After the 34th batch, I was ready to throw in the towel. How could something that consisted of 4 simple ingredients be so difficult to make?? It has been 1 1/2 years since my boyfriend had lovingly described these soft flat breads that his mother made perfect for scooping up curries. It was so good, his mother surrendered after the 20th roti leaving him and his brother to take over the rolling and cooking. Hmmm something so good that it would compel 2 teenage boys to do the leg work?? My curiosity was piqued.
Although it tasted bland at first, I now appreciate how it greatly complements the highly spiced Indian dishes as rice does. Hot off the grill, it’s a little nutty and sweet. The perfectly rolled chapati would have a superfine grainy texture that rice does not have. Sans the butter – the texture and the taste is even more pronounced, that’s why it’s important to achieve the perfect dough to keep it moist. Keeping the dough moist is where the challenge arose, testing my patience and determination in producing chapatis as good as the “real thing.”
Any cook will tell you that the best results are always yielded from quality ingredients and this proved even more vital with chapatis. Despite mastering the techniques in the dough preparation , rolling and cooking – I had missed that the flour I was using was the culprit to the failed chapatis (although D will insist that I stubbornly ignored this). Long story short, I recently discovered a brand called Sujata Atta- bingo! While the steps below require a little practice, it’s hard to go wrong once you have the right dough.
The key things to remember about chapatis:
- Texture – soft, pliable and moist
- Taste – slightly nutty and sweet
I began experimenting with the flavor by adding different things to “improve” the taste: milk, sugar, butter, etc. While adding these ingredients achieved the “taste” I wanted, it transformed it to be something completely different from what it really was. Instead of serving as a platform, it competed with the dishes that accompanied it. Using enough salt to bring out the natural flavors was all that was needed (1/8 of tsp per cup of flour).
The softness depends on 2 things: the texture of the dough before cooking and the steaming process in cooking called the “puffing of the dough.” Without the other you are left with a hard chapati to begin with or one that will begin to harden after 30 seconds. During my first batch, I did not enjoy the stickiness of the dough on my fingers. Having no patience for messy work I shifted the leg work to be done by a food processor. This process withheld important lessons that I would later learn after reverting back to the “using my hands method” and instead left me with more dishes to wash.
Many recipes called for a wet mixture to ensure a soft dough. Minus the food processor, I was able to FEEL and control the moisture of my dough. It’s simple: add water little by little until the sides of the bowl is clean of any loose flour, the mixture is well incorporated and is sticky all over. Adding a little bit of oil on this stage before starting the kneading process will help with the rolling process and add to the moisture kept in the dough.
Kneading is a must for 3 simple reasons:
- Helps the dough hold tiny pockets of air for puffing.
- Promotes elasticity for easy rolling.
- Transfers the sticky mess from your fingers into the dough.
Lastly, cover it with a moist towel and let it rest for at least 30 minutes at room temperature. Resting allows the moisture (water and oil) to evenly distribute throughout the dough making it pliable and silky in texture.
Rolling the dough:
Want to make sure your chapatis are consistent in size? Roll the dough in the shape of a log (sans the dredging into the flour), and cut into even pieces. Cover the little guys with a moist towel until you are ready for them. Meanwhile, take one and roll in a ball (about 1 1/2 inch diameter). Flatten the dough into a disk about 2-3 inches in diameter.
Lightly dredge in flour and pat out the excess. At this point, since you have worked diligently in ensuring that the dough keeps moist – do not ruin it by over dredging! The purpose of dredging with flour is to ensure that it does not stick to your rolling pin and table when you roll the dough. You will only lightly dredge your dough once or twice.
If you have never rolled a dough before – it’s not simple. I tried to do the back and forth rolling thing that you see the pros do in youtube – I ended up with chapatis resembling Texas. It requires diligence, patience, blah blah blah… All kidding aside, it’s certainly doable with enough practice. A chapati is the perfect vessel if you have aspirations for the big time(pie doughs). Similarly, the concept is the same:
- Start from the middle, and roll forward.
- Rotate the dough 45 degrees and roll again.
Do these steps until you have a chapati about 5-6 inches in diameter. This technique will ensure even thickness (slightly thinner than a tortilla) and close to a round shape.
Cooking the chapati:
So here it is, the moment of truth: To puff or not to puff?? I am of course talking about the chapati not the magic plant that is all the rage in colleges. If none of my earlier jabber made any sense, just remember this: IT MUST PUFF! It must not only puff, it must puff perfectly. Areas that does not puff will noticeably be harder and doughy(the uncooked taste of raw flour).
The chapatis can be cooked solely in non-stick pan. If you happen to come across a small stovetop grill(see puffing pic), do invest as they only cost about $3.00. The most important thing when cooking is that your heat is high enough. Once your pan is ready, place the chapati on the pan. You need to eyeball exactly when to turn the chapati over – I can’t specify exactly how long because the heat from my stove could be different from yours. Look closely at the pic below, notice that some spots are lighter than the others? These are the spots that need to be heated through. Once the chapati has reached a uniform color, take a peak on the other side, you’ll notice the bubbles (2nd pic below).
Turn the chapati over and cook until you see the chapati begin to slightly to puff. Place the chapati on the grill and watch in amazement as it comes to life.
As soon as it puffs, remove from the grill and place in a tortilla warmer or wrapped in foil/cloth to keep it moist and warm. If you have leftovers, you can safely leave them out stored in a airtight container or ziplock bag. Your chapati’s will remain soft until dinner time the next day.
Chapati Recipe (14-15 qty)
2 cups atta flour + extra on the side for dredging the dough
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup water + 1 tbsp water as needed
1 tsp oil
Prepping the dough :
Step 1 – Mix the atta flour and salt.
Step 2 – Add the water little by little into the flour and salt mixture and mix until all sides of the bowl is clean. Add 1 tablespoon of water at a time as needed.
Step 3 – Add the oil.
Step 4 – Knead the dough for 2 minutes (60 times until the dough becomes smooth and pliable).
Step 5 – Cover with a damp cloth and let it rest for 30 minutes.
Rolling the dough:
Step 1 – Roll the dough into a log until it is about 14-15 inches long. Cut into 1-1/2 inch disks.
Step 2 – Roll the dough in your hand until you have a 1-1 1/2 inch diameter ball. Flatten the dough until it is 3 inch diameter.
Step 3 – Dredge the dough lightly in the flour and pat out the excess flour.
Step 4 – Roll out the dough until you reach a 5-6 inch diameter disk. Roll out the rest of the dough.
Cooking the chapati:
Step 1 – Heat the skillet over medium high heat and the chapati grill on the other burner on high heat.
Step 2 – Place the chapati on the skillet until you see bubbles (7-10 seconds). Flip the chapati over and keep cooking until the it starts to bubble and is lightly brown (7-10 seconds).
Step 3 – Place the chapati on the grill until it puffs up. Quickly wrap in kitchen towel or tortilla warmer