Tony has been baking bread for many years and loves experimenting with bread from around the world. He enjoys passing on his experience.
Bread is a staple food for many cultures. In parts of India today, the chapati is the main ingredient of a meal, with any gravy or curry as an extra bonus. In Britain, we tend to regard it as a side dish, something we eat along with our kebabs or curry.
One of the essential ingredients of any Indian meal is the chapatis that accompany it. Sometimes called "rotis," these unleavened breads are eaten across India, except for in a few states where rice is the staple food.
Below, you'll find a quick instructions guide, followed by a more detailed one.
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- 2 cups Atta flour, or general purpose white or whole grain
- Pinch of salt
- Dessert spoonful of oil, whichever you prefer
- Measure out the flour.
- Add salt.
- Warm some water.
- Make a dimple in the flour and pour in the water and oil.
- Knead into a soft dough.
- Divide into six pieces and roll out on a dusted surface.
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In-Depth: How to Make Chapati
I use a clever Indian rolling pin that is tapered at both ends so as to allow you to roll a circle; it's quite ingenious and works very well. The only other utensil is a flat pan. Again, there is a pan called a tawa, which is a slightly concave pan designed to go on the oven top and cook the rotis.
Mix the flour and water in a bowl, kneading it into an elastic dough. I usually dip my fingers in the oil as I do this. This stops the sticky dough from sticking all over your fingers. Make sure that you get plenty of air into the kneading, which is why I never use my mixer. Stretch the dough flour out and then fold it over, and then knead again; repeat this over and over again until your dough is pliable and very stretchy.
Divide the dough into small pieces and then roll them out on a floured board.
Once you have the dough, you can let it rest. Cover with a damp cloth and leave for an hour or so.
Put your pan on a medium heat and let it get warmed before you add your dough. Once up to heat, add your chapati and, with a wooden spatula, apply a little pressure. Flip the chapati over and again add pressure. If you have kneaded it right, then the chapati should begin to blow up. Keep your pan moving to prevent burning.
Types of Flatbreads of India
In many areas of India, flatbread is very much the staple diet, although there are areas where rice is used more than bread.
I've travelled a great many times in India, and I always love the street food there. Mostly it is in the form of a chapati or wraps with a little gravy. The street vendors are very skillful and the end product is delicious.
- Phulka: This is a terrific variation; you do, however, need an open flame. Cook your chapati as usual, but then carefully hold it over the open flame until it puffs up completely. Stack them and eat immediately.
- Pooris: This is one of my favourites and reminds me of a great holiday in Kerala, southern India. I used to go for my breakfast to a sweet centre in Bradford that made great pooris with chickpea curry. Make your usual chapatis and then carefully place them in a deep fryer or deep frying pan, but make sure there is sufficient oil to cover the chapati.
- Parathas: Make your usual chapati mix, but you can mix in chopped mint leaves, or paprika, whatever takes your fancy. I roll out my chapati and then spread with soft butter, fold the dough over twice and roll out again. This can be repeated for a really rich paratha. Add some butter to your pan or tawa and heat. Place your dough on the pan, cook it for a few minutes, brush with butter and turn it over—remove when cooked. To make a stuffed paratha, roll out the dough and place cooked mince meat, fish or cooked vegetables in the middle. Next, fold the dough and roll out again. This makes a complete meal rather than just an accompaniment to a curry.