Sometimes you want something that is bread-ish without being bread. And hassle-free. And easy. This is it…
A basic chapati is flour and water in a soft dough, rolled thin and cooked on a frypan, griddle, or other flat, hot surface. Everything after that is ornament and taste, and other names according to additions, cooking methods, and culture.
Tonight I mixed up chapati dough for 2 people and let it rest while I reheated the leftover chicken stew that wasn’t enough for dinner all by itself, but wrapped in a wrap…? Perfect!
1 cup unbleached wheat flour (could be part whole wheat)
a pinch of salt (optional; a pinch is about 1/32 of a teaspoon)
1 t ground cumin (optional; see article on spices)
1 t ground coriander (optional; see article on spices)
1/2 t ground cinnamon (optional; see article on spices)
1 T olive oil (optional; it lends a bit of softness, but more on that later)
enough water to make a soft, kneadable dough (maybe 1/2 c, but add a bit at a time; room temperature is fine)
Measure dry ingredients into a wide bowl (or into a pile on top of your clean counter… to save a bowl!). Make a bit of a well in the center and put in the oil (if using) and some water. Carefully work from the center outwards, moving the flour into the liquid and making a slurry, then a paste, then a dough. Add liquid as needed. If it’s a little too wet to handle, add a touch more flour.
Once it all clings together, knead it gently yet firmly until the dough is smooth and elastic; this may take five or ten minutes. You may need a wee bit more flour, but try to limit it; the dough should be slightly tacky for best results.
Let the dough rest a few minutes. If I made this on the counter, I flip a big bowl over top; if I made it in a bowl, I put a plate over top. Some people cut the dough into pieces before resting it. Cut this one into 6 pieces.
Clear your counter for rolling out. I have a pastry mat, but it’s just for ease of cleaning up. Get out your rolling pin or something similar; if you have no rolling pin, how about a clean, empty wine bottle? As long as it rolls…
Get the pan ready; mine is a 10″ cast iron frypan. Do not grease it! You’ll want it at about medium to medium-hot.
Take your first piece of dough (first of six pieces), flatten it a bit in your hands. Scatter a bit of flour on your rolling surface, put the bit of dough down, and sprinkle the top of it. Using your rolling pin (or bottle), smoothly roll from the center and out, turning and flipping after every roll or two.
When it’s thinner than pastry but not so thin you can read through it, and the pan is hot, put the flatbread into the pan. When the edges dry a bit and a few bubbles show on the surface, check underneath for the color; if there are flecks of brown, flip. Some people use the rolled corner of a clean dishtowel or a fork to press the unpuffy areas onto the heat to make them puff. Flip as often as needed.
When all speckled, it’s done. Put onto a clean plate and cover; continue with the other pieces.
Set up everything to be as efficient as possible: I can just barely roll out fast enough while watching and flipping the previous flatbread.
Tonight I added a bit of olive oil to the dough because the stew was on the dry side and low in fat. Work the dough as damp as possible to help keep the flatbread soft and flexible. You can also use part warmed milk or a bit of yogurt instead of all water to keep the dough soft, and to add a bit of extra protein; milk products will make it burn more readily, so keep your eye on the heat of the pan and on the timing of the flip.
I use the plain recipe when I camp, and often roll up a seared pepperoni stick in flatbread. Or some feta cheese. There’s usually something green in there, like spinach or broccoli sprouts.
Stuffing is not needed if you just want to melt a little butter over them and eat straight. Of course, they are great with soups and stews. Or sprinkle a little sugar and sweet cinnamon over a buttery chapati, roll it up and eat!
P.S. Here are some videos to help with technique:
How To Knead Flour Dough To Make Chapatis (Indian Flat-bread)
How to make dough for Roti