Food is about family, food is about community, food is about identity. And we nourish all those things when we eat well. —Michael Pollan
I was born in Gujarat, India, and immigrated to Canada with my immediate family when I was three. We had to adjust to life in a new country without any extended family. We did, however, have our Gujarati community to fill the void. Growing up under the watchful eye of such a close-knit community had its pros and cons. For example, news got around quickly (even without social media) via the aunty-network (i.e. network of mothers who like to gossip). Depending on the news, this was a good thing or a not-so-good thing.
Sometime when I was in my late teenage years, I remember a revelation going through the community. It wasn’t the sort of thing to excite a teenager but I do vaguely remember all the aunties getting really excited about it. A new and cheaper brand of flour was available at the local Indian grocery store. “You must try it! The purple bag!” the aunties would tell my mother, “The rotis are so much softer and lighter.” And soon enough, everyone, including my parents, started to buy this new brand that came in a purple bag.
Years later, diet related healthy issues started ravaging our community, my father among the victims. Speculations started within the community. We thought it was due to a heavier reliance on Western fast food… only, my father’s diet had always been the same as what he’d grown up eating in India. We blamed it on the overly sweet Indian sweets and our deep-fried appetizers… only, my father rarely ate those. We thought it was the ghee we used for making rotis and so my mother started making rotis without ghee. If you’ve ever eaten rotis made without any fat, then you know this isn’t a good idea…. worst rotis ever.
It would be many more years later, after watching Micheal Pollan’s “In Defense of Food”, that I would realize that all those years ago, when we all switched to using this different flour, we didn’t realize that this new flour was actually white wheat flour, bleached and enriched, and then topped up with some added wheat germ. The packaging called it atta but it certainly wasn’t the whole wheat flour that our ancestors had been using for millennia for making rotis. The very staple of our diet that had sustained us for thousands of years had been turned into junk food without us realizing it and had taken its toll on our health. White flour, if you don’t already know, as far as your body is concerned, is nothing more than sugar.
These days, when I buy wheat flour for my own family, I make certain that it’s 100% whole wheat flour, with no other ingredient added. I can attest that switching to using whole wheat flour was not an easy adjustment especially for making yeast bread. Whole wheat flour results in a more denser bread. We made the switch gradually (as it does require tweaking recipes and adjusting your taste buds), and now we are finally white flour-free. I use white whole wheat flour (not to be mistaken for white wheat flour) for making cakes, cookies, certain breads and regular brown whole wheat flour (or a combination of white whole wheat and brown whole wheat) for making rotis and other types of bread. Our diet is not perfect, but this is one milestone we have achieved in our journey and we are grateful for it and I hope my story can inspire you to make the switch if you haven’t already done so.
Easy Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls
- 420 g (or about 3 cups) white whole wheat flour (alternatively, you can use brown whole wheat flour or a combination of the two)*
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp yeast
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 cup lukewarm water, plus some an additional 1/2 cup lukewarm water
- Combine yeast and sugar in the 1 cup of lukewarm water and let it sit until a foamy mixture forms.
- In the meantime, stir salt into the flour. Add olive oil to the flour and mix using your hands to evenly distribute the oil. Add the yeast-sugar mixture to the flour and start making the dough. You will see that you need some extra water so add as required to get a smooth dough. Form a ball with the dough. Cover with a damp cloth and let sit in a warm spot for 1-2 hours, until the dough has doubled in size.
- When the dough has doubled in size, deflate it by kneading it again (you may need to use some oil on your hands to prevent the dough from sticking). Divide the dough into 12 pieces and form a ball with each. (To get consistent sized rolls, I weigh the dough and divide the weight by 12 to know exactly how much dough to use for each individual roll.)
- Place rolls on oiled sheets leaving at least 2 inches around each. Cover the sheet with a damp cloth and let rise for about an hour.
- Bake in an oven preheated to 400°F for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned.