Homemade flatbread in a wink: Chapatis
Chapatis are one of the many basic flatbreads often made daily in North India homes. They are soft, easy to handle and can accompany a lot of foods. There is no specific rule for what should be ate with chapatis, more than enjoy their shape and supple texture with something delicious folded into them, as with most other Indian breads. I learnt how to make chapatis in Somya Tewari’s kitchen in London. We had planned on making paneer together and even though we did not manage a second cooking round, I am endlessly grateful. Since learning to make chapatis, they have become, I imagine, just as much as in North India, a staple in our kitchen and table. The original and straight forward chapati is made with whole wheat flour (sometimes mixed with white flour to up the soft texture) and water. On certain occasions, as Somya said -special celebrations, or pure indulgence-, the chapatis are brushed with ghee or oil after taking them off the pan to add richness to their flavour.
Throughout time and practice I have experimented, adding spices and seasoning, as is done with other indian flatbreads, going as far as making a version with dry seaweed, a delicious pairing with eggs and tomato for breakfast.
for approximately 10 chapatis
240 gm Whole wheat flour or a combination of whole wheat and white flour
1 cup of water, more or less as needed
30 gm – ¼ cup flour, additional for dusting the work surface
Pour the flour into a bowl and add the ⅔ of the water and knead. Reserve the last ⅓ of water as you may or may not need to use it all, and add it slowly as you go. Knead well until a ball is formed and practically all the traces of dough have come off the sides of the bowl. Test the dough by poking it softly with your finger. The dough should bounce back to shape quite quickly and the texture should be smooth on the outside. Let the dough rest for at least half an hour covered with a cloth or plastic wrap. Warm a flat bottomed pan to medium a for a few minutes, until the heat is evenly distributed throughout the surface. Cast iron is ideal, a non stick is good too. Cut off a piece of dough, about the size of a lemon, dust the work surface with flour, flatten out the piece of dough and roll it out into a 2 mm thick circle. An uneven shape is fine too. Flip onto the warm pan, wait a few seconds, until it has loosened off the pan surface. This happens when the exterior humidity is dried off by the heat of the pan. Rotate with the tip of your fingers and flip to the other side and repeat, rotating to make sure it does not burn or stick. Once the chapati starts to lightly brown, start pinching the edges with a wooden spoon or your fingertips covered with a clean t-towel, to avoid burning. This will encourage the dough to start puffing up. Flip and repeat on the other side. Remove the chapati from the pan onto a plate before the thin puffed up layers burn and then start over.
I make variations with turmeric, black onion seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds and dried seaweed. Mixed, combined or one at a time. The added flavours are a splendid surprise to the pallet.