Last night was a seminal moment in my burgeoning culinary pursuits. I made Trinidad style roti. If you have not been to Trinidad or the West Indies, this may mean very little to you. However, for those initiated into wonderful world of roti, you know of the great gastronomic treat that I speak of. A roti is a tortilla like bread (dhal pouri) that encases a of variety of curried meats and/or vegetables. This curried goodness is beyond description.
For this post, I will be breaking from form. This post is more about the roti than anything else. Don’t get me wrong, the Chenin Blanc that golf buddy Steve brought to pair with the curried chicken and potato roti was a match made in heaven (sweet and citrus flavors balancing the spice), but when it comes to roti, I have a hard time focusing on anything else.
I first encountered roti in 2004 on my first trip to Trinidad and Tobago. At the time, I was the US Coast Guard Attaché in Caracas Venezuela with additional responsibilities for 9 countries in the Eastern Caribbean including Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago. I know, tough life. I survived.
After my first roti in Trinidad, I was hooked. But it gets better. Roti can be found throughout the islands of the Eastern Caribbean, and each country imparts their own character to roti. What a treat! My job kept me traveling regularly to each of these islands where I made it my mission to sample roti from every little roti stand and shop I could find. Once again, tough, but I survived.
After three years of regular travel to the islands, I concluded that my favorite roti came from Trinidad and Tobago. I can even tell you my favorite roti shop – The Hot Shop on Maraval Road in Port of Spain. Oh my…what spectacular curried memories! For quite some time I have dreamed of recreating the experience from The Hot Shop, and I finally succeeded! Both Chef Sue (a frequent visitor to Trinidad during our stay in Venezuela) and Golf Buddy Steve (who lived in Trinidad) agreed with my assessment of success. Roti will now be a regular feature on the menu in our home!
So now on to the recipe. My recipe is based on a number of recipes I discovered. If you care to see them your self and arrive at your own interpretation, here are some links:
Curried Chicken and Potato Roti Filling
- 4 tablespoons curry powder
- 3 skinless chicken breasts cubed – 1”
- 1 large onion chopped
- 4 medium red potatoes
- 1 can chick peas
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- 1 cup milk (your choice of fat content, but I would not recommend skim milk)
- 1 healthy tablespoon of garlic
- 2 tablespoons honey
- extra virgin olive oil
Combine the cubed chicken breasts in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of the curry powder, 1 teaspoon of salt and 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Get your hands in there and make sure all the cubes are well coated with curry love. Cover the bowl and let it get happy while you make the dough for the dhal pouri (up to the point when you first let the dough rest).
Just a note on the curry powder, you can use your favorite, or you can make your own. Emeril’s West Indian Curried Chicken Roti recipe includes a wonderful curry powder that you make from scratch. I took this route and loved it. The photograph below is the roasting process before grinding the combined spices.
After you get the dhal pouri started, boil the potatoes and cube them when they are done (1” cubes). Coarsely mince half the can of chick peas in a food processor and set aside.
Coat the bottom of a large pot or Dutch oven with olive oil and heat. When the oil is hot, send in your chicken that has been relaxing in the curry powder. Turn once in a while with the objective of getting the chicken browned on all sides. Add the onion, chick peas (both the whole ones and their minced brethren), garlic, 2 tablespoons of curry powder. Stir on medium high heat until the onions soften. Add cubed potatoes, honey, vegetable stock, and milk. Bring to a simmer and allow the juice to reduce to your favorite consistency (the thickness of the sauce is one of the key differentiators between the West Indies – it ranges from very dry in Barbados to quite a bit juicier in Trinidad). For my tastes, it was about 90 minutes of simmering.
The recipe here comes from Felix at Simply Trini Cooking. I have made a couple of adaptations, but all the credit goes to Felix.
- 1 cup split yellow peas
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron powder
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 jalapeno pepper
- 5 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- olive oil
- butter as necessary for skillet
- 3 cups water +/-
Combine the flour baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add room temp water, one cup at a time, kneading. Adjust consistence with addition or reduction of water until you get a firm yet moist consistency. Form into a ball, coat with olive oil and set aside for about 20 minutes.
Divide the dough into eight equal portions and form balls. Coat with olive oil and leave to rest for another 20 minutes. While the dough balls are resting, it is time to make the dhal. Boil the peas with the saffron and garlic cloves. Continue to boil until the peas are easy to bight through yet firm. Dried split peas can vary, so timing to get to this texture will also vary. You don’t want the peas to get too soft or they will turn to paste in the food processor.
When done, strain the water off the peas and garlic and place in a food processor with minced garlic and diced jalapeno pepper (deveined and seeded). You want a fairly fine texture – pieces should be just smaller than the size of uncooked quinoa. Add cumin and salt to taste. Take each dough ball and stretch until roughly twice the original diameter. Place 2 to three tablespoons of the dhal in the center, fold the edges up to reform a ball and repeat for all eight balls. Let rest for 15 minutes.
Roll out the dough. This is one of the tricky parts, but I found a method that works great. I have granite counters, so I can’t vouch for how well this will work on other surfaces. I spread a thin coat of olive oil on the work surface and rolled out the dough as thin as possible – just before the dhal would break through the surface. Once rolled out place in a preheated and lightly buttered skillet (the tawa is used in Trinidad, but I have not seen one in the U.S. – a large non stick skillet works fine). Cook on medium high heat until just before bubbles form and just as small spots of brown appear on the cooked side. Flip and repeat. Overcooking will result in hard pouri. If you are to err in a direction, it is better to err on the undercooked side so the pouri remains flexible.
Place the finished dhal pouri on a plate, place some of the curried chicken and potatoes in the center, and roll up much like you would a burrito. Alternatively you can have the dhal pouri on the side.
In vino veritas, buen provecho.