely chop the leaves and tender stems. The chopped methi leaves should fill 1-2 cups.
- In a large bowl, or a parath, which is a traditional dough mixing wide dish, add all the ingredients, except the oil.
- A word about the methi leaves - they must be really finely chopped and since their flavour is the star of this recipe, the more the merrier. But if you are just getting used to their taste, then you can start with a lesser quantity.
- Using the yogurt and if required some more water, bind this to a reasonably tight dough, as the salt will release some water from the leaves, so you need to keep that in mind.
- Towards the end, add 2 tsp of oil and give it a final knead. Cover and keep aside for 20-30 minutes.
- Divide the dough into 10 or 12 portions.
- To make the theplas (or any other flatbread), you need to keep a rolling base or a large wooden chopping board, a rolling pin, a small dish with wheat flour, a heavy based skillet or Tava, some vegetable oil in a cup with a spoon, used for cooking the thepla, a flat steel or wooden spatula to turn over the theplas, a hot box with a tea-towel or cotton cloth to hold the cooked theplas.
- Start heating the skillet before you roll out the first thepla, so it is sufficiently hot, when you are done rolling it. If you are a newbie cook, then I recommend you roll out half the theplas, and lay them out on a clean counter, cook them one by one, roll out the remaining and then proceed similarly. This is beacause you may not be able to multitask between rolling and cooking simultaneously.
- Flatten one ball of dough, dip both sides in the dish containing flour. Pat out any excess flour.
- Place it on the rolling base, using rolling pin, thin it out uniformly, to as thin a circle as you can, sprinkling some flour intermittently so that it does not stick to the base. You can watch my video on How to make phulka roti, to learn the rolling out process. The cooking process is not the same though.
- Place this on the hot skillet. When small bubbles seem to appear, turn it around and apply 1/2 tsp of oil around this cooked side, spread it uniformly with a spoon. By this time, the second side would have got golden spots, so turn it over once again, and oil this side similarly. Turn over one last time, on this oiled side, so that the oil doesn't smell raw.
- You can now press down the whole roti with the spatula so it is cooked through.
- Typically, if you roll it out really thin, it should not take more than 45 seconds per side to cook. It all depends on the thickness of the roti, so ensure you first cook it dry, then oil it, then cook once again by pressing through both the sides.
- Save these in a hot casserole box or serve immediately. These also taste great cold, rolled up and had with masala chai.