Roti/Chapatti

Good morning everyone,

Today I’m going to share how to make one of the essential flatbreads of northern Indian cooking.  Chapattis.  Then we’re going to learn to flavour them (if you so desire).  Chapattis are a staple in Punjab.  In our family and in many Panjabi families, people are fine with eating chapatti, some dhal and subzi (vegetables) for every single meal.  It’s just what you eat.  And, done right, chapatti are so tasty and amazing and the perfect little conveyance for all that flavour in the dal and vegetables.

Traditionally, chappatis and naans are made in a tandoor oven.  However, not everyone has a tandoor and, especially in the west (and most especially in Northern Canada) finding or building your own trandoor is going to be a challenge.  Though if you really want to give building your tandoor oven a try, here’s a video made especially for you:  Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday – Build Your Own Tandoor Oven.  We haven’t tried it but it produced some great results on the show.  A traditional tandoor oven can be built with the instructions here:  How to Build a Traditional Tandoor Oven or, if you like, you can go with a modern, commercial, restaurant quality (and size) variety, like the ones here:  Tandoors by Ron Levy .  I’m not making any representations or warranties on any of the above.  If you’re really thinking about a tandoor, I recommend you do a lot of research into local building and bylaw requirements, safety standards and product quality.

A traditional tandoor or even a modern tandoor is not required (though they are fun and they add a great, dry smoky quality to the breads.  We’ve made chappatis and naans with the tools found in a typical western kitchen, in a typical Panjabi kitchen and in our own, mixed western/Panjabi/Far Eastern kitchen.  The instructions that follow will try to give you a method using only a typical western kitchen along with the instructions for our own, mixed kitchen which really only required a few, inexpensive special items.  We get great results with very limited tools so, really you should be able to as well.

My friends from India have made it clear to me (sometimes jokingly and sometimes very seriously) that the way a woman prepares chapatti and naan (among other dishes) is very important.  A “good” woman, and therefore a good potential wife, will make perfectly round chapatti with the proper mix of crisp and chewy.  Hogwash, I say.  The way any person makes a chapatti says nothing more about her (or him) than her experience making chapatti and perhaps, the care she wishes to take with making them.

Both chapattis and naan can be served dry (without oils or butters), garlic flavoured, my own special roasted garlic flavoured variety, fenugreek flavoured, buttered or any other flavouring you want.  Experiment with what you like and don’t ever be afraid to try new things.

Chapatti are also called roti.  They are the same thing.  We call them roti around the house just because that is what my friends call it.  At our home in India, we call them chapatti because that is what the chief cook (mom) calls them.  The terms are completely interchangeable.

Chapattis are unleavened (no yeast or rising agents) and naan are their leavened equivalent.  Naans take more time but they are soft, chewy and will absorb the awesome flavours of any sauce you might dip them in and we’re going to be talking about a lot of awesome sauces in this blog.

For the instructions that follow, we’ll assume you have tongs (I use my hands, don’t do that if you’re just starting out though – it’s a good way to get burned), a rolling pin, a flat pan and a nice flat surface to work on.  If you want to make the light, puffed chappatis and you want to make them often enough, invest in a tava and an over the burner rack (pictured below).  My pan and rack were both purchased at an East Indian store in Halifax, Nova Scotia while I was visiting with family and friends.  You can find these in most East Indian markets readily.  We’ll also be working in my mixed kitchen, on a flat glass topped stove (though I prefer gas stoves, they are cost prohibitive where I live) and a stainless steel oven.

Chapatti
 
You have to start with a good wheat flour and a good dough.  We use an atta whole wheat flour made from durum wheat which happens to be available in our local stores.  It’s milled to be grainier than typical flours that are used for breads or pastries.  If you cannot find atta flour, substitute whole wheat.  We make a large batch of this dough every three days or so and keep it in the refridgerator, ready to make chappati for each meal.  If you are not making chappati for each meal or daily, you might want to start with a smaller batch.  The instructions that follow will make roughly 6 to 7 chappatis.  The ratio is a little more than 3:1 flour to water.
Ingredients
3 cups of atta flour
1 1/4 cup of water, more or less, depending on the brand of atta flour
   flavouring (if desired):
   – butter for butter roti
   – a cup of fresh fenugreek, finely chopped or 1 cup of dried fenugreek, crushed into small pieces
   – a clove of finely chopped garlic or two cloves of crushed roasted garlic
   – 1/4 cup finely chopped onion (any variety – we like scallion)
   – flax seed oil, olive oil, canola oil or any other flavourful oil you wish
 

Method

 
If you are using the fenugreek (or any other fresh or dried herb), add that to the flour in a bowl.  If you are using the garlic, onion or butter or oil, set it aside for now.  Now here comes the fun.  Add about 3/4 of the water and mix with your hands until you achieve a solid but springy dough that holds together in a ball, adding more water gradually as needed.  What you’re aiming for here is a dough that can stretch without tearing.  If it tears, you need more water.  If it is sticky, you need more flour.  Drop the dough out onto a very lightly floured surface and start kneading,  Kneading is important to achieving that distinctive chew that you find in a chappati.  I knead my dough for about 5 to 6 minutes until the dough becomes very stretchy.  The kneading is hard on my lupus damaged wrist but lupus be damned!  If you can’t knead the dough (severe arthritis for example or lupus, like me), it might be time to invest in a good quality mixer with a dough hook.  I’ve done the kneading in the mixer and it turns out great.  Knead in on medium-low speed for about 3 minutes.
Take a piece of dough slightly smaller than the palm of your hand and roll it into a ball.  Repeat with remaining dough until you have enough balls of dough for the number of chappati that you want to make.  Refrigerate the remaining dough in an airtight container.  Sprinkle a little flour onto a plate or into a small bowl.  You’ll use this for preventing the dough from becoming sticky while you are rolling it.  Roll each ball out into a flat, circular shape a little more than 1/8″ thick.  If you make it any thinner than that, you’ll end up with a cracker once it’s cooked.  If you make it thicker, it will not cook in the middle, making it too chewy and it will not puff up on the rack like a good chappati should.  If the dough begins to get sticky dip both sides of it into the flour in the plate before continuing.  This ensures that only enough flour to prevent the ball from sticking will be picked up.  Sprinkle dough on top of the flour (common in bread making) may result in too much flour in the dough, making it tough.


You can do this one at a time or make a stack of rolled circles to cook together.  If you choose to cook them all after rolling them, keep the dough covered with a dry cloth (not damp or wet), while you roll out the remaining dough balls.  Keep the dough from sticking together with a little flour.

When you are ready to cook the chappatis, turn two burners on a medium high heat (if using the puffing rack, otherwise just use one).  Place a flat bottomed pan (or the chappati pan) over the burner and allow it to heat up dry on a medium-high heat (do not add oils or butter to the pan) for a few

minutes.  You are now ready to start making flatbreads.  This process will be quick, so have everything you need close by.

Now the fun part.  How do you get it to puff up?  It’s not just the magic of the rack but the slapping, that causes the dough to make that beautiful pocket in the centre.  Take a round between your hands and slap it from palm to palm a couple of times, lightly.  I slap the dough from palm to palm four of five times before laying it down on the dry, flat pan.  If you don’t do this, the flatbread won’t puff up in the same way, if at all.  This is because extra flour particles will stick to it, scorching on the pan and causing holes to form.  Let the dough cook on one side for about 30 seconds or so.  It will begin to form air bubbles and brown on the side facing the pan.  The dough will also begin to change colour from a shiny tan dough, to a lighter, dry appearance.  Don’t worry, you’ll pick this up quickly.  It’s better to undercook it and have to flip it more than once than to overcook it.  Overcooking it will burn the dough and create holes in the dough which will prevent puffing.  Using the tongs, flip the chappati over onto the flat pan and cook it on the other side for another 30 seconds or so.

If using the puffing rack, lift each chappati, one at a time, onto the rack over a medium-high heat for a few seconds to allow it to finish puffing up and finish cooking.  Turn over to the other side and allow it to cook a little longer on the other side.  Set each chappati aside onto a plate while you continue making the remaining flatbreads.

If you are flavouring with roasted garlic, garlic, butter or oil, rub each chappati with the flavouring lightly while still warm.  You may also wish to use a flavoured oil instead of rubbing the garlic or roasted garlic on the chappati directly.  Please, again, be nice to your heart and add only as much oil or butter as needed to flavour and soften the chappati.  We prefer ours dry but some people find dry chappati harder to swallow.

You’ll need this chappati recipe for future, adapted version of the East Meets West recipes and for some the Indian recipes.  Keep it handy and don’t worry if your chappatis are too dry or too chewy in the beginning or not round (maybe they are a little crow like in appearance?), you’ll get the hang of it with practice.  Flat bread making is like any other bread making activity.  It’s easy peasy but it does take practice to develop the skill.  Have fun with the practising of it.  Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Tips
Is the dough too stiff or tearing as you handle it?  Add a little more water to the dough, a small amount at a time.

If the dough sticky?  Add a little more flour, a small amount at a time until the dough becomes stiffer and no longer sticks to anything.

Rubbing a little flour between your hands will prevent yours hands from sticking to the dough.

Don’t skip the slapping of the chapattis between your palms otherwise the dough won’t puff up.

You don’t need the puffing rack.  The dough will puff up on the flat pan.  See the video for the method used to puff the dough on a pan.

Adding oil to the flat plan will also prevent the dough from puffing and will cook it too quickly, possible burning the dough.

Prepared dough will keep in the refrigerator for about 3 days.  Keep it in an airtight container.

Is the dough puffing in the middle and staying flat at the edges?  Use the tongs to gently press the side that is refusing to puff up against the flat pan for a second, to help that edge come in contact with the heat.

Is your dough developing a lot of small holes while it’s cooking?  Your heat is too high, turn it down a little.

Don’t scrub a tava too hard or soak it in water.  It’s made of iron and it will rust quickly.  I clean mine with a damp cloth and soap before rinsing it and drying it immediately.  Scrubbing with anything too abrasive can leave deep scratches on the surface of the pan which will prevent even cooking in the future.

You can use any rack as a puffing rack but make sure it is at least 1 1/2″ above the burner you are using.  Unless you want super dry burned chapattis… then go for it.

You can substitute an all-purpose white flour for the atta flour but really you are not going to gain much flavour doing that and you’re going to lose the awesome goodness of a whole wheat or atta type flour.

Not every chapatti will puff up nicely.  Get over it.  It’s all good.  With practice, more and more chapattis will achieve the perfect puff.  At the same time, no matter how much you practice, there’s always going to be that one chapatti who just refuses to follow the crowd.

Store cooked chapattis by rolling them up in a piece of waxed paper or parchment paper and then wrapping the rolled up package in tin foil or plastic wrap.  It will last 8 to 10 hours.  Do not refrigerate unless you want a hard, stale tasting chapatti.

Chappatis are awesome for wraps but are too thin for pita sandwiches.

To eat with your chapattis in the traditional way, pull off a triangular shape from the chapatti and use that to pick up the food.  Don’t be afraid to get your fingers dirty!  That’s part of the goodness of eating in this way.

If you don’t like the dry chapatti but prefer not to use a butter or oil to moisten it, then serve the chapattis with a little yogourt on the side.  Dip the chapatti pieces into the curd (yogourt) after using it to pick up the food.  Instant, not dry chapattis without the concerns over butter or oil.

 

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