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Weekend Herb Blogging: Aloo Paratha

For this week’s WHB entry, I finally tried a recipe that I’ve had my eye on for weeks. Aloo Paratha from Veggie Cookbook. Aloo Paratha is an Indian flat bread that is stuffed with spiced mashed potatoes. Aloo=potato Paratha=a type of flatbread. I’ve never attempted any type of Indian bread. I’ve read about lots of different types of breads: roti, chapati, paratha, naan. I’ve even found and watched videos online of how some of them are made. I just hadn’t tried any on my own. Sometimes I feel a little intimidated trying something brand new, especially when I have never seen or tasted something similar. But the great thing about food blogs is that not only will you often find step-by-step photos to help you along, you can usually e-mail the author with any questions or concerns you have about the recipe. How many times have you been looking through a cookbook or magazine, seen a great recipe or photo but then realize that the instructions are somewhat confusing. Haven’t you ever wished that you could just call up the cookbook author and ask for clarification? Well, thanks to the internet, you can often do just that.

Food blogs are especially useful when you want to learn something about a new cuisine that you are completely unfamiliar with. In the last couple of years, I’ve become very interested in South Asian food. We didn’t have Indian restaurants of any kind in my hometown. The only Indian food I had ever really tasted was from fast food places in mall food courts. Sad, I know, but true. But through cookbooks and blogs, I’ve learned a lot about spices and cooking methods and I find myself falling in love with the South Asian cuisine without ever having set foot in an authentic restaurant, much less the Indian subcontinent.

When I first started reading Indian cooking blogs like Padmaja’s Veggie Cookbook, I was dying to try many recipes but found that many of the ingredients were unfamiliar to me and, living here in Sicily, I didn’t even know how to begin to stock my kitchen with the essentials for these types of dishes. But I kept reading, started asking questions, and found that many of the unfamiliar ingredients weren’t unfamiliar at all, they were just being called by different names (for instance, cilantro vs. fresh coriander or haldi vs. turmeric). I also found an international foods store here in Catania that stocks all of the spices and ingredients that I hadn’t been able to find in the Italian stores. I purchased Madhur Jaffrey’s book Indian Cooking which has an excellent basic introduction to Indian spices, seasonings, and flavorings and have since bought another one of her books.

Between the cookbooks, blogs, local international foods store, and The Spice House, I now have a pretty good understanding of the basic ingredients needed to experiment with Indian cooking in my kitchen. I have stocked my pantry with every whole spice I can get my hands on. I was already in the habit of keeping potatoes, onions and garlic on hand at all times but now I also keep a ready supply of fresh coriander, ginger, fresh plain yogurt, and hot chiles. I’ve found that now I am able to try all kinds of new recipes without having to rush to the store to find special ingredients. And I’ve also had fun incorporating new ingredients, spices, and cooking techniques into recipes I create on my own.

So, back to the bread! When I was looking over my list of ‘must-try recipes’ and went back to Veggie Cookbook to re-read the recipe for her Aloo Paratha, I happily realized that I had all the ingredients I needed to finally attempt it. Padmaja gives fairly detailed instructions and provides good photos with the recipe but I was still a little nervous about rolling out the dough. I left a comment on her blog saying that I was finally going to attempt it and she was kind enough to e-mail me with some additional pointers and to let me know that she would be available to answer any questions if I started having problems. It turned out that I didn’t have any problems with the recipe at all but it was nice to know that help was waiting for me if I needed it! This is what sets food blogs apart from traditional cookbooks, cooking shows, and large recipe Web sites!

The stuffed parathas were really tasty! I did end up with too many potatoes but I took care of that problem by just eating the leftovers! Padmaja says her family likes to eat them for breakfast but I ate mine for dinner with some cool and creamy plain yogurt. As these are made with whole wheat flour, they are extra nutritious and filling!

And now I am finally getting to the Weekend Herb Blogging part of this post! The fresh herb that I used in my Aloo Paratha is cilantro, or fresh coriander. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I have always loved cilantro, but for most of my life, my knowledge of the herb was very limited. As far as I knew, cilantro was only used in Mexican food, mainly salsa and guacamole. I had no idea that cilantro is actually referred to as fresh coriander by the rest of the world. I had no idea that it is used extensively in cooking throughout all of Asia. Essentially, I was completely clueless when it came to cilantro, er, fresh coriander.

Another thing I was clueless about is how to store the herb for more than a day without it wilting! Fresh coriander has to be one of the most sensitive herbs I’ve ever dealt with. It seems that even looking at it wrong will cause it to wilt! Well, it turns out, it’s not too difficult to keep a bunch of fresh cilantro healthy and happy for up to a week or even longer if you take care of it. Simply place the roots or stem ends in a jar of water, much like you would place a bunch of flowers in a vase. Then cover the top with an overturned plastic bag. Store it in the fridge, pick off dead leaves as you see them and change the water if it gets murky. Your cilantro will perk right up if it was looking limp and it will be ready to use whenever you need it. The cilantro in this photo has already been in my fridge for over a week!

Believe it or not, this was going to be just a short post with a photo of my stuffed parathas, a link to the recipe, and a quick tip about storing cilantro! This is what happens when I drink a little too much coffee before sitting down to write! And sometimes I just get really excited about the way the internet is changing the way we learn about food and cooking and I just can’t shut up about it! Please remember that if you ever have any questions about a recipe I post or any food-related questions at all, you can leave a comment or e-mail me through my contact form and I will do my best to get back to you as soon as possible! And of course I also love to receive recipes and tips from you, too!

This week’s Weekend Herb Blogging roundup will be held by Chris at Mele Cotte. If you want to learn more about Weekend Herb Blogging, including who will be hosting WHB in the coming weeks, visit Kalyn’s Kitchen.

Once again, here is the link to the recipe for Aloo Paratha.

You can learn more about cilantro and find some great recipes at Kalyn’s Kitchen.

Other Recipes Using Cilantro:

Around the Web: