Tuesday, February 06, 2007

LOLI – A Revival of Sindhi Culture

India is home to a wide variety of indigenous groups, such as Punjabi’s, Gujrati’s, Marawri’s and many others. Less common are my people, Sindhi’s. This is probably because of our turbulent history, being driven away from our motherland during the India-Pakistan partition, forced to find new homes all over India and scattered over the rest of the planet. Whereas other groups of Indians have widely popular traits and customs regarding clothing, music and food embedded in modern India; relatively little is glamorized or identifiable about the Sindhi’s. But our culture and way of life is actually quite dissimilar and we even have some very good Sindhi cuisine that most Indians know nothing about. One such dish is ‘LOLI’. Feeling a bit nostalgic on Sunday, Brother Ro and I took it upon ourselves to revive some culture! After placing a short phone call to my mom to find out how exactly to go about this ‘revival’ we were on our way. I carefully chopped some onion, green chilly peppers, and coriander into fine pieces. It is important to get the pieces as small as possible but do not use a blender as that would be too fine.


And luckily like any good Indian household, we also had some ATTA tucked away in the cabinet. I believe this is just like brown flour. It is what we use to make chapatti, not that I have ever made Indian bread of any sort before. I did not know we had this at home and until I read the writing on the packet I did not even know this was ATTA. Who would have thought that ‘Pillsbury’ makes ‘CHAKKI FRESH ATTA’? I am sure one could find this in any Indian grocery store because is it a staple in our households.



We carefully poured out 2 cups of the ATTA into a large pot making sure not to send any up in smoke. I then poured some more in while Ro was not looking because I did not think it would be enough. I was pretty hungry. We then added 2 tablespoons of oil to the mix and half a cup of lukewarm water. We were trying to follow directions to the T but I quickly realized that I had better just trust my gut. He had a lot to say at this point too.



We then added our chopped veggies into the put and I got physical, using my hands to knead the mixture into dough. I have not got much experience with dough so this was a slow process. The situation got a little messy and we added more water and a little more oil every now and then until we achieved a consistency that looked and smelled right. I think it was around this time that we both realized how awesome it was going to be to eat ‘LOLI’ that we actually made ourselves. But I had dough all over my hand so we could not high five to it. We forgot, but it is actually a good idea to add some salt to taste about now, but not too much. I can go without actually.



After about 15 minutes of mixing, squeezing, and folding I was finally happy with the dough. The onions, chilly, and coriander were well infused in the concoction and I was ready to roll. My camera had been acting the fool since the previous night so the pictures started to get really fucked up from here. I should have a new camera soon though. Anyways, we decided to start rolling and Ro got the TAWA (flat Indian steel pan) warmed up. No good Indian house should be without a TAWA. In fact I do not even know where mine came from but its there, and that is what being cultured is about. If you do not have one though, you could just use a large flat pan. Ro oiled the pan lightly as it began to heat. I believe the enjoyed the process a little too much.



The dough is really sticky at this point and it needs to be rolled into flat discs, about 2 or 3 millimeters thick. You do not want them as flat as chapatti though. I figured it would be a good idea to lay a sheet of plastic on the counter and then place a piece of the dough on it and then another piece of plastic over the dough before rolling. This worked extremely well and after the first LOLI that was shaped like Africa; I churned out 4 more that were really close to circles. I guess if you are a perfectionist you could use a plate as a stencil to cut perfect circles. You do not need to use any flour on the dough before or after rolling, the LOLI peels off the plastic quite easily and slow movements will lessen the risk of any breakage.



Ro was in control of the cooking so in my post production he lightly coated both sides of the LOLI with oil and let it rest on the hot TAWA. It is essential to preheat the TAWA on high heat and leave it on medium heat while cooking. This should insure that your LOLI gets evenly cooked and not burned. The LOLI does not stick to the pan either and you can easily keep it moving around so one are does not ever cook and the other remain raw. You should end up with a dark brown color and some black spots.



I have seen few seasoned cooks operate this process with as much grace as my buddy Ro did. He took about 7 minutes with each LOLI and before long our meal was ready. The first African shaped LOLI did not make it for dinner. He was consumed upon conception while we worked on the rest of the LOLI. We churned out four more and settled on a meal of 2 each. This was not going to be a very filling dinner but I will be damned if we were not smiling like two fifteen year olds at a strip club. And the best was yet to come.



LOLI is fantastic to eat on its own for breakfast, a tea time snack, or even a light dinner. But it tastes even better with condiments. I remember being in my grandmother’s house as a child when the cook would send out to the table one LOLI after another keeping our plates filled while in the center of the table lay a whole variety of pickles. We would take down this Sindhi specialty with lime pickle, mango pickle, sweet pickle, or chilly pickle. My favorite was the green chilli pickle and fortunately that is all I had in hand. I bought this jar of ‘Aeroplane Chilli Pickle’ in the building Indian shop and it is great with anything, especially LOLI.



Brother Ro prefers to have his LOLI with DAHI or yoghurt. He exuded immense pride in the preparation of his DAHI which was a mixture of neutral yoghurt, salt, pepper, and some water. Other people also enjoy LOLI with sweet DAHI (mixed with sugar). This is usually when having it for breakfast.



We thoroughly enjoyed our meal and had my camera not been acting the fool I would have taken a lot more pictures of the feast. I never knew LOLI was so easy to make but I don’t think I will be doing it very often. It did take some time to need the dough and although the experience was not all that messy, it was still quite an effort. Plus I do not want to kill the novelty I have going right now. As I mentioned before, LOLI is a great dish to have any time of the day and it keeps really well in the fridge or freezer. You could store a good 20 of them away for a dinner and break them out as needed. Apart from the suggested consumption techniques above you could just as well serve your LOLI as flat bread with any Indian dish. Sindhi’s are notorious for their funky combinations so don’t be shy. Try a LOLI with your scrambled eggs...

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