Warm Whole Wheat Roti + a Big Nepali Dinner


It's officially been two years since I returned from Nepal. I get nostalgic when I think about my family and the special times we spent just chatting in the living room, sitting on the floor with my legs crossed carefully, trying to soak in new vocabulary. One of my favorite times of day was walking home from class, strolling past the sewing shops and the kahjaa (snack) carts, and coming home. 

It devastates me to think of the recent earthquake and the lives that have been lost and the history  that has been destroyed. I feel helpless that this place that I called home for so many months is struggling to regain its footing and wish there was something I could do to help. I've never met such honest, kind, loving people and it's tragic many aren't able to live in a safe, restored home. I know my host family is safe and am so thankful they're able to volunteer and rebuild their community. I hope they know I'd be right along side them if I could.

I've been thinking of all the wonderful moments I experienced that make Nepal such a rich and wonderful place. Beyond the beauty and the language, I always come back to the food. Mealtimes were always so warm and comforting, and it was always nice to gather around the table smelling sharp spices, and enjoying nice chatter as I'd roll up my sleeves to dig in. 

I remember the first time my aamaa (mom) let me cook with her. I asked if I could help in the kitchen. At first she insisted I work on my homework or hang out with my bahini (little sister) or bhaai (little brother). But when I finally convinced her that I loved cooking, that I loved food, and that I wanted to learn, she finally agreed to let me help. 

One of the first things she and my bahini taught me to make was roti. Just some flour, water, and a little oil, we mixed the dough with our hands and worked it into a tight ball. I remember watching her hands knead quickly as her jewelry bangled on her wrists as she pressed the dough back and forth on the counter. She let me roll out the roti with a mini roller and flatten it to a nice pancake. She would toss it onto the hot oiled plate and it would immediately puffed up, the edges curling, and I could begin to smell the warm smell of the flatbread as it cooked. Without checking, she would lift the edge and quickly flip the bread, showing the lightly browned and toasty side. I remember smiling at her and my bahini, Pragya, as we pulled it apart and tasted the roti. It was delicious.

When I first met my friend, Melissa, we connected instantly when we realized we'd both been to Nepal. We immediately began talking about all the foods we had eaten and the places we went and how fun it was to eat with our hands! (It tastes better that way.) I'd been saving these beans that my didi (big sister) from Larjung had given me for two years but wanted to make them on a special occasion. So we planned our own Nepali dinner! Our menu was outfitted with beans, daal (lentils), bhaat (bhaat), saag (greens), and roti (Melissa called it chapati cause she spent most of her time in India, but it was pretty much the same recipe as what my aamaa made). Mitho thiyo!!! (it was tasty)

"The beans" that traveled halfway around the world

Whole Wheat Roti
Makes 12 rotis

Special Tools
rolling pin

For the roti
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 cup water
Olive oil

Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Slowly add the water until combined and knead dough for 10 minutes till the dough is soft but flexible. Cover with a little oil and saran wrap and let sit for 30 min.

Uncover your dough, roll into a log shape, and cut into 12 equal pieces. Then roll each into balls. Then make a small assembly line with a bowl of your olive oil, some flour to prevent sticking, and your rolling pin. Flatted a ball in your hand and scoop a little olive oil onto the surface and spread to the edges with the spoon. Fold the dough in half, then half again so you have a little triangle. Then lightly dust the roti with flour and roll out till it's a smooth flat pancake. Place on a paper  towel to keep from sticking to the plate. Repeat this process for the remaining dough and be sure to layer the roti so they don't stick together.

Heat a pan on medium heat. If you toss a little flour on the pan and it darkens immediately, it's hot enough. Slap a roti or two onto the pan and it should begin to warm and form bubbles in the dough. When it starts to puff up, it's cooking! Help it along by using your spatula and pressing the corners down - it locks in the heat so it makes the roti poof up. Flip once golden and cook the other side another minute or so. Finish cooking the rest of the roti this same way, keeping cooked roti warm in a kitchen towel. Serve warm with yummy foods like we did!

As I mentioned before, part of the fun of eating Nepali food is eating with your hands. When our friends arrived, they realized we didn't place any utensils near their plates and immediately grew worried. We told them to wash their hands, roll up their sleeves, and get ready to eat! We served the roti with some greens we sauteed with olive oil, salt, and pepper, lentils with curry powder and turmeric, beans with tomato paste and cayenne, and refreshing banana lassis for drinks. It was a fun and tasty meal and brought me back to Nepal. Missing my family and friends there - sending maya.