In olden days I’m told, the first test of the new Indian bride’s ability to cook was based on how she would make chapatis. Did she roll them round and even, did they cook just right (no patches raw or charred), did they fluff out beautifully? Could she roll out a chapati and watch the one on the fire at the same time?
The in-laws would scrutinize the final product, tear off a portion, bite and pass their verdict.
Those days of “judging” the bride are over (or so I hope!), but the fact remains that getting the chapati right is an instant indicator of the chef’s experience. Someone with a flair for cooking can possibly prepare any dish (like a curry) first time right – instructions and instinct guide them well – but you cannot make a perfect chapati until you have made several not-so-good ones before. Making chapatis is easy once you know how but it takes a a few stumbles to get there.
Presenting for you the “ultimate” chapati recipe, with time-tested tips to help you jump from newbie to pro in the quickest time.
- Whole wheat flour (atta) – a small bowl for the dough + some separately for the rolling
- Water – 1/2 cup or so, for the dough
- Wide container – for kneading the dough
- Tava and tongs – for the cooking (see step D for pictures)
A. Preparing The Dough
Measure out the whole wheat flour (atta). Take a small bowlful for 4-6 chapatis. The number will depend on how large/thin you want them. Don’t worry about the measurements in the beginning, a few chapatis more or less is no big deal. (You have bread or rice as backup, don’t you? If this is your first go at making chapati, better have a contingency plan.)
Knead the atta right. I cannot stress enough how important this is. Half the credit of making chapati right goes to the well-kneaded dough.
To knead the dough by hand (it’s supposed to be great exercise for the fingers, you know) – keep adding a little water at a time and mixing the flour in. The final consistency should be even, soft enough to pluck out balls with ease and not so soft that it sticks like paste. If it has become too soft, simply add some more dry flour and blend it in.
When done it should look somewhat like this:
B. Letting it stand
After you have the dough nicely kneaded, make it into a big ball, moisten its surface with water, cover its container with a lid and let it sit for 30 minutes.
C. Rolling it
Use a rolling pin you’re comfortable with. Some of my friends swear by the thin long type of rolling pin. My personal preference is for the thicker, shorter type. There are fancy ridged ones too that make patterns on the chapati. If you’re new to this, I’d recommend the type I use – about an inch in diameter.
Divide the dough and shape them into equal spheres, of around 1.5 inch diameter.
Keep some dry flour nearby.
Flatten a ball slightly, dip it quickly into the dry flour and start rolling. Follow these tips to roll them round and even:
- Make a firm straight stroke, putting a little more pressure near the circumference than the center.
- Turn the flattened dough at different angles and repeat the stroke.
- If you start to feel the dough sticking to the base, sprinkle some (very little!) atta to it on both sides.
- When you’re nearing the size and thickness you want (I keep it around 7 inches in diameter), make sure that the dry atta on the chapati has been more or less used up. If any remains, brush it away.
- Don’t let the rolled out dough to stand for long else it’ll lose moisture. Have the tava ready.
All right, you may not get a perfect disc the first few times – no worries, it’s wiser to concentrate on evenness before shape.
D. Playing With Fire
This step thankfully requires no tricky artistry, just timing.
To cook, you need a tava (a flat griddle), and tongs.
Follow these points carefully, this step is the deal-breaker!
- Heat the empty tava for a couple of minutes. Then set the flame to medium.
- Place the raw chapati on the hot tava gently in the center, making sure there are no folds. Let’s call the side being heated first side1.
- Twist side1 a couple of times so that it cooks evenly. Turn the chapati over before black spots start to form, again making sure there are no folds. Depending on the thickness of the tava and the intensity of the flame, this will take around a minute.
- Heat side2 for twice the time as side1. This side can become almost fully cooked directly on the tava. Twist it as you did with side1.
- When side2 is nearly done, take the pincers, pick up the chapati, turn the flame on High and place side1 directly on the flame. Note the sides, the sequence is important!
- If all has gone well so far, the chapati will swell. The moment it swells completely, turn it around and place side 2 on the flame for 2 seconds. Keep turning the chapati around if you want it roasted more, else remove.
Don’t let the length of this article daunt you. Making chapatis is pretty easy and the entire process from rolling to completion takes no more than 3 minutes. You will soon be able to roll the next one while the the previous chapati is on the tava, and have a batch of a dozen chapatis ready in a few minutes.
PS: Once you’ve got the hang of making chapatis, go on to learning how to make parathas.