Chapatis (also known as roti) are a staple bread in Northern India, and have been in our Indian cooking home as well. In the US they are generally glossed over by restaurant-goers in search of the ever-popular naan. My mother learned to make chapatis from my aunt on a trip to India. Like ghee, there technique is best seen in person. I have attempted below for second best, giving you instructions and visuals to help guide technique. It’s easy once you get the hang of it.
If you eat a meal with chapatis, no utensils are necessary. If you’re unfamiliar, rip off a piece of chapati, scoop up some of your subgee or curry, fold it over, and pop it in your mouth. Whatever you do, eat with your hands. It’s a whole different world out there.
2 cups chipati flour (1/2 cup per person)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon dried methi (also known as Fenugreek)
1/2 cup cold water
1/4 cup water (reserved for use if necessary)
Mix the flour, salt, and methi in a medium bowl. Add in 1/2 cup water in a steady stream, kneading with your knuckles as you pour. You’re looking for all of the moisture to be absorbed and the dough to look moist but not wet. Add in the final 1/4 cup if needed, continuing to knead. Knead in your hand for 5 minutes until it’s smooth, elastic, and not wet or dry.
Place a dab of ghee in a medium bowl and roll the dough around in it. Cover with a moist hand towel or a bowl. Let rest at room temp for at least one hour but not more than two.
Roll the dough into walnut-sized balls (14 of ‘em for 2 cups). Place a saute pan on medium-low heat. Pour out a pile of flour onto a preferably dry surface (preferably stone). Take a ball and flatten it into a uniform disc about 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Keep the other balls covered with the plate or towel.
Push both sides of the ball softly into the flour. Using an Indian rolling pin, roll out the chapati softly, leaning a bit more on the skinny ends. The chapati should turn naturally as you roll. Roll until you can’t see any flour on the surface.
Pat the chapati into the flour again on both sides. Continue to flour and roll until the chapati is 6″ in diameter and there’s no flour on the surface.
Place the chapati flat in a saute pan at medium-low heat. Cook until the edges begin to lift and bubbles begin to form. Turn it with a pair of tongs. Leave it for 5-10 seconds more.
Move the chapati to direct fire at medium-high heat. Wait until it puffs up (about 5 seconds) then turn it over and give it 3 seconds more. Place the chapati on a plate and add a 1/4 teaspoon dollop of ghee to the center. Rub it around on one side with the back of a spoon. Cover with a hand towel.
Repeat. Eat warm.
Generally we serve chapatis with a typical Indian chickpea dish with spinach or onions and tomatoes. When Matt and I went to see my parents this weekend after Thanksgiving, my mom spiced it up with some turnips, celery, and onion.