It was my turn to pick the bread to bake this month at the Bread Baking Babes. I am the only Indian in this group of bread lovers and bakers from different countries. So I picked Matar or Chola Kulcha to give them an example Indian street food and bread. Matar or Chola Kulcha actually is a meal that is the combination of two dishes – a flatbread and a spicy salad of sorts with well-cooked white peas or a cooked curry. Matar is the Hindi word for peas and Chole/ Chola is chickpeas. Kulcha is a leavened soft and fluffy flat bread. Matar or Chola Kulcha is a much loved street food across parts of North India, especially in the by-lanes of Old Delhi.
Matar Kulcha is also sometimes called Chola Kulcha, and is almost always made with white peas. The white peas can be substituted with chickpeas. Typically, dried white peas are soaked overnight and cooked with salt until soft and falling apart. It is mashed so it breaks up but is still a little chunky. This is mixed with finely chopped raw onions, tomatoes, chopped green chillies and fresh coriander into a salsa of sorts. The salsa is then topped with a spicy coriander-minty green chutney, a sweet and sour tamarind chutney and a sprinkling of cumin powder. The Matar or salsa is eaten with Kulcha or flatbread. There are variations on the ingredients that go into the Matar. The white peas is sometimes cooked into a spicy curry that is served with the flatbread. This is a healthy, balanced and filling meal, actually.
The Kulcha is a flatbread somewhat like the Naan but a bit different. A Kulcha is typically leavened with baking powder and baking soda, while Naan is made with yeast. Naans tend to be chewier while Kulchas are soft and spongier. Naans are usually made oblong in shape while Kulchas are generally round. The shape is more of a preference than a rule. Naanas tend to be cooked in a Tandoor while Kulchas are usually cooked on the stove top, but this isn’t a hard and fast rule either.
This particular Kulcha recipe, adapted from an Indian chef Ranveer Brar, deviates from this rule. Ranveer Brar’s recipe uses a khameer or pre-ferment which gives the Kulcha a slight tang. Khameer is an Urdu word meaning yeast. There’s a story about the Kulcha became popular, thanks to the Nizams of Hyderabad. The Nizams were 18th-through-20th-century rulers of the princely South Indian state of Hyderabad. They were rich and powerful, and also famous for their cuisine.
The story goes that one Mir Qamruddin, an old courtier in Mughal court, was appointed the Deccan governor. He first went to meet his spiritual guide, the Sufi mystic Hazrat Nizamuddin Aurangabadi. Mir Qamruddin was very hungry when he got there so his spiritual guide invited him to a meal. He offered some Kulchas and Mir Qamruddin, with apologies, apparently ate seven of them! Hazrat Nizamuddin prophesised that Mir Qamruddin would eventually become king and that his descendants would rule for seven generations. I don’t know why the number seven is so important in this story.
Mir Qamruddin became the Deccan governor, Delhi was attacked and the Mugal rulers were defeated. The Nizams who were governors, took over the Deccan region to become kings of the biggest and richest kingdom in India. The Kulcha became an important dish in Nizam royal cuisine.
There are different types of Kulchas, though all are flat breads. One is this type that is soft and spongy. Then there is the Bread Kulcha which has the texture of bread. The Amritsari Kulcha is a flat bread stuffed with a spiced potato filling.
This particular Kulcha is made from a slightly looser dough than usual for flatbreads. It tends to be a bit sticky. Lightly dusting your working surface and palms with flour makes handling the dough easier. Kulchas are usually topped with Kalonji or Nigella seeds (you can use black sesame seeds also) or dried fenugreek leaves (Kasuri methi) or chopped fresh coriander leaves.
Dried white peas (they’re actually slightly yellow in colour) are typically used to make the accompanying salsa like dish or curry. They’re called Safed Matar in Hindi or Vatana along the Konkan Coast. If you cannot find this, you may use chickpeas. The dried white peas have to be soaked overnight. Then they’re cooked with a small pinch of baking or cooking soda till almost mushy. The baking soda helps the peas or chickpeas cook very soft and also breaks down oligosaccharides in beans making the less “gassy”. Always discard the water in which the peas are cooked in, if adding baking soda.
You can make the chutneys ahead and refrigerate. The white peas or chickpeas can be cooked, mashed and refrigerated a day ahead. If you are not serving the Kulcha as soon as you make it, you can cook it partially, upto the point before it is cooked in ghee or butter. When you are ready to serve the Kulcha, cook it in ghee or butter.