Five hours before a Sri Lankan-inspired dinner I promised to cook for my friends I walked into an Indian grocery store to buy ingredients for the said dinner.
Me: I can’t find frozen coconut anywhere…
Shop assistant: I am afraid we ran out of it, madam…
Me (in the best traditions of Bollywood movies, almost falling to my knees and screaming at the skies): Noooooooooooooooooooo!
Shop assistant (clearly scared by crazy Russian lady): Ok-ok, madam, let me check in the back!
Shop assistant (returning with a pack of coconut!): Here you are, madam!
Me (pleasantly surprised by how effective dramatic screaming can be and therefore overly confident): I need two of those.
Shop assistant goes away and comes back with one more pack of frozen coconut! Hell yea!
Sri Lankan Pol Roti (Coconut Flatbread)
The reason I was so determined to get frozen coconut is because I planned to cook pol roti – Sri Lankan coconut flatbread. In Sri Lanka, nobody goes around hunting for frozen coconut because you have abundance of fresh coconuts in supermarkets or, in some cases, in your own backyard. One does have to break it and scrape it out with his own hands, though.
Once scraped, the coconut flesh is mixed with flour, salt, and water until dough forms. Balls of dough are flattened by hand and fried on a pan. Sri Lankans love to have their roti with lunu miris – spicy onion and chili paste.
Like Sri Lankans, I like my roti hot off the pan with a kick of spices from curries. Pol roti with lentil curry and pol sambol (more scraped coconut mixed with chili powder and lime juice) is my dream breakfast and usually the first thing I eat upon arrival to the island. Unlike Sri Lankans, I sometimes eat my roti sweet with honey or kithul treacle poured over it.
Whether you like it sweet or savory, roti deserves to become a staple in your kitchen. First, roti is the easiest bread to make: no yeast, no proofing, no resting, in other words: no way to screw it up.
Second, you can freeze it and, when two weeks later uninvited friends show up at the doorstep, simply take out a couple and grill them in 2 minutes. Then say: “Hey, no big deal, I just made some Sri Lankan coconut bread!”
Third, apart from breakfast roti can be served at dinner with curries or eaten as a snack when the fridge is completely empty and you suddenly remember there’s a whole bunch in the freezer because during the last cooking session you accidentally used 6 cups of flour instead of 2 (true story).
Now off you go to the kitchen and in 15 minutes you can have a Sri Lankan breakfast of your own!
Sri Lankan Pol Roti (Coconut Flatbread)
- 2 cups white flour
- 1 cup grated coconut fresh or frozen
- ¾ cup water
- 1 pinch of salt
- If you are using frozen coconut, keep it in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight to thaw.
- Sift flour into a bowl. Add grated coconut, salt and mix together.
Add water gradually and mix either with your hands or with an electric mixer (using kneading attachments) for a few minutes until all ingredients are combined.
Place the dough on the table dusted with flour and keep kneading with your hands for another 3-4 minutes.
Take a little bit of dough at a time, roll it into a ball, then flatten the ball into a round 4-5 inches in diameter (10-12 cm).
- Heat up a pan over medium heat and grease it with butter.
- Place a roti on the hot pan and grill for 1-2 minutes or until you see that it has golden brown spots on the bottom. Flip it and grill on the other side for another 1 minute.
Place the remaining uncooked roti between parchment paper and keep them in the freezer for up to 3-4 weeks.
You can find frozen coconut in Indian grocery stores. Some supermarket chains have them too. It’s not desiccated coconut, but fresh grated coconut flesh, frozen.
You can use wheat flour or rice flour instead of white flour.
Add chopped up onion and chili to the dough if you want your roti to be spicy.
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AUTHOR: YULIA DYUKOVA
Yulia is a Russian food and travel blogger who found home first in Sri Lanka for 3 years, then in Brazil for a year and is currently based in Austin, Texas. She is the kind of person who starts a research of the new country by googling “what to eat in…” instead of “what to visit in…” Yulia is a self-proclaimed “food nerd” who will spend hours reading on the origins of pecan pie before trying it and who doesn’t consider waiting in line of 50 people to get a cronut a waste of time. She finds it hard to keep her delicious findings to herself and that is the reason why this blog exists.