Winter mornings, here, begin with some weird cravings, sometimes. I just want to smell fresh dill leaves. Dill in English, as in Sabsige Soppu in Kannada, as in Shepu in Marathi, as in Savaa in Hindi. Cold, wet, and fresh leafy veggies are the closest that I can get to bringing the smell of freshly cut lawn inside my tiny apartment. When it comes to dill, just a few sprigs do the trick.
So, some mornings, in winter, I wake up knowing exactly what I want to make for breakfast - Akki Rotti. Having lived in South India since I was five, I tasted my first Akki Rotti very late in life. It was made by a dear friend's dad, may he rest in peace, one of the most positive and inspiring humans I have had the honour of meeting in my life. We had it for breakfast, one morning, pan to plate. He loved feeding anyone, even a stray cow that was idly walking by his front gate on a lazy afternoon who just happened to look in his direction. She was, probably, not even looking at him directly, engrossed in her own deep thought of the day, and even she did not pass by empty-stomached.
When I made Akki Rotti for the first time, all along thinking of uncle and all the great memories we shared, it turned out brilliant. Before I forget the experience, let's pen it down, shall we?
Recipe - Akki Rotti
Serves 1 very hungry person / 2 shy eaters. Makes 4 a-little-more-than-an-open-palm sized Akki Rottis.
Prep Time: From scratch, 15 mins; if you're a meal planner who chops your veggies over the weekend and stores them in Ziplock pouches, 3-4 mins.
Cook Time: 2-3 mins/rotti so about 15 mins or so.
Best Enjoyed With: chutneys, pickles, good episode of Friends on a Sunday morning
• 1 tight fistful of coriander leaves — finely chopped
• 1 tight fistful of dill leaves — finely chopped
• 1 large onion / 2 medium onions — finely chopped
• 2 to 3 medium green chillies — slit them I'm the middle, turn them over onto the flat side to avoid your fingers burning later, and chop the devil out of them
• 2 to 2 and a half cups of fine rice flour
• 3 generous pinches of salt• Cooking Oil
• 1 nice tall glass of water
• 1 square of butter paper / baking paper — about 8 x 8 inches, basically a square that's bigger than your open palm size
(I have skipped a lot of co-curricular ingredients that some people love to add, like grated carrots, grated coconut, and fried gram or chana dal. Feel free to add about half a fist of each, if you like those flavours. The reason I skipped them is to make the most out of the strong dill flavour and satisfy my craving.)
1. Take all your food ingredients in a large bowl, that's suitable for kneading a dough. Add about half a glass of water and begin kneading the ingredients together. Nice and easy, enjoy it. Rice flour makes one of the friendliest doughs. It doesn't stick to your fingers, as much as wheat flour, and comes together quickly. As you're working the dough, you'll know when you need to add more water. The dough needs to be firm, yet moist, and sticky; a bit of gloss on it (Refer to the photograph on top and notice the shine on the coriander leaf a little off the centre). No need to use any oil at this point. Once the dough looks good, feel free to nibble and check the salt and spice, and adjust accordingly. Divide the dough into 4 - 5 balls.
2. Get your flat pan on the stove, simmer the flame, and add about a tablespoon of cooking oil on it. Leave it to heat up while you prep the rotti.
3. Take the butter paper and lay it flat on your kitchen counter; you can dampen the counter a bit before laying the butter paper to help keep it in place, if you'd like. Take one ball of dough and place it in the centre of the paper. Using the inside of your palm, gently flatten the ball, like a slo-mo animation of a ball hitting the ground but never coming back to shape. Do this a couple of times till it's a fat but kinda flat, circular lump. Then, using your fingers, slowly press the dough and move it outwards from the centre. Do this in all directions. Feel the pressure as you go, like flattening clay.
4. Take a step back and admire your circle, and then continue.
5. Here's how it needs to look, before we transfer it onto the, now, heated pan. Also, notice the gloss of the dough. As you flatten the rotti with your fingers, feel free to add drops of water if the dough begins to crack. Remember, just like playing with clay and learning your way around it.
6. Then, making sure the flame is low, and the oil is heated but not angry, I lift the butter paper into my right palm, turn it over on the right side of the pan, and roll it over the surface. So basically, it's a sandwich with the pan and butter paper as bread and the Akki Rotti flat in between the two. Think, the movement of simply sliding your palm from the right to left in air, facedown. Like applying the butter paper to the pan, right to left. Don't worry, all your pressing of the dough onto the butter paper, has given it enough stickiness to not drop into the pan flat. You'll hear a satisfying sizzle as each part of the flat rotti comes in contact with the hot oil.
7. Let it sit for 5 seconds, then slowly peel the butter paper from the rotti, that has now got a hold onto the pan. Think, the movement of removing your screen guard for the first time. Exactly that, at that pace. As soon as you've separated the butter paper from the rotti, set it aside, and add cooking oil around the pan, such that it slopes into the edges of the rotti. This will prevent it from sticking, and make it easy while turning it over.
8. After about 3 minutes, take a flat spatula, and run it along the edges of your half-cooked rotti. Once you're able to slip the spatula into the centre of the rotti, get a good grip, and flip the rotti, gently. The cooked side, which should look yummy and well-roasted, is now up. Allow another minute or two, on the other side, and remove the rotti off the pan.
My secret ingredient that I really don't mind sharing with anybody because it's useless to you all: a couple of teardrops into the dough, as I looked at how beautifully my fingers knew how to flatten the dough, and wish uncle was here that day, to taste my first ever batch of Akki Rottis.
Miss you, uncle!