If you ever talk to anyone who’s been to Sri Lanka… and especially if you talk to someone from Sri Lanka, just mention Vegetable Roti and you’ll see their face light up. It’s practically impossible not to have tried them, and it’s even less likely to not love them! They are made and enjoyed pretty much everywhere in Sri Lanka, from North to South and East to West, coast to countryside to hill country. It’s also one of those classics, that despite their popularity, you just almost never find outside of the homeland. Unless you make them yourself… or have someone make them!
Most of the few, good Sri Lankan and South Indian restaurants that I’ve found in Europe and North America don’t have stuffed roti quite like the original. One exception is in the delicious and awesome Tamil and Sri Lankan neighborhood in Paris, near the La Chapelle metro stop. That’s actually probably where I first had them, and got to try Sri Lankan food for the first time, many years ago.
Since it’s so hard to find Vegetable Roti outside of Sri Lanka, and I (unfortunately) can’t just teleport myself to the island paradise whenever I want to, I was determined to make a convincing, authentic recipe. And when making my Sri Lanka vegan cookbook (with recipes inspired by the 10 weeks I spent exploring the island) there was no question about it. I knew I had to include a Veg Roti recipe! After watching roti being made at least 50 different times by street vendors and in restaurant kitchens, taking lots of notes, studying the technique, making my own recipe wasn’t that difficult.
To be honest, making roti dough takes some practice and experimentation. It’s important to let it sit for at least an hour in a moderately warm place. And I always start with less water and very gradually add more. Learning how to get just the right texture and springiness for the dough is like with any bread-making. I refined this recipe over several weeks, had it tested by a dozen friends before publishing it in the cookbook, and continue to use it whenever I want to make vegetable roti: at home, for dinner parties, cooking classes, as a picnic snack, etc.
Vegetable Roti are Sri Lankan “Short Eats”
What’s a Short Eat? Simply put, snacks and appetizers and street food. There is a rich culture in the Sri Lankan tradition of grabbing a few snacks from the street vendors, hole-in-the-wall snack shops, neighborhood take-out bakery, and mobile bakery tuk-tuks. In addition to the classic roti, Short Eats also include all the many fried rolls, vada, baked snacks, bread and much more.
Short Eats are typically enjoyed between meals or as a small meal – on the way to work, on the bus, on the train, at the office, wherever and kind of whenever. They’re everywhere and make a quick breakfast. Or small lunch. Or a mini-dinner, before – or even in place of – a big dinner. The bakery tuk-tuks drive around in the morning and evening – often with their trademark ice cream truck melodies playing funny variations of Für Elise. Yes, really. It’s awesome, and for the rest of your life you’ll start drooling when you hear Beethoven.
stuffed with potatoes, carrots & leeks
recipe from The Lotus and the Artichoke – SRI LANKA
makes 4 to 6 / time 45 min +
- 1 1/2 cups (200 g) flour (all-purpose / type 550)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) water
- 2 Tbs vegetable oil
- Combine flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add water and 1 Tbs oil. Mix with fork and knead with hands until smooth and elastic, 3–5 min. If batter sticks to hands, knead in more flour. If too dry, add slightly more water.
- Add another 1 Tbs oil and knead another 5 min.
- Separate into 4 to 6 pieces. Knead and form into balls. Lightly coat balls with oil and place on plate, cover with plastic wrap. Allow to sit in a warm (not hot) place for 1 hour.
- 2/3 cup (80 g) leeks or spring onions or 1 medium onion finely chopped
- 1 medium (80 g) carrot peeled, grated or finely chopped
- 1 large (140 g) potato peeled, grated or finely chopped
- 1 Tbs vegetable oil
- 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
- 1/2 tsp coriander ground
- 1/2 tsp black pepper ground
- 1/2 tsp chili powder or paprika ground
- 5–6 curry leaves and/or 1/2 tsp curry powder
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 3–4 Tbs water (more as needed)
- Heat oil in a large pot or pan on medium heat. Add mustard seeds. When they start to pop (20–30 sec), add ground coriander, black pepper, chili powder (or paprika), and curry leaves and/or curry powder.
- Add leeks (or onions), grated carrot and potato, turmeric, salt. Cook partially covered, gradually adding water, stirring and mashing regularly, until vegetables are soft, 7–10 min. Remove from heat.
- Uncover dough. Briefly knead a ball. On a greased surface, press flat and roll out or continually flip and stretch to form a long, wide strip. Wrapper should be almost 3 times as long as it is wide and about 1/8 in (3 mm) thick. Knead some oil into each dough ball if too firm and not stretching easily.
- Spoon about 3 Tbs filling onto one end. Fold over repeatedly in triangles until sealed. Transfer to lightly greased plate and continue for others.
- Heat a large, heavy frying pan on medium high heat. Place filled triangles on pan and press down lightly. Fry on both sides, until brown spots appear, 3–5 min each side. Arrange standing up on edges, pressing down lightly and leaning together to brown edges, 2–3 min each end.
- Continue for all rotis. Serve with chili sauce, chutney, or eat plain.