Moglai Porota (or maybe Mughlai Parantha) is one of the most sublime Bengali comfort foods that I know of. I don’t know if the Mughals ever ate this tasty flaky fried dough interleaved with eggs, onions, green chilli and minced meat (keema). Whatever may be the source of this food, it has become a Bengali favorite of all times. I don’t recall I have seen Moglai Porota in a menu of any restaurant outside Bengal (except the Bengali ones of course). Hence I am going to call it Mogali Porota, just the way Bengali’s love to call it. Several restaurants (and hotels as we prefer to call these eateries in India) have earned their name to fame by serving their world famous Mogali Porotas to their clientèle. Anadi Cabin, Das cabin and many other names come to my mind. But not too many though, since making a good Moglai Porota is no easy task for any chef. Crafting the thin crepe from a heavily leavened flour dough requires a skill that can be mastered by very few. I have heard many tales of tricks and techniques used by the great Moglai chefs – some tossed the dough in air (like they do for pizza or rumali roti) twirling it in the air and allowing the centrifugal force to thin the dough out. Some thrashed the dough against a well oiled flat piece of granite or marble till the dough becomes thin, almost semi transparent. Some have used the simple roller pin with such dexterity that the dough flattened out like a thin paper in no time.
When I was in Delhi, during the early eighties, I used to live in the Chittaranjan Park (CR Park) area, where in market II there used to be a snack shop selling wonderful Moglai Porota. During weekends, this snack shack was our regular afternoon eatery. The owner cum chef used to prepare his mogali porottas out in the open and left no secrets to mull about. We watched in awe how he prepared the dough, how he flattened it on a flat piece of marble and then filled it with egg batter mix, folded the sides and gently placed it in the hot oiled skillet in front of him. The rich flavor engulfed the surrounding air, attracting more hungry souls to his benches – waiting for their turn.
I later learned that this guy (I forget his name) spent his early youth in Kharagpur (my hometown) where he mastered the skills of making Moglai Porota. This information of course helped me to build a special rapport with him (no discounts though) and I keenly noted the art of Moglai Porota making.
My aunt also used to make pretty good mogali porotas. Her style was quite different from the CR Park master chef, but it was easily implementable in a home kitchen. The size of these porotas were smaller (due to the difficulty in managing the quickly shrinking dough), but tasted as good as any.
I tried to blend the CR park recipe and my aunt’s recipe to develop my own which I am going to share with you now. After coming to this country, I was longing for Moglai Porotas but no restaurant around could offer me this delicacy. So I improvised. Since I knew that the most difficult part is to make the ultra thin crepe, I tried with Phillo-dough (someone suggested). But that was a disaster and I won’t recommend it to anybody unless you plan to bake your mogali (which you can pretty well imagine cannot be termed as moglai porota by any means.) So do it from scratch. Get some fine refined flour (not the whole grain type) and liberally add plenty of shortening to it (butter, ghee, oil, anything) and mix it well. Then add some water and knead the dough to a consistency when you can feel the elasticity building. This elastic property is what you need to get a good flaky texture, but it is also your greatest challenge when you try to flatten it. Keep the dough to one side and beat few eggs in a bowl, add some salt, chopped green chilli peppers, chopped onion (you can keep the chopped onion on the side too). If you prefer to put some keema (minced meat) filling, you should have it prepared too (I am skipping the recipe for brevities sake.)
Now comes the difficult part and I suggest you get some help (maybe from your better half, or your guest whom you have invited to taste your culinary experiment.) All these steps are to be done in quick succession and you will have very little time to spare in between.
1. Tear of small pieces of dough and make cute little balls in your pre-oiled fist. Put them aside.
2. Take a fairly large skillet and place it on your stove top (don’t forget to light the stove) and add about half a centimeter high level of oil. Let it heat.
3. Take a well oiled roller pin and on a smooth oiled surface, try to flatten the dough ball to a thin sheet (preferably square, but any shape will do), such that you can almost see the other side through it. As I said earlier, keeping it stretched is going to be a challenge. The moment you lift the roller, the sheet will try to contract to its original ball shape. But keep trying since practice makes perfect.
3. Just when you think you have reached the desired thinness and size, quickly hold the four corners of the dough sheet with your two hands and ten fingers. Then ask your assistant to pour couple of spoon fulls of egg batter mix into the center and spread it out a little. If you have chopped onions, green chilli on the side, sprinkle them on top of the egg. If you intend to use keema, add a spoonful too.
4. Now quickly fold in the four corners of the dough sheet to the center to cover the egg and form a square shape. Overlap the corners and sides such that no egg batter leaks out.
5. Lift the porota carefully with your fingers and lower it gently into the hot oil in the skillet/pan. Take care not to touch the hot oil.
6. Fry the porota till it is golden brown. Lift the porota from the oil and put it on a plate and serve with cilantro garnish. You may cut the porota to bite size pieces if you prefer.
Now that you have learned the secret of making Moglai Porota, the next question would be, what is the best side to go with it? Moglai Porota and Kosha Mangsho has been a fantasy for many Bengalis, but I personally do not prefer that combination since the strong flavor of Kosha Mangsho nullifies the Porota. Some restaurants will serve you with a side salad of thinly sliced cucumbers, onions in a mustard dressing and some with a tamarind chutney. You can pick your own side, no hard and fast rule there.
So good luck to all of you. And remember, when you plan on making some Mogali at your next party, give me a buzz.