Writing this recipe feels more daring than writing the others I think this is because we are giving it a recognised name rather than a descriptive one, implying that these chapatis are the same as the traditional Indian ones. While the chapatis we make are excellent, they can never be quite as good as those you eat on the streets of small towns in India. Traditional chapati flour is ground finer than ours, and we haven’t yet perfected the Indian chapati makers’ technique of rolling and turning the chapatis in the same movement and of thinning them by throwing them from hand to hand with panache.
- 200g. wholemeal wheat flour
- 1/8 tsp. salt (adjust to taste)
- 100ml water
Makes twelve small chapatis
Mix the flour and salt in a bowl and make a well in the middle. Pour the water into the well and mix, drawing flour into it from around the well. When you have created a dough too stiff to mix with a spoon, knead it with your knuckles, incorporating flour as you go. .When the dough is dry enough to leave your fingers fairly clean, transfer to a floured board and knead a bit more. The dough should be a little softer than a usual bread dough. Ideally you then cover the dough and let it rest for a while. When you are ready to make the chapatis (10 minutes to a few hours later), knead the dough lightly again, incorporating a little more flour so that the outside is not sticky, then divide into twelve equal sized bits and work each individually into a satisfying ball. Flatten it with your fingers and then roll it out using a rolling pin, turning it round repeatedly as you work. You will need extra flour as you progress but use as little as you can. Roll the chapati as thin as you can. It should be not much more than one mm thick and around 16 cm in diameter. We make them this small as it makes cooking easier. Repeat with the rest, stacking them carefully on a plate with a little flour sprinkled between them to prevent sticking. Cover them with a cloth to keep them from drying out. They can rest at this stage but not for too long (minutes rather than hours).
Cooking the chapatis is the difficult bit. It is easy to overcook them, leaving you with perfectly satisfactory food but not the lovely pliable delicacy you are trying to create. You need a strong controllable heat and it is easier with a good curved chapati pan, though perfectly possible with a heavy frying pan. When the pan is very hot put the chapati on, having dusted off excess flour. Watch the top of the dough for a subtle change. As soon as most of it has darkened very slightly (about 15 seconds), quickly turn it and cook similarly briefly on the other side. You should turn it well before there is any browning. After cooking the second side, turn the chapati back over and press the dough down with a folded cloth firmly against the surface of the pan. This is to coax it to blow up and you will find steam filled bubbles follow the cloth. You are aiming to create a single balloon but you can be satisfied if you get a few good bubbles. If you are working over a flame, you can blow it up by holding it briefly in the flame, but that is tricky. Total cooking time is well under a minute. A well cooked chapati tears easily and has two thin layers.
As you make them, put the chapatis onto a cloth and fold it over to keep them warm and soft.