How To Make Chapatis (Unleavened Flat Bread)

how to make chapatisIn an earlier post I talked about eating chapatis, or unleavened flat breads so I thought it would be nice to include a recipe. Making chapatis is a little labour intensive for the newbie but if two people work together it’s twice as fast and then both learn how to do it! Setting time aside for simple household tasks such as bread making can be very therapeutic and relaxing.

Needed:

  • Bowl
  • Rolling pin*
  • Whole Wheat Bread Flour – fine ground is best, or sift it, the fresher the better.  It can be part white for variety but whole wheat (atta flour) is traditional
  • Salt
  • Water, preferably warm (makes softer chapati)
  • Butter or equivalent (not necessary but nice)
  • Cast Iron frying pan
  • Heat source
  • Good sized spoon if your stove is electric
  • Tongs if your stove is gas or have a campfire
  • Cookie sheet for putting the uncooked rolled out chapatis on
  • Dish or cake pan for putting cooked chapatis on

In your bowl pour whole wheat flour [not pastry flour], sifted if it is coarse. Save the siftings to add to yeast bread, muffins, oatmeal, etc. Since I don’t measure much, we’re going to be “approximate”! For about 4 cups flour, add 1 teaspoon salt, and pour in enough warm water (amounts will vary according to moisture content of flour, etc) to make a soft dough you can easily knead without having to add too much flour to the board or counter.

Knead using additional flour to avoid sticking until the dough is smooth and elastic, it doesn’t take many minutes. Then pop back in the bowl, sort of spread it out, poke some holes in with your finger, and pour a little more warm water on the dough, cover, and let sit while you go do something else. This step is not necessary but makes the chapatis more tender.

Come back and re-knead the dough just for a minute or two until it’s smooth and cohesive. Chop or cut the dough into equal sized pieces – exactly what size depends on how big you want them to be, about twice as big as a golf ball for good sized chapatis.  I like to make big ones because I spend less time rolling them out.  Sprinkle a little flour on them to keep them from drying out.

Take each segment of dough and roll into a round ball in your palms – either one by one as you roll them out with the rolling pin, or all at once. Here’s where two people come in handy – one can roll the chapatis and one can cook. If you don’t have two people, just roll enough to fill up the cookie sheet, then cook them, etc.

Your first chapattis rolled may not be round and even. Practice makes perfect! They should be about 1/8 of an inch thick, but thicker ones and thinner ones are okay. Just keep it the same on each chapatti. Use flour to keep them from sticking but try to slap it off as you put on the cookie sheet. Don’t overlap the raw ones too much or they’ll stick.

Now, have your frying pan on medium – you may have to adjust the temperature as you cook, all stoves are different. If you have a gas stove, have another burner on low. Here comes the part that is harder to describe!

Electric Stove

Place the raw rolled out chapatti on the medium heated frying pan. Once it’s on there it can’t be adjusted since it sticks. So toss it on in a way where it won’t wrinkle up. If it does wrinkle, so be it.

Let it sit, and as soon as you see a few small bubbles on the top and the color changes, gently rub it with the back of the good sized spoon. If the dough stretches, it’s still too raw to rub. When it’s done on that side – (how to tell? Practice.. and more bubbles usually show up, and the edges may start to change color and look a bit “done”) flip over and do same rubbing with spoon.

If all goes well, it may puff up here and there or even all over into a little whole wheat balloon. If so, it’s done! You may need to flip and rub another time. If it doesn’t puff up no matter, it’s still edible.

Then take off the frying pan and put into the cake pan or dish, rub a little butter/oil on it (keeps from drying out too) and maybe place in a warmed oven. An alternative is to place in a cake pan or dish lined with a clean tea towel and keep covered and warm, and apply butter later.

Then drop the next rolled out dough round into the frying pan.

Gas Stove or campfire

If you have a campfire, first figure out a type of grill next to the frying pan. Otherwise, same for gas stove and fire.

Cook the chapati on the frying pan just as for electric stove. But after flipping to the second side and rubbing for a short while and seeing some bubbles starting to appear, take your tongs and hold the chapati above the fire – either gas or wood – not in the flames exactly but close enough, and move it about.

Most likely it will at that point puff up into a roundish ball. Take it off the fire and put in the pan or dish as above. If your chapatis don’t puff up at first, don’t worry. You’ll get the hang of it. The frying pan temp may be too hot – making them burn a bit and get too crispy to puff, or too low heat, making them stiff  like cardboard. Try adjusting the heat and length of time you cook them.

a perfectly puffed chapati

Keep them warm until you’re ready to sit down and eat. I always say a prayer before eating, but even for those who don’t do that, a moment of gratitude to all who helped bring the food to your table is nice!

*Rolling pin – I use chapati rolling pins which are much narrower and do not have those ball bearing handles that move independently of the roller. If you live near or in an urban center that has Indian stores, they sometimes have chapati rolling pins, or find one online. Some are tapered (not my favorite, a bit harder to get used to but still work fine) or have middle part which is not tapered, and small thinner handles. A dowel – about one inch – would work.

They’re good plain, with jam or honey, put in the oven with a bit of cheese melted, with vegetables or soup, and leftover ones just need to be heated up to be soft and pliable again. Little children just learning to eat solid food like them ripped or cut up into soup or warm milk and soaked until soft.

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