Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Roti/phulka & chapati - back to basics for a reason

I am posting a very basic recipe found in most Indian kitchens - the wheat flour roti/phulka (called Godhi rotti in kannada) and chapati (popularly known as plain parantha in the Northern part of India). This is known in other parts of the world as the Indian unleavened bread because it doesn't use any leavening agents such as baking soda, baking powder or yeast. The dough is the same for both roti and chapati, the rolling out and cooking methods differ slightly to make one richer in taste and calories than the other. Rotis are as much of a staple food in North Indian daily menu as rice is in the South. There are exceptions of course and people from any region may choose to adapt to a different eating habit. So, why am I going back to this very basic recipe? A few reasons, read on..

For one, rotis/phulkas belong to that category of recipes where 'practice makes one perfect'. For such a basic recipe (mix the dough and roll it into circles), this has every possibility of going wrong if you do not pay attention to a few minor details. While experts make the softest, yummiest rotis with just the flour and water mixture, it takes some attention to detail when you make them initially. It is a lot to do with the technique and that is what I am going to focus on today. Secondly, I was not a great roti maker for a long time when I started cooking, To start with, the dough would either be too soft or too hard, my rotis would have every possible shape in the Universe except for a decent circle. And I would not get the characteristic fluffy phulka :-). All the while, nammamma used to dish out rottis every other day as if that was one of the simplest things to do in life. Talk about shame facedness, that is what I had. But then I realized that the consistency of dough is all about how you can handle it while rolling out. This is a soft, pliant dough without being sticky.  With all this background, I thought I will share some 'lessons learnt' from my experience with novice roti makers.

The third and most important reason, my daughter reminded me the other day that there was no 'roti recipe' on the blog although she has been pointing it out for a while now. She wants to try it out herself when amma vanishes on one of her business trips which will be pretty soon :-). And I got a lecture for 10 minutes from a very hurt faced teenager as to why I was not considering her request for a simple roti recipe while I keep saying that the blog is an electronic journal for the said hurt teenager :-). I tried to explain that it was such a basic recipe that none of my readers would be interested in and pat came the reply, "so I don't count as a reader"?, I have to give her credit, although she doesn't check out every post, when she bakes or cooks occasionally. she opens up my blog first before doing a generic search for the recipe, so much for loyalty :-). So this post is all about appeasing my blog reader at home and I will consider it purely collateral if some of my other readers benefit from it too.
I am going to use the same dough to make rotis (less oil and hence healthier) and chapatis (more oil and tastier) and let you choose what you want to make. Nammamma used rice flour to roll out chapatis, the home made rice flour has a slightly coarser texture than the store bought and this imparted a very subtle crunchy texture to the layered chapatis. Hot off the tawa, ate with one of her signature gojjus or chutneys, it used to be simply delicious. This used to be the default breakfast on Saturdays when I landed at Mysore with an infant in tow catching an early morning train from Bengaluru to spend the weekend with my parents. 

What do you need to make rotis?
Makes about 8 home sized rotis
2 cups wheat flour
3/4 cup luke warm water
1/8 Tsp salt
1/2 Tsp oil
1 Tblsp wheat flour for dusting
If making chapati you will need 2 Tsp of oil mixed with 1 Tsp of ghee (clarified butter) and heated to luke warm temperature
How do you make roti/phulka? 
  • Bring all ingredients together except for water into a wide bowl and mix it once. 
  • Add the water slowly while mixing the contents. It comes together as a soft dough ball. 
  • Knead for 2 minutes, form into a smooth round ball, cover it with cling wrap or with a dish cloth and set aside for 20 minutes. 
  • Take the dough out, knead it for a minute, pinch off 8 equal sized balls. 
  • Take a ball, dip it in dry flour and flatten it slightly. 
  • Roll the ball, moving it in circular motion to get uniform thickness (about 5millimeter), dusting if needed with dry flour. 
  • Heat a flat griddle, put the rolled out roti on top and cook for 30-45 seconds or until small bubbles appear on top. 
  • Flip it over and cook for another 30-45 seconds. 
  • At this stage, you can do one of the 3 things below: 
  • Method 1: If you own a gas stove, remove the par cooked roti from the griddle, put it directly on the flame (on medium heat) and hold there for it to puff up with the help of tongs. Flip it over and hold for another 5 seconds. 
  • Method 2: If you do not own a gas stove and are working off an electric stove, continue to cook the roti on the griddle. Use a clean dish cloth or thick paper napkin or a wide spatula to press the roti lightly while moving it around for uniform cooking. This puffs up the roti on top of the griddle (see picture below)
  • Method 3: If you prefer, you can put the par cooked roti into the microwave and cook for not more than 4-5 seconds for it to puff up. This is a Madhur Jaffrey tip/
  • Take the cooked roti into a container, brush the top lightly with oil or ghee.
  • Repeat for all the remaining dough balls. Keep rotis in a container with lid and lined with a paper towel.
How do you make chapati/plain parantha? 
  • Follow the above steps until you make the dough and pinch off equal sized balls after 20 minutes of resting period. 
  • Take a dough ball, roll it into a small (2 inch diameter) roti. 
  • Take 1/4 Tsp of the oil+ghee mix (nammamma calls it 'saati', no idea what the word means or where it came from), smear it all over the top surface of the roti. 
  • Fold it half and then hold one of the corners and fold it to the middle, hold the folded piece and bring it on top of the remaining portion. If done correctly, you will end up with a cute triangle shape. This step helps create the characteristic layers in the chapati. 
  • Now dip the folded triangle in dry flour and roll it out uniformly. The chapatis are rolled out as a triangle. 
  • Cook this on a heated griddle brushing a few drops of oil on both sides. 
  • Warm water makes softer rotis but take care not to overheat the water as it will cook the dough while mixing. 
  • Do not make rotis or chapatis very thin (paper thin), they need to have a small thickness for it to puff up on heating. 
  • Do not set the chapati dough out for more than 30 minutes as the wheat flour loses its nutrients. 
  • Do not use too much of flour for dusting as it makes rotis hard. And for the same reason, do not flip the rotis too many times on the griddle. 
  • Adding a Tsp of flax seeds powder makes rotis nutritious and soft. 
  • While these are best eaten hot off the tawa, you can also reheat them in the microwave for less than 5 seconds to make them warm and soft again. 
  • I recommend the method 3 above only if you want that puffed up look and if you are going to use a little bit of grease (oil or ghee) on top as this seems to dry out the rotis very fast. 

I wish all my readers a Happy Holi (belated) - may there be harmony across colors, nationalities, religion and may people always love and respect each other as we embrace the new beginnings this Spring. We are planning on celebrating Holi on a predicted balmy Sunday afternoon later this week. 


NamsVeni Pothas said...

very nice chapatis. they are real tasty than rice. i love them . i can take thrice daily with dal or curry or even simole raitha and gojju. lovely pictures . thanks for the recipe.

Priya R said...

Useful post and good write up :)

Priya Suresh said...

Totally agree with you, practice makes one prefect,still i remember my first roti's shapes..Prefectly rolled rotis.

Swathi Iyer said...

Nice post, my hubby loves rotis alot.

Nilu A said...

Superb healthy and perfectly made rotis... Nice clicks... I'm a new blogger... Do visit my blog...