Everyday I try and peruse at least five to ten different cuisines from around the world and increasingly I get the feeling that food from all parts of the world have so many similarities that the geographical boundaries just seem to melt away.
Take the Indian pulao – it has so many cousins world wide – Japanese Sushi, Chinese Fried Rice, Turkish Pilaf, Greek Rice Pilaf, Italian Risotto or Spanish Paella. Despite the similarities I wonder, why is it that I sometimes have this mental block that I will never be able to replicate certain dishes. Does it happen with you too? Much before 2009 began, I resolved to get over that hurdle.
Meeta just pre-poned my aim by announcing the theme for the Monthly Mingle No.28. When she announced traditional cookies, I immediately thought of ‘Shankarpalis/Shakkarpare’, and ‘Mathris/Matthis’ which are very Indian but the taste and process are very much like those of fried cookies.
Mathri or Matthis are crisp, flaky, buttery biscuits/cookies/crackers from the North Indian region of the Indian Subcontinent. The basic mathri is a blend of hot melted oil/ghee, salt and refined flour to which one can add a variety of spices such as ajwain(carom seeds), kalaunji (onion seeds), kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves), shahjeera(caraway seeds) etc. My favourite flavour is either carom or fenugreek.
I have also tweaked the recipe slightly as I wanted a healthier batch of mathris, so instead of resorting to the traditional deep frying method, I baked the mathris using wheat flour instead of refined flour.
Unlike other cookies wherein we cut butter into the flour to form crumbs, mathris use hot oil/ghee to form a crumbly dough. The use of hot oil makes the mathris extremely crisp or ‘khasta’, and helps it preserve for long periods. I have been making mathris for years during Diwali or sometimes just so the kids have some healthy munchies when they feel short hunger pangs, but this is the first time that I have ever measured the ingredients – like most Indians I cook by ‘feel’ rather than ‘measure’. The thumb rule here is to not compromise on the fat, less use of water by sprinkling it over the dough rather than adding in spoonfuls, and to form a stiff dough, in order to get flaky finish.
Mathri or Mathhi (Suali)
Yield: 20-25 mathris, measuring 1.5″ in diameter
Ingredients: (Increase spice levels to suit your taste)
2 cups – Whole wheat flour
Salt – To taste
Unsalted vegan butter spread/Vanaspati/Ghee or oil – (Melted and hot) – About 1/2 to 1 cup
(Do not use the entire quantity of oil at one go – add little by little, I used 1/2 cup)
1 tbsp – Kasuri Methi/Carom seeds/Nigella seeds
Hot water/Hot milk – 1/2 cup to sprinkle
Turmeric powder – a pinch (Optional)
Mix the flours, salt, kasuri methi and turmeric together in a wide bowl.
Add 1/2 cup hot oil in the center of the flour and incorporate the flour with a wooden spoon. It has to come to a point where you should be able to gather the flour into a tight mass when you squeeze it but will fall apart immediately when you leave it. You may add water/hot milk little by little by sprinkling to further the process till it comes to a ‘bread crumb’ consistency or add more oil if desired. I add hot water and incorporate the flour quickly with my hand. This though crunchy is not as flaky as when you add oil/ghee, but I prefer this any day!
Gather some of the dough – do not knead it – just bring it together in your fist and press it tight between your palms.
Bake it as it is for a rustic feel, or place it on a board and cut into circles as I have done. Bake in a hot pre-heated oven on the top rack till the top and the bottom browns well. I did my baking at 200 deg. Cel., and changed positions twice in between for even browning – took me about 20 minutes. Depending on your oven, and the amount of fat used your timing may differ, so please check after every 10 minutes starting at 180 deg. Cel. I have used a higher temperature as my oven generally takes a longer time!
Stays well for at least a week if stored in a clean air tight container. The baked version tastes better than the deep fried one if you have storage plans!
1. You could substitute a little semolina flour in combination with wheat flour.
2. If you want it really flaky use only all purpose flour, and oil with just a sprinkling of water and deep fry. But then this is fattening!
3. Use any flavour you like in place of the fenugreek leaves or leave it bland – it still tastes great!