April 13, 2012

Chapati (Roti) - Indian Flat bread

Some days are just meant for an old relaxing meal and a chilled out evening. Yet, this afternoon I got it into my head that I wanted to make some fresh chapati (roti). Now for the uninformed, please note, that this is in no way shape or form a relaxing meal or a chilled out evening. Although my plans for the evening included laying in bed with my Nook book ... here I was jumping head first towards something that I have not tried doing in ... oh maybe 20 years or so!! Yup ... I'm that old and I'm that lazy!! In the past 20 years I have never once had the urge to make fresh chapatis at home. Unless someone else has lovingly made the dough, and the chapatis, I have not eaten chapatis during this time as well. Some might think that's a bit messed up for an Indian, and I'm okay with that ... :)

Chapati (Hindi: चपाती) is an unleavened flat bread (also known as Roti) eaten at practically every meal in India. It is the most common form of wheat consumption in the Subcontinent. The dough is firm and contains only whole wheat flour and water. Occasionally, in few households, salt and/or oil may be mixed into the dough. Small portions of this firm dough are rolled out using a rolling pin and the chapati is then cooked on a flat pre-heated and dry skillet known as a Tava (Hindi: तवा). In some regions, it may be partly cooked on the skillet and then put directly on a high flame, which makes it blow up super quick. This air-filled bread, often called Phulka (Hindi: फुल्का) cooks quickly, as the hot air on the inside promotes rapid cooking.  Some people like to butter their chapatis, but I have honestly always preferred it plain. Sometimes, a ball of dough may be stuffed with spiced mixtures (potatoes, onions, cauliflower, cheese, and even cinnamon sugar). This stuffed ball of dough is then carefully rolled out and cooked with ample amounts of butter to make Parathas (Hindi: परांठा). 

  1. 1 cup whole wheat flour, and more for dusting the rolling pin and cutting board. 
  2. Tap water, as needed
  3. A flat, non-stick skillet, or a seasoned cast iron pan.
To make the dough, measure out the flour into a large mixing bowl and using your hands, slowly add water, a few splashes at a time, and knead it into the flour. I used a KitchenAid Stand Mixer with the dough hook attachment as I'm not one to get my hands dirty ;-)

I started out by adding just a splash of water to the flour and added more water as needed until the flour was soaked well and balled up together.  

Here's how I remember my mom checking the dough for the right consistency - it should not stick to your hand when you try to lift it out of the bowl, but should feel moist, and not dry, to touch. This dough can be stored refrigerated for at least 3-4 day. According to my sister-in-law, it may darken in color over this time, but its still good. 

To make chapatis, I used my large rectangular wooden cutting board, as I don't have a traditional Chakla (Hindi: चकला) - which is a round flat-topped utensil, often made of marble. The weight of the marble makes it stable and the cool temperature of the marble helps the chapati move easily while rolling, without sticking. Take a small ball of dough, roll it in some dry flour, dust the rolling surface with more flour and roll away. You may need to turn the ball a couple of times, and dust if needed to prevent sticking.  

Unlike pastry, chapatis require a rather light touch with slight pressure. In fact, the most experienced cooks make it so gracefully that the dough moves around in a circle while being rolled. Mine, with 20 years of no practice came out halfway decent. Make sure while rolling that the thickness is as even as possible. Traditionally, the dough is rolled out to about ~2 mm thickness, or even thinner of you are that talented.  

Preheat a flat, dry skillet on medium high heat. Carefully transfer the rolled out chapati and slap it onto the skillet. Slapping it on ensures that there are no trapped air bubbles between the dough and the skillet. The rule of thumb, according to my mom, is that you should only turn a chapati 3 times during the cooking process.  Once it is placed on the skillet, wait until the top surface begins to look dry and then turn it over. Once turned over, and the surface begins to blow up, ball up a clean, dry dish rag and used to press down gently on the chapati as it cooks, to help it balloon up with steam. This cooks the underside, then turn it over and do the same on the other side ... and voila ...  

After all these years of living in the United States, I love the smell of fresh baked bread and cakes and vanilla extract but I've got to say ... my house smells absolutely heavenly tonight. There is no greater aroma than one that reminds you of carefree summer days and Mommy's cooking!! I promised myself tonight I will never be lazy about making Chapatis again!! I was an idiot all these years!! I'm not winning any prizes for rolling out the perfect circles just yet ... but they were home made and they were fresh ... Chapatis!! Aaah!!

A basket of Chapatis
Note: If you want to serve a basket of Chapatis with a meal, its best to butter each one lightly on one side, and wrap them as they come off the skillet. A clean dish towel works well because its nice and thick and holds the warmth better than a cotton napkin. Keeping the chapatis wrapped during cooking and during dinner helps keep them warm and also prevents them from drying out halfway through the meal.  

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