Puran poli thali

Puran poli / पुरणपोळी / Maharashtrian sweet lentil flatbreads

Whether it’s the Hindu festival of colours (called Holi), or a farming festival of oxen (called Bail Pola), a Maharashtrian puran poli is not to be missed. It’s traditional to make this Marathi delicacy for festivals like Holi, Diwali, Bail Pola, Ganesh Chaturthi and Gudi Padwa. I feel obliged to roll some of these sweet flatbreads stuffed with softened split Bengal gram for what my husband calls the ‘Maharashtrian flag hoisting festival’ of Gudhi Padwa. It’s much loved by my Anglo-Indian family and like any true Maharashtrian, they don’t shy away from thoroughly relishing the traditional pairing of puran poli with ‘katachi amti’ either. So it only seems fitting to help popularise this delicacy in the West here on my blog. 

What is puran poli?
It is a Maharashtrian sweet and aromatic layered flatbread filled with softened split Bengal gram (aka ‘chana dal’) infused with jaggery and scented spices. And though this dish is a bit of a paradox given that it’s traditionally eaten as part of a main course instead of dessert, it tastes rather lovely with something mildly spicy like katachi amti. But in the region of Maharashtra where my parents hail from, ‘gulavni’, a soupy concoction of jaggery melted in boiling water and finished with milk, is popular. While this remains the case to date at my ancestral home in the Ahmednagar district, the ‘Puneri’ in me appreciates the simple accompaniment of whole milk with just a trickle of melted ghee laced with a few strands of saffron, making it fit for a Maharaja. Puran-poli is a two-word dish – ‘puran’ means sweet lentil filling and ‘poli’ means flatbread in Marathi. 

The ingredients:
This delightful flatbread needs only a handful of ingredients:

  1. Chana dal aka split Bengal gram or split chickpea lentils: These husked and split black chickpea lentils are widely available. They make up the bulk of the ‘puran’ filling.
  2. Jaggery: The jaggery typically used in this dish is made from sugarcane. The type needed here is lighter in colour with a subtle flavour, not the kind that resembles treacle and imparts the taste of molasses.
  3. Whole wheat flour: Traditionally puran poli dough is prepared using only whole wheat flour but you can also add a little plain flour if you like. If you
  4. Ghee: a tiny bit of organic ghee to cook the ‘puran’ filling and to drizzle over puran poli.
  5. Ground cardamom: You can either use a readymade ground cardamom or pound the cardamom pods in pestle and mortar.
  6. Nutmeg: It’s my personal preference as it adds a lovely warm nutty aroma to the filling.
  7. Saffron: To add colour and flavour.
  8. Turmeric powder: For colour and to boost the body’s immunity.

Step by step recipe for puran poli
Preparing the dough – ‘poli’

  1. Start by preparing the dough. In a large mixing bowl, add wholewheat flour, a pinch of turmeric powder, salt and a tsp of vegetable oil then mix well. If your wholewheat flour is coarse and has traces of grain then sift the flour into the bowl rather than tipping straight in. I sometimes add some plain flour too. A 3:1 wholewheat to plain flour ratio works well for me. Mix all the ingredients together. You can also add a pinch of saffron at this stage for flavour and colour.
  2. Knead the mixture into a soft dough by adding water, a little at a time.
  3. The key to a good puran poli is a pliable, soft yet non-sticky dough. To achieve this without adding excess water, smack the dough into the bowl repeatedly until it’s perfectly soft but doesn’t stick to your fingers. Better still, if you have a stone pestle, pound then fold the dough repeatedly in the mixing bowl to make it uber smooth and pliable. Pound and fold… keep going for a good 10 minutes until your dough feels like a soft cuddle. I generally use my massive rolling pin to pound the dough; it does the job for me.
  4. Now once the dough has come together, leave it to rest covered in a tightly wrung wet cloth for 30 minutes. You can either leave at room temperature or in the fridge.
The process of making the ‘poli’ dough

Preparing the filling – ‘puran’

  1. Start by rinsing the lentils under a running tap a couple of times. Drain and keep aside.
  2. You can either boil the lentils in a saucepan or a pressure cooker.

    Boiling chana dal in a saucepan
    Add hot water that’s about three times the volume of lentils in a deep heavy-bottomed, lidded saucepan over a medium flame. Let the water come to a rolling boil. If you see a white foam rising to the top as it boils, remove it with a spoon or spatula and discard. Then turn the heat down to medium-low and place the lid. Continue boiling for 45 minutes, stirring every few minutes to ensure the water doesn’t boil over. The lentils should feel soft and mushy when pressed between your thumb and index finger.

    Or

    Boiling chana dal in a pressure cooker
    Transfer the drained lentils into a pressure cooker over a medium flame. Pour in three times as much hot water as lentils. Let the water come to a rolling boil. Remove any white foam with a spatula that floats to the surface while boiling. Fasten the lid and allow two whistles or 10-12 minutes. The lentils should feel soft and mushy when pressed between your thumb and index finger.
  3. Once the cooked lentils have cooled down a bit, strain using a sieve but don’t discard the water. Rather collect it in a bowl and set aside to cook the mandatory katachi amti to pair with the flatbreads.
  4. Now melt some ghee in a heavy-bottomed pan over a medium flame. Transfer the boiled lentils along with jaggery into the pan. Continue cooking for 10-15 minutes as the jaggery melts. Add some turmeric and just a pinch of salt to balance the sweetness. 
  5. Once the puran thickens, use a spatula test to ensure the right consistency. If the puran holds the spatula upright for more than 2 seconds, that means the desired consistency has been achieved. Add some ground cardamom and grated nutmeg. Stir then switch off the flame and move the pan to one side allowing it to cool to lukewarm.
  6. Whilst the puran mixture is still lukewarm, mash it using a potato masher for 10 minutes. Then grind the mixture in batches in a mixer-grinder or food processor for a super-fine paste. Now your puran is ready for stuffing.
Puran before after
Before and after of the ‘puran’ filling

Preparing the flatbread – ‘puran poli’

  1. Uncover the rested dough from step 4. With oiled hands, knead the dough once more to make it softer. Press using your knuckles and pound again with a rolling pin or a pestle. Bring it together and keep aside covered, ready to roll into flatbreads.
  2. Heat a tawa or flat pan over a low to medium flame.
  3. Take a lime-sized ball of dough. Also, take an equal-sized ball of puran filling and leave it ready to one side.
puran and poli dough balls
the ‘puran’ and ‘poli’ dough balls
  1. Roughly flatten the dough ball into a 5cm diameter disc using the palm of one hand and fingers of the other. 
  2. Then using all your fingers shape the disc into a little bowl of dough to hold the puran filling.
  3. Place the puran filling into the ‘bowl’ of dough. Press the filling down into the bowl and bring the excess dough together to completely encase the filling. Press the seal down and flatten the ball again, gently this time, using your palm and fingers ensuring the filling doesn’t leak out.
puranpoli flatbread
  1. Dust the flattened dough with wholewheat flour on both sides and place on a flour-dusted pastry board. 
  2. Gently roll the dough further using a rolling pin into a disc of 10-15 cm diameter and 3-5mm thickness.
Rolling and roasting the puran poli
  1. Once fully rolled, gently transfer the puran poli onto the pre-heated tawa. Turn the flame up to medium and then flip to roast the other side. Oil each side and flip again to roast as the puran poli starts puffing up. Curb the temptation to flip as it puffs up. Once fully puffed, allow the poli to deflate a little before flipping. Once both sides are well roasted and they become golden-yellow, it’s ready to transfer to a kitchen paper-lined plate or a basket. Drizzle with melted ghee and serve.
Roasting the puran poli

Serving:
While traditionally puran poli is always served alongside katachi amti or gulavni, it can be enjoyed on its own either as a snack or even a dessert. If you want to eat it as part of a main meal and time is short, consider serving it alongside hot milk, drizzled with ghee and flavoured with ground cardamom and saffron which shouldn’t take long to put together.

I love puran poli with the whole shebang – a diligently presented Maharashtrian festive thali of puran poli will also have katachi amti served with steamed rice, flavoured milk, onion or potato pakoras (fritters), deep-fried papads and kurdai (a fermented wheat fryum or crisp). 

Storage:
The puran (lentil and jaggery filling), once cooked and ground to a fine paste, keeps well for upto a week in the fridge, giving you the luxury of time to feed your sudden cravings. Store it in an airtight container.

The puran poli flatbreads themselves can be kept for upto 4 days if refrigerated well. Always store them in an airtight box or bag lined with paper towels or kitchen paper.

Puran poli / पुरणपोळी / Maharashtrian sweet lentil flatbreads

Recipe by RieethaaCourse: Main, Dessert, SnackCuisine: Maharashtrian, IndianDifficulty: Medium
Servings

7

flatbreads
Prep time

30

minutes
Cooking time

40

minutes
Total time

1

hour 

10

minutes

A Maharashtrian sweet and aromatic layered flatbread filled with softened split Bengal gram (aka ‘chana dal’) infused with jaggery and scented spices, puran poli is a must on certain festive occassions. Here’s the recipe for this sweet delicacy.

Ingredients

  • For the ‘poli’ dough:
  • 135g (1 cup) wholewheat flour

  • 45g (⅓ cup) plain flour or wholewheat flour

  • ¼ tsp turmeric powder

  • ¼ tsp salt

  • 1 tsp sunflower oil

  • 125ml (½ cup) water (or as needed)

  • Sunflower oil for hands whilst kneading the dough and greasing the flatbreads

  • Wholewheat flour for dusting

  • A pinch of saffron

  • For the ‘puran’ filling:
  • 220g (1 cup) split Bengal gram or split chana dal

  • 500ml (a little over 2 cups) hot water

  • 150g (1 cup) jaggery (grated)

  • 2 tbsp ghee

  • ¼ tsp turmeric powder

  • ¼ tsp salt

  • ½ tsp cardamom powder

  • ¼ tsp nutmeg (grated)

Directions

  • For the dough (poli):
  • In a large mixing bowl, add the wholewheat and plain flours, turmeric powder, saffron, a tsp sunflower oil and salt. Mix, then knead into a soft dough by adding the water a little at a time.
  • Smack the dough into the bowl repeatedly until it’s perfectly soft but doesn’t stick to your fingers. Also, using a stone pestle or rolling pin, pound then fold the dough repeatedly in the mixing bowl to make it smooth and pliable.
  • Keep aside covered with a tightly wrung damp cloth for 30 minutes.
  • For the filling (puran):
  • Rinse the chana dal lentils a couple of times. Then drain and keep aside.
  • Boil the lentils in a saucepan or a pressure cooker.
    Cooking lentils in a saucepan
    Bring the hot water to a rolling boil in a deep-lidded saucepan over a medium flame. Tip in the rinsed lentils. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cook covered for 45 minutes stirring occasionally to ensure the water doesn’t boil over. Turn off the flame and keep aside.
    OR
    Cooking lentils in a pressure cooker
    Pour the hot water and transfer the drained lentils into a pressure cooker over a medium flame. Fasten the pressure cooker lid once the water comes to a rolling boil. Allow 2 whistles or 10-12 minutes. Switch off the flame and put the pressure cooker aside to cool.
  • Once the lentils become sufficiently mushy and soft, strain and collect the water in a bowl to make katachi amti with later.
  • Melt the ghee in a heavy-bottomed pan over a medium flame. Tip in the boiled lentils and jaggery.
  • Add the turmeric and salt. Continue cooking until the spatula test passes – the spatula should stay upright for at least 2 seconds when placed in the lentil-jaggery mixture in the pan.
  • Stir in the ground cardamom and grated nutmeg. Turn off the flame and allow the hot mixture to cool down to lukewarm.
  • Mash the puran (lentil-jaggery mixture) with a potato masher for 10 minutes, then grind in batches in a food processor or blender to a super-fine paste.
  • Rolling the puran poli flatbread:
  • Apply the oil to your hands and knead the rested dough once again. Pound again with a rolling pin and keep aside covered. 
  • Heat a tawa or flat pan over a low to medium flame.
  • Take a lime-sized ball of dough and another, the same size, of puran filling and keep aside.
  • Roughly flatten the dough ball into a 5cm diameter disc using fingers. Then shape the disc into a little bowl to hold the puran filling
  • Press the filling down into the ‘bowl’ and bring the excess dough together to completely encase the filling. Press the seal down and flatten the ball again.
  • Dust both sides of the flattened dough with flour and gently roll into a 10-15 cm diameter disc using a rolling pin.
  • Once fully rolled, gently transfer the puran poli flatbread onto the pre-heated tawa. Smear each side with oil and flip to roast evenly. When the puran poli puffs and becomes golden yellow, transfer to a kitchen paper-lined basket or plate. Drizzle melted ghee, fold and keep covered.
  • Repeat steps 3 through 7 in this section until the dough is finished.

Notes

  • 1. Adding plain flour is entirely optional. It just helps to make the dough easier to roll and stuff. It also helps the poli retain its yellow tinge but if you’re health-conscious then feel free to stick with 100% wholewheat flour. 
  • 2. Sift the wholewheat flour if it’s not finely milled.
  • 3. While split Bengal gram or chana dal is the preferred choice for making puran, you can equally use split chickpea lentil. The cooking time may vary.
  • 4. An aged chana dal will take longer to cook.
  • 5. The key to a soft puran poli is in the consistency of the dough. While the dough is not expected to be overly soft, it should be soft enough to enable rolling into flatbreads without cracking and allowing the filling to seep out. The flatbreads should always be soft to touch and bite into. To enable this, spend extra time pounding the dough either using a heavy rolling pin or a stone pestle. Then knead again using knuckles after resting for 30 minutes.
  • 6. Grind the puran mixture whilst it’s lukewarm.
  • 7. If you have a fine sieve or a masher, you can avoid the hassle of grinding the puran in a food processor again, by thoroughly mashing the mixture or by passing it through a sieve.
  • 8. The spatula test is the key to achieving the right consistency for the puran mixture. So don’t skip it. If it ends up a bit too dry to mash or grind, then reheat with added ghee and 3-4 tablespoons of hot water. 
  • 9. If the filling does seep out of the dough whilst rolling the poli simply dab a bit of flour over the ‘leak’ and continue rolling.
  • 10. If you’re a beginner with flatbreads, it’s fine to roll the flatbreads a tad thick and don’t worry if they are not perfectly round. You can have any shape you like as long as they’re rolled evenly!
  • 11. There’s a good chance you’ll have surplus puran filling left after rolling the poli flatbreads. The puran can be stashed away in the fridge to roll a few more flatbreads if needed later.

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