In these times of great uncertainty, the simple act of baking which was once looked upon as a chore, has now come to become palpably reassuring. Perhaps, it's to do with our recent addiction to Netflix's Sugar Rush and Nailed It! or maybe the fact that the simple act of playing with flour, water, maybe some yeast, is somewhat calming, -- like Play-Doh for adults. So, of course, procrastibakers are all over social media, obsessing about their sourdough starters or banana breads. However, look a little closer, and you'll see that not all bakers-in-the-making are very happy. Some are still learning the difference between baking soda and baking powder, while others Google "Why is my bread dough not rising".
Enter the almost forgotten flatbread aka chapati or roti, that requires no yeast or an oven. Traditionally made from wheat flour, this indigenous unleavened bread doubles as both a plate and spoon for whatever it’s eaten with. But there is more to it than that. First, the chapati is not the same as a roti — which is a generic word for bread. Instead, it gets its name from the technique of making it; from “chapat” or slap. A perfect chapati needs to be made chapat - thin - by slapping it between two hands, before roasting it on a hot tawa or griddle.
While it’s been part of the Indian diet for centuries, over the last 500 years of European colonization, its origin is still debatable. Some argue that the roti or chapati could have been a common man’s innovation, which eventually did reach the court because of its taste and lightness. The chapati also finds a mention in a Sanskrit text that's more than 6,000 years old, and was also said to King Akbar favourite. Besides, the chapati was also once a symbol of the ingenious Chapati Movement that saw rapid distribution of the humble chapati, thereby leaving British officials in quite a tizzy during the mutiny of 1857.
How to make chapati
At its simplest, the chapati is flour and water mixed into a dough, rolled into balls, flattened and griddled. However, a person’s prowess in an Indian kitchen is always and ultimately judged by its roundness. There are jokes and memes galore (some quite misogynist) on the subject. So what better time than the lockdown to navigate your way around making the perfect chapatis. After all, like everything in life, practice makes perfect.
We got Chef Ilandhirai Vadivel from Radisson Blu, Pune Hinjawadi to break down the process and great details.
2 cups wheat flour
1 cup water
1 tbsp ghee
1 tsp salt or as needed
- Before getting started, set aside some flour for dusting over the chapatis.
- Next, in a big bowl or vessel, add the remaining flour along with the salt and ghee. Make a well into these dry ingredients, and then slowly pour the water, little at a time.
- Start kneading until you are left with a soft, smooth and slightly elastic dough. Remember, the longer you knead, the softer the chapatis.
- Let the dough rest for at least 30 mins—this also helps in the formation of gluten. Later, divide the dough into small equal size balls and set aside.
- Using just your fingertips, gently flatten these balls into a disc. Dip the dough disc into some dry flour. Place the dough onto a floured board.
- Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a chapati.
- When rolling a chapati, its best to begin from the circumference and then move to the centre, while applying a little pressure. You will have to keep turning the dough, as you roll, until you get the size and thickness you want.
- The dough shouldn’t stick to the rolling pin, therefore while rolling the chapati you might have to keep sprinkling the board with flour from time to time.
- In the meantime, heat a tawa or pan. Before throwing the chapati over the pan, make sure that the dry flour on the chapati has been completely used up. If not, gently dust it away.
- Never let the rolled-out dough stand for too long as this will result in hard chapatis. Therefore, roast your chapati as soon as you are done rolling.
- Carefully transfer the flattened disc on a properly heated dry tawa. Cook for a few seconds on both the sides or until you see brown spots and there is a slight change in colour of the chapati. Repeat the same procedure with the other dough balls.
- If desired, top with some butter or ghee and serve hot.
It’s not that chapatis are unhealthy, but if you want to go the extra mile, add these five healthy spins to your chapatis. Get set to convert the humble chapati into a vehicle of wellness and health.
Types of Chapatis
India’s fertile land has much to offer, it particularly holds true for the variety of food grains and cereals available. Wheat isn’t the only base of chapatis, these unleavened breads can be made from anything such as:
A stuffed chapati/roti made from rice flour is a popular breakfast dish in Karnataka. Chef Vaibhav Mahajan makes his by stuffing sprouts and asafoetida.
Gram flour or besan is another flour that can efficiently be used for making chapati, like Chef Mahajan’s masala roti made with besan. He uses chillies, cumin and coriander to spice the dough for added flavour.
Ragi is one of India’s lesser known cereals. It is a very healthy alternative to wheat partially because of lower gluten. It is the reason you can’t use a rolling pin to roll out the ragi roti or chapati, you need to use the palm of your hands to flatten the dough to a small chapatti.
Paneer Bajre ka Paratha
Technically not a chapati, but the philosophy of a paratha is the same. It is gently fried in oil to cook completely. In this case Gurdip Kohli Punj’s recipe mixes millet flour as the base of the dough and stuffs it with seasoned paneer before rolling out and frying.
Pyaaz Tamatar Tikkar
A Rajasthani chapati recipe which binds wheat flour with onions, tomatoes, coriander and more to make a savoury twist to the bread. Just before the rotis done cooking ghee is added to the pan to finish it off.
More than Chapati
The basic Indian bread dough, Chapati dough, often has more uses than you can imagine. Chapatis often form the base for wraps, quesadillas, pizza, etc. For instance:
Chef Ranveer Brar takes up a Mexican basic, burrito, and makes it a breakfast must have using spinach, chicken sausage and hung curd. And since it’s a breakfast dish, it cannot be complete without eggs and cheese!
Chapati Noodle Snack
In yet another international inspiration, Chef Brar gives a chapati an Asian twist by converting them into noodles. You read that right! Chapati Noodles with plenty of fresh veggies.
Kadak Chapati Tacos with Mumbai-style Kheema
The versatility of chapatis comes across with this recipe by Chef Vaibhav Mahajan, who deep fries chapatis to make tacos and tops it with typically Mumbai Kheema.
To make a wholesome and nutritious meal on the go for children, give Gurdip Kohli Punj’s recipe for grilled wrap a try. It uses chapatis and veggies in an innovative way that no one can say no to.
Mexican Chicken Chilaquiles
For a more elaborate affair, Chef Pankaj Bhadouria makes chilaquiles where she deep fried strips of chapatis and then bakes it with chicken, salsa, veggies and lots of cheese.
Leftover Chapati, No More
More often than not, you will find yourself with extra dough or leftover chapatis. Don’t worry about it, chapatis come in incredibly handy when you’re dealing with a case of a nasty hunger pangs. These dishes come in handy in such moments.
If you’ve had your fill with run-of-the-mill chapati alternatives, here are some options which take inspiration from porridge and poha to payasam and laddu, all made from chapatis!
Cultural Impact of Chapati
In the heart of India, in Nagpur, a women from Dalit community who make a paper thin chapati known as matka roti. It is made on an upturned earthen pot over wood fire, on which a glutinous dough is thinly spread and cooked. Though not many have heard of the bread, it is slowly becoming a highlight for Nagpur.
From the region of Kumaon comes very traditional Madue ki roti. A variety of Himalayan millet closely resembling ragi is an integral of the food culture of the region. Read more about chapatti and the food here.
North Karnataka is home to Nalpak restaurants who specialise in jowar rotis. Jowar is another cereal that hasn’t hit the limelight but is easily available and more affordable option to wheat. Karnataka, Mysore in particular, uses it extensively.
In Sikkim, sael roti is yet another curious version, which is more of a donut than a chapati. The dish has travelled from Nepal to become a staple in Sikkim during Diwali.
Featured Image: Shutterstock.com
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