Puran Poli: a labour of love
Puran Poli is a standard delicacy at festivals. It was the one item that we looked forward to, as children, knowing that we’d have to sit patiently through the rituals of the day before we had the chance to devour this deliciously sweet roti, slathered in Aai’s homemade ghee. Indeed, the perfume of a freshly roasted poli – the sweet, saltiness, delicately charred, and then the smell of slowly melting ghee – is beyond compare. When I cook these now, for my children, it’s that perfume that tells me whether or not my poli is going to be as good as Aai’s. It is never quite the same, but I feel grateful that the flavour, although subtle, exists still, 4,500 miles from a place I used to call home.
‘Puran’ is the sweet stuffing. It is made with chana dal (yellow split peas) that is soaked overnight, and then gently boiled to break it down without turning it mushy. Then, jaggery (raw sugar) is added, along with sweet spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, a hint of black pepper, and a touch of salt to bring out all the flavours. If you’re looking for a truly luxurious puran, a pinch of saffron adds a certain decadence.
‘Poli’ is the Marathi word for roti or chapati, which is made with a wholemeal chapati dough. There are other versions of this dough which use half wholemeal chapati flour and half plain flour.
Here is a detailed recipe, which I hope you will attempt as a little something different. It is quite labour intensive, and it was always a task that needed planning. But, it is entirely worth it.
Puran: 1 cup chana dal (yellow split peas), 1 cup grated jaggery, or 2/3 cup powdered sugar, ¼ tsp nutmeg powder or freshly grated nutmeg, 1 inch cinnamon stick, 4-5 green cardamoms, 3-4 black peppercorns, 2-3 cloves, pinch of saffron (optional), small pinch of salt
Poli: 1-2 cups of chapati flour (or 50-50 chapati flour and plain flour), 2-3 tbsp oil, pinch of salt, water to mix dough.
Soak chana dal in water overnight in 2 cups of water. Allow it to soak thoroughly for at least 12 hours; 24 if possible.
Then, drain the water, adding another 2 cups before setting the dal to cook on high heat. When it comes to the boil, turn the heat down to medium low and cover. Check on it occasionally, making sure it doesn’t burn at the base. Test the dal, and if it breaks when you press it between your fingers, and still feels slightly grainy, it is ready.
Drain the water, which may be saved to make into a delicious curry to go with our puran poli.
Next, add grated jaggery. DO NOT add powdered sugar if you’re using that as a substitute. Powdered sugar must be added at the very end, or it will caramalise as we carry on cooking the dal further.
If using jaggery, keep stirring until jaggery starts to melt and combine with the dal. Still on medium heat, carry on stirring frequently. This will allow you to gauge the consistency of the puran. When it starts to look fairly dry, take off the heat and set aside to cool. The objective is to ensure that most of the moisture has been taken out.
In a small frying pan or wok, dry roast the whole spices for 2-3 minutes on medium heat. Once you start to smell those delicious spices, take them off the heat and leave to cool slightly. Grind them to a fine powder and add to the dal. Add the powdered spices as well and combine thoroughly.
Now, when the mixture is cool to the touch, add the powdered sugar, if you haven’t already used jaggery. Taste and adjust sweetness to your preference.
Tip: If you have used jaggery, and when you taste it you feel as though it needs to be sweeter, you can add a little bit of powdered sugar, a spoonful at a time, and taste it.
Once all the ingredients are combined well, puran is ready to use! This will keep in the fridge, in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. In the freezer, it lasts up to 6 months.
For the dough:
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, and oil. Next, add water 1 cup at a time, bringing the mixture together to make a soft dough. Knead it on a floured surface until it is smooth and slightly elastic. This will ensure that the stuffing does not leak while rolling out polis. Cover the dough with a damp cloth and set aside to rest for at least 30 minutes.
Set a crepe pan or large frying pan on high heat. Once the pan is hot, turn the heat down to medium high.
Divide the dough into 6-7 equal sized balls. Divide the puran into 6-7 slightly smaller portions and pack them into a ball shape.
Use a little bit of flour to press one dough ball into the shape of a bowl, roughly 5 inches in diameter. Place a ball of puran in the middle, and carefully bring the edges of the dough together to encase the puran securely within.
Gently, pat it flat, using flour to ensure it doesn’t stick. Roll it out gently to a desired thickness. If the consistency of your dough and puran is right, there will be minimal leakage!
Next, place the poli on the hot pan, allowing it to cook on one side first. When it starts to bubble, flip it over and allow it to cook through for 1-2 minutes.
Flip it one last time and move it around the pan to ensure it cooks evenly.
You are looking for a golden-brown colour, with gently charred spots, no more.
Serve with a generous dollop of homemade ghee!