Indian wheat breads such as rotis, chapaties, puris and naans are world famous for their flavor. Back home, rotis are made fresh every day. Who can forget the taste of piping hot chapaties that our mothers served us? But if you are suffering from Celiac disease, or are gluten sensitive, you must avoid wheat breads.
Gluten is a protein component found primarily in wheat, rye and barley. It is the magic element in wheat that makes it stretchy and spongy when used to make bread. Common symptoms of gluten intolerance include abdominal pain, headache, and skin rashes. Some people can eat a small amount of gluten with no adverse effects, but suffer if they eat more. Others cannot consume any gluten at all, and must avoid anything that is made in a facility that processes grains that contain gluten.
Whether one has a known gluten allergy or not, avoiding gluten can have other health benefits, as the food items containing gluten in our diets are often accompanied with unhealthy ingredients such as over-processed flours, and added fats and salt. Gluten-free cake and bread mixes are available in markets, particularly those selling health foods, but home-made versions of these foods are easy to make and often much healthier.
In the arid region of India, the state of Gujarat, millet, juar and corn are cultivated, because they require less water than wheat. All of these grains are gluten-free.
Freshly made millet rotlas are served daily in Gujarati villages. During the monsoon, when leafy greens are abundant, rotlas take a colorful turn to become dhebra.
To make dhebra, millet flour is combined with seasonal leafy greens, other flours (such as corn meal or garbanzo flour), salt and spices to make a bread dough. The dough is then rolled, pan fried with small amount of oil, and served with yogurt soup or a daal. Instead of using millet flour dhebra dough is often made with khichadi (a dish made with brown rice and split mung beans) that may be left-over from a previous meal. Inspired by the memories of dhebra, I combined leftover cooked rice and quinoa. In place of fresh fenugreek leaves, I use watercress or other spicy leaves such as mustard greens, daikon leaves or radish leaves which are easier to find in the United States.
Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors Of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine is a co-owner of Other Avenues Food Cooperative in San Francisco. Serena Sacharoff is a chef, an illustrator and an art student
Dhebras Made with Rice, Quinoa and Leafy Greens
1 cup of water
¼ cup white Basmati rice
¼ cup quinoa
1 cup firmly-packed very finely chopped
fenugreek leaves, watercress leaves, radish leaves or mustard greens
½ tsp coriander powder
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp whole cumin seeds or oregano seeds
1 tsp salt
1 cup besan (garbanzo flour) or millet flour
Few tbsps of water, only if needed to make the dough
Additional few tbsps of garbanzo flour for dusting the dough
4 to 5 tbsps corn, safflower or peanut oil
Method for Basmati Rice with Quinoa
Prepare the Basmati rice together with the quinoa following the method below.
Both rice and quinoa are versatile grains, quick to prepare and easy to digest. The unique fragrance of Basmati rice, which has been attributed to the special soil in which it is grown, pairs well with the nutty texture of quinoa, a protein-rich ancient grain from the Incas of Peru. Both grains take just about fifteen minutes to cook, and the sticky texture of the rice compliments the nuttiness of quinoa perfectly.
In a sauce pan with a tight-fitting lid, bring water to a boil. Add the rice and quinoa, optional oil and salt. Stir the mixture gently, cover, and bring the water to a second boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 15 minutes.
Uncover and check to see that the grains are cooked. If the grains are not soft when pinched between your fingers, add a few spoonful of water, cover again, and turn off the heat. In five minutes, the steam in the pot will finish cooking the grains completely.
Next spread out the cooked grains onto a platter to cool them completely (unless you are using leftover and refrigerated cooked grains). You need approximately two cups of cooked grains for this recipe.
If you wish to cook a bigger batch of rice and quinoa, just double the amount of water and grains, they will still cook in 15 minutes. Unused cooked grains can be refrigerated for future use.
Method for Making Dough
Wash the leafy greens and drain them thoroughly. Chop the leafy greens finely with a sharp knife or in the food processor using the pulse button very briefly.
Place the chopped greens in a mixing bowl and combine with the cooked grains, coriander powder, cumin seeds, garlic and salt. Then add the garbanzo flour or the millet flour, a few spoons at a time to form the dough. The dough will be sticky but it will start to form into a solid mass as you add more flour. If you are using previously cooked and refrigerated grains, the mixture may be dry and will need a few tablespoons of water to make the dough.
When the dough is formed into a ball, sprinkle two tablespoons of flour on a cutting board. Roll the ball in it to dust the surface of the dough with flour. Then apply a small amount of oil all over the surface of the ball. Cover the bowl of dough with a damp cloth until ready to roll the dhebra.
To form the dhebra, divide the dough into six equal portions. Using the palm of your hand, press each piece into a flat circle. Lay each circle on a lightly floured surface and, with a rolling pin, roll the circle out to 4” to 5” in diameter. After you have rolled out two dhebra, you can begin frying them. Keep the remaining dough under a damp towel.
To fry the dhebra, heat a skillet over medium heat and place one of the rolled discs in the hot pan. Cook for a minute, and flip it to cook the other side. Spread a teaspoon of oil all over the surface of the dhebra, flip again and cook for a minute.
Next, spread the same amount of oil on the other side, and cook for a few more minutes. Continue to cook on both sides, turning the dhebra several times until the surface turns brown and blisters begin to form. Repeat this process to cook the rest.
Keep the dhebras warm under a tea towel until ready to serve. Dhebras are delicious served cold, at room temperature, or reheated in the oven at 200 degrees for a few minutes. Serve them with a curry, soup or salad. Dhebrasmake good companions for a picnic, pot-luck or any meal.