When that great big cardboard box with “KitchenCraft” emblazoned on it’s sides appeared on my doorstep, I squealed with joy and anticipation. This blog post is going to reveal what I was most thrilled to receive. You all know how much I love Indian food – you can read about my lifelong love affair with the food of the Indian subcontinent ad infinitum by using the search box at the bottom of this page to search “curry”. Today however, I’m going to steer you away from the main attraction towards the accompaniments to your luscious, richly flavoured, deeply spiced curry concoctions. Yes sirree, we are talking roti. You may know them as chapatti. What they are is a super fine milled wholemeal-esque flatbread which is soft, tender, flaky and the perfect way to scoop up whatever main courses and side dishes you have yearning to be wrapped in a delicate soft wrap style bread. Just wonderful.
To begin with, being such a simple bread – just flour, water and salt – you really do want to get yourself some Indian durum wheat, a high gluten content flour called atta. I got mine at Tesco in the international aisle but Indian grocers will certainly carry it, even different grades of it. The gluten content allows you to roll these tender little breads super, super thin and the flavour of real atta is in the wholemeal family but not quite. It’s like the finest quality wholemeal you have ever had (think of the fine grain in 00 Italian flour) and has an almost creamy, subtle flavour you have to try to see the difference for yourself. You can mix plain and wholemeal flours together to get an approximation but it won’t be the same.
The simplest of all bread doughs, working on a 2:1 flour:water ratio, this is the one bread I do knead by hand. 5-10 minutes of pummelling gets the gluten developed and that means a super soft roti later. Once worked, you ideally need to let it rest for 15 minutes but an hour would be great. It lets those strands of gluten relax and when you return to the dough, it will have softened enough to approximate picking up a sleeping cat when you retrieve it from the bowl!
Here’s where my new kit comes into action. In the form of KitchenCraft’s chapatti set. I totally, head over heels, fell in love with it on their rather beautiful website some time ago and I could not wait to get my hands on the solid wood, paisley print round board with traditional Indian style spindle-shaped rolling pin. Of course not an essential in making your own roti but an oh-so beautiful piece which is a joy to use both to make the breads on and to present the cooked roti when you’re ready to eat. I’m a carpenter’s daughter and stunningly crafted wooden objects of all kinds will always have prime position in my heart.
When it comes to the forming and shaping of your roti, there are an awful lot of variations out there online and in my collection of Indian food books. For a long time, I constructed mine by rolling out to a round about 5 inches across, painting lightly with some oil (rapeseed – olive is too strong a flavour for roti) then folding into a half moon as above, then a quarter moon and rolling this out to a soft triangle. Ish. I was never very good at that method! I did a couple as you will see in this manner which I learnt watching Aarti Sequiera on TV a couple of years ago. They taste just the same but just don’t look as pleasing as my newly adopted method. I roll a “squoval” for those of you familiar with nail shapes in the ’90’s 😉 That means gently rounding the edges of a square which I paint with oil as before then roll up like a Swiss roll. I then curl this roll back on itself then tuck the ends under before rolling to give a shape which is much more recognisable as a circle! The idea of however you do it is to introduce layers which help with the flakiness of the finished flat bread. The spindle-shaped rolling pin really is a lot better at rolling mega thin breads than any of the more Western-traditional pins I own.
Now we have rolled out all our breads – the tiny amount of oil keeps them supple on the worktop as you roll them all in one go – it’s time to cook! And what better way to cook traditional Indian flat breads than on your own tawa. Oh my I am excited about this one! A concave shaped, thin metal frying pan for want of a better description, a tawa is what is used in Indian families across the world. Up until now, I have made do with a flat bottom, fairly heavy based saucepan and produced some perfectly satisfactory rotis. This chapatti pan from KitchenCraft however, heated beautifully evenly and maintained a constant temp without hot spots even on my frustratingly temperamental electric hob (grrr to rented property with rubbish hobs!). Ones from India will usually be cast iron so very heavy indeed but I must say, I was very happy using this tawa and won’t be going back to my old frying pan. Just look at those roti puff!
I tell you, the day you produce a puffin’ roti which blows up like a whoopee cushion before your eyes on the stove top, I defy you not to hop up and down clapping your hands at how clever you are! It’s hard to capture a roti as it puffs as it all happens fast and the fear of burning them means single handed photo shoots can be a bit more stressful than the act of making the bread actually is! Honestly, once you’ve rolled, curled and re-rolled your dough the hard work is over and they cook in a flash. Keep each roti as you toss it off the tawa in a clean, doubled up tea towel to keep warm and let the steam work to keep them soft.
As good though they are, roti must be served alongside a vat of bubbling spiced dishes with plenty of gravy to mop up or they are not truly complete. Tonight, we had Madhur Jaffrey’s chicken curry with cardamom and it was just perfection. If you know someone who can not bare chilli (I know a few!) then this is the dish to get them hooked on Indian food. Mild and almost sweet with the cardamom and cinnamon bark, it certainly will be great for kids and chilli-phobes alike. Get the roti recipe below and don’t forget to check out the whole range of Indian kitchen kit KitchenCraft have on their website too. I have my eye on the gorgeous chutney set next!
- 1 cup atta or half and half plain flour and wholemeal plain flour
- Big fat pinch sea salt Maldon for preference
- 1/2 cup lukewarm water
- 1-2 tsp of a flavourless oil I like rapeseed
Put your flour in a large bowl and mix in the salt.
Add the water – as with all bread making, hold a little back at first but also be prepared to add more if the dough needs it. Mix until you have a soft not sticky dough.
Knead for 5-10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Rub with a little of the oil and cover with cling for at least 15 minutes but an hour would be great.
Divide the dough into 6 equal sized portions. Keep covered with cling when not working with the dough.
Sprinkle some extra flour on your board or work top and roll into a square with rounded off edges (that “squoval” mentioned in the blog post!) about 4-5 inches in diameter. Brush with a little more oil and roll up like a Swiss roll.
Curl the roll back on itself like a serpent and tuck the ends underneath, flattening with the palm of your hand.
Roll until very thin – you may need to cook a few before you realise how thin you can go confidently. About 1 mm thick is what you are after. Roll out all the others in the same fashion.
Heat your tawa or frying pan to medium high – sprinkle a little flour on it and if it steams, it is hot enough. Gently flop/slap a single roti onto the dry but hot pan and cook for 15-30 seconds on the first side then flip with tongs and cook on the other side. Continue flipping until no raw dough is evident and if you get bubbles forming, fantastic! Push them down gently with an oven glove or folded up clean tea towel to encourage the separation of the layers and hopefully the whole bread will puff up like a whoopee cushion! This is a very good thing!
As each roti is cooked, pop into a clean tea towel to keep it warm and soft from the steam it will produce as it sits. Serve immediately – best eaten on the day of cooking.
If you can't get atta, use half strong white bread flour and half wither wholemeal or spelt flour. Both work nicely but it is well worth searching out some atta if you can find it.
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