Luchi

The one thing that signals good food time in Kolkata is the luchi. Not to be confused with the non-bong poori, the luchi signals a special treat in this primarily rice-eating part of the world. The differences are subtle but important - a true luchi should be a feather-light, puffed roundel that retains its shape on the plate and doesn't flop about like the commonplace poori. Luchis come in two varieties - the regular atta version and the perfectly white, incredibly light maida luchi that only bongs make. Of course, they look unhealthy but that picture is a dinner plate full of luchi; it took half a cup of flour and a tablespoon of oil (I put 4 tablespoons of oil in the kadahi, and three remained after I finished) - that's about as much as salad dressing! That should have been enough luchis for two light diners, but I was hungry.

Everyone will tell you luchis are difficult to make, and it took me a long time to try making it. Frankly, the weight of culinary expectation discourages amateurs like me from trying, but its just fried dough and surprisingly simple once you get over the worries. Perfect luchis traditionally required skill and practice, but I have modern technology, as-seen-on-tv devices and tricks up my sleeve that my grandmother would never have forgiven me for, bless her soul.

Here are the basics - half a cup of whole wheat flour (or maida - refined flour - for the REAL thing), a bit of salt and few drops of ghee for something called moyan (don't ask me what it is, just do it). Mix the salt and drops of ghee into the dry flour with your hands for a few minutes. Add a tablespoon of water and knead to make a firm, pliant dough and let it rest for half an hour or so. Then divide into small smoothly rolled balls, smear with a little ghee and roll into round even discs with a rolling pin. Technically, that rolling's the hardest part - bong housewives practice for years before the luchis come out round, thin and even, but here's where non-grandma techniques make life so much easier. How thin is good? Well, even fat luchis (2mm or thicker) will puff; except that since the bottom will remain heavy they won't become round balls and won't look that great. Really thin luchis (1/2 mm or so) puff better and are that perfect light airiness, but then you have to make the size a little smaller - about 3" diameter or so - otherwise they'll become difficult to handle.

The most important trick-up-the-sleeve is a cookie cutter. No longer do you have to roll it perfect - even your amoeba-shaped mess can be turned into a great luchi by using a cookie cutter to cut a perfect circle from the dough (alternately, use thin-rimmed steel bowls or my favourite - the upper half of a cocktail shaker). Just roll the whole dough into a thin (1/2 mm), even sheet on a flat greased counter-top and cut multiple luchis out at one go (hey, chefs on television do it all the time). Roll the remaining dough back into a sheet and repeat. You can even use fancy shapes - circular ones puff the best, but square or other shapes look interesting and taste the same. While you should roll the dough as thin as possible, evenness is more important and be careful that it isn't so thin that it can't be handled. My mother tells me I should roll the pin only in one direction (towards my luchi-filled paunch) and put only light pressure.The best place to keep the unfried luchis are around the edges of a large bowl - that way they're easy to lift off.

Trick two - go forth and buy a cheap pastry scraper. It makes handling those thin cookie-cut discs of dough so much easier. If you don't have one of those, you'll have a problem lifting really thin luchis off the counter without screwing them up.

Trick three (though I haven't tried it yet) - use a pasta roller. Should cut the whole rolling business really short. Pasta rollers produce very even sheets of dough - half milimeter should be perfect. Don't use ready made pasta sheets, though - it has eggs and olive oil and would therefore approach heresy and ex-communcation. My grandmother might even come back from the dead.

Hold on, the story isn't over yet - what happened to frying? Enough hot oil for the luchi to be completely immersed is a must - any less and you can kiss perfect spheres goodbye. This means you must put enough oil so that the depth is least a couple of inches, and the with (of the oil, not the pan) at least a little bit more than the luchi being fried. Make sure its really really hot - just below smoking. If it's not hot, the luchis will not puff, and though they will eventually be edible they'll be fat and crisp rather than soft and fluffy. Ghee is great here, because it has a higher smoke point. Frying has three stages - release, immerse, flip. Slide a single luchi at a time into the hot oil, then use a perforated spoon to gently push the luchi down so that the whole thing is immersed in oil for a few seconds - till it starts puffing. Flip it over in a few seconds, wait for a count of three and take it out. A luchi should be light gold - if its brown it's too crisp to eat comfortably. The most common causes of non-puffing are - dough too thick (puffs very little), uneven dough (unevenly puffed rather than one glorious ball), insufficient oil, oil not hot enough (crisp biscuits take take time to brown) or dough too thin (starts to puff, then bursts).

Here are my three secrets to a luchi - (1) half mm thin and very even dough discs, (2) really hot oil and (3) enough oil depth to immerse the whole luchi. What to do if you're luchi doesn't puff? Nothing - its still going to be edible, just don't take any pictures and send them out.

And yes, I did make the ones in the picture. Three did not puff, and two got eaten before they even made it to the photo.

3 comments:

  1. Shanky,

    Missed one point in making the traditional luchi. Apart from pulling it towards yourself in one direction, it needs to be done in one shot and not like the roti.

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  2. Not entirely sure what you mean by "one go". Its generally true that you can't leave a luchi job half finished because the surface of the luchis tend to dry up. However, it depends on how dry your dough is to start with. Drier dough is harder to handle but makes thinner, better luchis. Wet soft dough is a little stretchy and won't make very thin luchis - they'll stretch and deform when you try to handle them.

    ReplyDelete
  3. You are right. Actually, I meant to say that it has to be stretched to its limit in one go. The thickness becomes uneven if done otherwise and the luchi's will not be "fulko"

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