There’s a certain art to eating with the hands. No dummy, I’m not talking about the ‘grab a dinosaur drumstick with your dirty paw’ type of caveman eating! This is not even the traditional Indian style eating, deep-rooted with etiquette (though NPR and NY Times have written great articles on just that).
What I’m talking about is the simple human experience of enjoying food, using only your fingers as the tools.
Your fingers are the finest cooking instruments you possess. Better than your favorite chef’s knife, the KitchenAid mixer, and any other amazing contraption you own. So why shouldn’t they be your go-to eating utensil too? Of course, this isn’t for your filet mignon, but there are many dishes that just beg to be touched, seasoned, dipped in sauces, and formed into the perfect bite.
One of my all-time favorite “finger foods” is the Singaporean roti prata, one of the 50 most delicious foods in the world, according to CNN. My life literally changed the first time I had this, on a summer trip to Singapore (tip: here are 23 places to eat roti prata in Singapore). A gigantic flavor explosion in an unassuming little bowl of curry, served with the most amazing fluffy, buttery, flaky, hand-crafted roti. The roti comes plain, fried with egg, cheese, onion, mushroom, or any number of tasty ingredients. Any way you have it, it is simply divine. Years later, I’m still fantasizing about that meal.
I spent many summers travelling across Asia under the guise of visiting family and friends, but really to enjoy all the incredible food everywhere (thanks mom!). Feeling nostalgic for the carefree life of a student, we whipped up a batch of scallion roti to bring us back to the days of idyllic summer vacations.
We served the delicious scallion roti with a savory, spicy, fragrant and coconut-flavored Malaysian curry. The rich flaky pastry is a perfect vessel for scooping up the fragrant curry.
A few parting thoughts before you get nice and dirty:
#1 – Wash your hands and nails before eating, because gross.
#2 – Have plenty of napkins on hand.
#3 – Use your fingers, and not the whole claw, so you look like a connoisseur and not a pirate.
Cook & Prep Time: 6 hours (5 hours for dough to rest) | Makes 10 roti
1 tsp of salt
3 cups of all-purpose flour
6 tbsp melted unsalted butter
10 tbsp of room temperature butter for brushing
Flaky sea salt
3/4 cups of water
2 large bunches of scallions
Salt and pepper
1.5 tsp of sesame oil
1 tbsp of butter
Whisk salt and 3 cups of flour until well-combined. Drizzle in melted butter and mix well with a fork. Gradually mix in 3/4 cups of water. Once dough comes together put into KitchenAid mixer and knead on low speed with a dough hook until the dough is shiny and soft, around 10 to 15 minutes. Wrap in plastic and set aside in a warm spot for at least 5 hours. It’s best to put the dough together in the morning and let it sit throughout the day.
Divide the dough into 10 golf ball size pieces and roll each into a ball with the palm of your hands. Cover in plastic wrap and let it sit for another 30 minutes. The longer your dough has to rest the more elasticity it gains, and the chewier the dough.
While you wait for the dough to rest, chop up the scallions and heat a medium skillet. Add butter and sesame oil to skillet and saute scallions until silky and lightly browned. Set aside.Roll the dough into thin rounds. Brush with a generous amount of butter and then spread a generous amount of scallion over the surface. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Roll the dough into a long log, then roll the log into a coil.
Repeat until all dough has been rolled and coiled. Then roll out each coil into a flat 8 – 10 inch circle, about 1/8 inch. Stack between pieces of parchment paper. Heat skillet on medium high heat and brush with butter. Pan fry each each roti for about 2 minutes on each side. Set aside and stack as you go.
You can freeze the 8 – 10 inch rounds and cook from frozen, adding 1 – 2 minutes of cooking time.
How to eat: Graze the fresh pastry with your fingertips, feeling the steaming pockets of buttery steam puff from air pockets. Smell the decadent, savory, distinct scallion scent. Tear off a piece of crispy roti, and dip it gently into a warm bowl of spicy, fragrant curry. The flaky, soft inside grips the curry with its nooks and crannies, soaking up the delicious liquid with zeal. Feel the saliva pool in your mouth as you prepare to take your first tantalizing bite. It’s everything you imagined it would be, and somehow more. Each succulent nibble makes you want to take another, until a whole pile of roti disappears in what seems like minutes. That, my friends, is eating with your hands.
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