When British Indian chef Romy Gill travelled through Kashmir, the northernmost region in India, collecting recipes for her latest cookbook “On the Himalayan Trail,” she delighted in a flatbread called girda (also called kander). A fermented bread traditionally cooked in a clay tandoor oven, it also bakes up beautifully right on the cordierite baking stone in an Ooni oven (or in a cast-iron pan).
Romy, a series regular on “Ready, Steady, Cook” and BBC Radio 4’s “The Food Programme,” was served girda at Chai Jaai, a beautiful tea room in Sringar, alongside a cup of noon chai — a wonderfully pink and salty drink made with gunpowder tea, milk, salt and baking powder. Because these breads pair so well with tea and local breakfast specialities like harissa, a spicy and saucy mutton dish, “most of the breads [in the Kashmir region] are made in the tandoor before dawn so people can enjoy them in the morning,” Romy says.
Made with fast-acting yeast and left to ferment for only an hour, this bread comes together quickly, meaning you can have it before noon even if you sleep in. No need to wake before dawn like a Kashmiri baker.
The dough is covered in melted ghee (butter that has been clarified, meaning simmered and strained to remove all the water). If you can’t find ghee in your local supermarket, you can make your own at home using this guide, or you can use regular butter — but you’ll sacrifice the wonderfully nutty flavour and high smoke point that comes with clarified butter.
Bio: Romy Gill is a British Indian chef, food writer, author and broadcaster. In 2016, she was awarded an MBE in the Queen's 90th birthday honours list. Author of “ZAIKA: Vegan Recipes from India” (featured in The Observer), she regularly appears on TV and contributes to national and international publications, including The New York Times.
1.5 hours (30 minutes active, 1 hour passive)
250 grams all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
5 grams caster or granulated sugar
3 grams salt
6 grams fast-acting dried yeast
175-200 millilitres lukewarm water, plus extra as needed
10 grams melted ghee
6 grams white poppy seeds
In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt and yeast, and mix them together. Gently add the lukewarm water and combine to create a soft ball of dough. Knead for 8–10 minutes.
Apply the melted ghee to the dough and turn it to coat. Then, cover the dough and leave it to prove at room temperature for 1 hour.
If cooking with a conventional oven, preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/gas mark 7) and place a cast-iron skillet in the oven to heat up.
If cooking in an Ooni, fire up your oven, aiming for 220° on the baking stone inside. Use an infrared thermometer to quickly and accurately check the temperature of the stone.
Knock back and knead the risen dough for a minute or two, then divide it into 4-5 equal-sized balls.
Lightly dust the dough balls with flour. With wet hands, stretch each ball with your palm to about 3mm thick and 5cm in diameter. Gently press a pattern into the surface of the discs with your fingertips, then sprinkle them with poppy seeds. If poppy seeds aren’t sticking, apply a little bit more ghee and try again.
If cooking in a conventional oven with a cast-iron pan, place the first bread on the hot pan and cook in the oven for 1-2 minutes on each side. Repeat until all the flatbreads are cooked.
If cooking in an Ooni oven, slide the shaped dough onto a lightly floured peel and launch directly onto the stone. Cook for 1-2 minutes, turning often to ensure that the flatbread gets cooked evenly. The top will brown from the flame, so you don’t need to flip the dough over. Repeat until all the flatbreads are cooked.