‘I’m a Professional Chef, and This Is the *One* Type of Bread-Making Tool I Cannot Live Without’

Photo: Stocksy/Darren Muir
Crispy, flaky, and perfect for dousing with curry, parathas are one of Chef Heena Patel’s best-selling dishes served at Besharam, her Indian-inspired restaurant in San Francisco, California. Before service begins, Patel and her staff start the day by hand-rolling hundreds of these savory flatbreads using her most prized bread-making tool, the belan, which translates to a rolling pin.

Unlike any other bread-making tool, this special kitchen instrument has a unique shape and size that allows Patel to achieve the perfect form and thickness for her bread. To learn more about the belan—aka the one and *only* rolling pin you’ll ever catch her using—we spoke with Patel to learn why everyone should have one in their home. And lucky us: She also shared her delicious (and super simple) recipe for making Indian flatbread, aka paratha, from scratch.

Experts In This Article
  • Heena Patel, Heena Patel is the chef and co-owner of Besharam, a regional Gujarati restaurant in San Francisco’s Dogpatch district.

Why Chef Patel can’t live without her belan for baking bread, particularly paratha

When Patel first moved to the United States from India in ‘92, opening a restaurant was something she could only dream about. Patel’s goal was similar to many other immigrants starting in a new country: Find a job to support the family. After many years as the successful business owner of a liquor and flower shop in the Bay Area, Patel had the opportunity to open her Gujarati-inspired restaurant featuring an all-vegetarian menu featuring a variety of delicious hand-rolled Indian breads.

“My culinary school was basically cooking alongside my grandmother, mom, older sister, and aunts, and observing and shadowing them," says Patel. "Even as a child, I remember how they used the belan, and this simple tool was so powerful. I was amazed at how well they executed this one rolling technique, and I wanted to learn that. I was like, how do you do that, and no one would tell me. Instead, they would say, ‘you’ll learn from experience.’”

Nowadays, one of the best selling dishes on the menu at Besharam is the paratha, which Patel hand-rolls using her all-time favorite kitchen tool: the belan, of course. “I got my belan from my mother-in-law,” she says. However, these days you can find them in just about any Indian grocery store or even on Amazon, like this set:

How to pick the right bread rolling pin for you

When picking which belan to use at home, some of the most important factors Patel takes into consideration are the material, shape, and size. “The material is always wooden; however, the shape and the size depend on your hands and what fits best for you,” she says.

According to Patel, you want to make sure that your rolling pin feels sturdy and comfortable in your grip—not entirely dissimilar from a chef's knife, which should ideally feel like an extension of your hand. “This level of comfort is absolutely imperative because our bread is all rolled out by hand, and every single dough has a different amount of softness and stiffness. We make hundreds. So you’re sitting there for a couple of hours making them, you really want to make sure you don't get tired or achy,” Patel explains. Very fair point.

How to make the perfect Indian flatbread, according to Patel

After preparing the paratha dough, Patel gives it ample time to rest. Once ready, she then rolls it out using her belan. “Make sure to roll it out evenly, so it’s neither too thin nor too thick on any of the sides. That’s the only way it’ll puff up on a slow flame, so make sure you have patience and eat it when it’s nice and hot,” Patel says.

Aside from parathas, Patel uses her belan to create other dishes on the menu, including samosas, roti, and naan. One of her personal favorites is the naan, a pillowy-soft Indian flatbread. “I love my bread. So, I decided to do my version of garlic bread. We roll out a yeast-leavened, soft bread, and we fill it with mozzarella, chili, and cilantro, roll it out, and cook it on the flat griddle,” she says. Which sounds absolutely drool-worthy, IMO.

Indian flatbread (paratha) recipe

bread-making tool
Photo: Stocksy/Pietro Karras

Yields 15 flatbreads

8 cups whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp salt (or to taste)
1 Tbsp whole cumin
5 Tbsp canola oil
4 1/2 cups water (or as needed)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup canola oil, for grilling

1. In a large mixing bowl, add the whole wheat flour, salt, and cumin. Then, mix in the oil until all of the ingredients are incorporated.

2. Slowly add the water, and combine until a soft, smooth dough forms.

3. Form the dough into a ball (60 grams each). Then, roll it into a disk using a belan or rolling pin.

4. Brush the dough with oil, sprinkle with all-purpose flour, and fold in half. Repeat this step.

5. Fold the dough to form a triangle and roll with the rolling pin until thin.

6. On a skillet over medium heat, grill the bread until small bubbles appear. Flip the bread, and add more oil.

7. Cook both sides until golden brown, applying a little pressure using a spatula. Serve hot.

For another delicious, Indian-inspired restaurant check out this street corn salad recipe: 

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