Soft and slightly chewy with a deep wholemeal taste. The perfect conduit for a curry and makes the most amazing wraps for picnics and packed lunches. The roti is one of my favourite breads and possibly one of the oldest dating back to the dawn of agriculture.
Bread has been a staple food for humankind for around 30, 000 years with the earliest being a simple unleavened mix of flour and water which is then baked. A contemporary example is the roti simply meaning ‘bread’ in Sanskrit and found all over the world from the
Caribbean to . India
As my in–laws hail from Northern India I had the ideal opportunity to watch how it’s made first hand and compare it to leavened breads.
When asking questions about the process of making roti it became very evident that I was experiencing a tradition that had been passed down through generations and simply accepted as the way to do it. My mother-in-law has been making Roti every day for over sixty years. I asked about the quantity of flour to water and received the reply, “Just enough”. The same reply came when I asked about how long to work the dough. Cooking time was, “until it’s done”. This is a process which is instinctive and ingrained in the culture. Good food is fresh and prepared daily, time is made to do it even if it means getting up 20 minutes earlier before work to make your roti as my brother-in-law does. Every day. Most people my in-laws know make bread freshly every day. An example for all of us.
I was told that men generally make larger roti than women, not because they like them bigger but men have bigger hands and therefore pull off a bigger piece of the raw dough to roll out into the roti. So don’t worry too much about the size, it clearly varies!
Roti are made fresh daily for the meal that they are to be served with. As you eat, they are given to you straight off the ‘tava’ (metal griddle) and kept warm and soft, wrapped in a tea towel. Imagine how strange the concept of white sliced bread that keeps indefinitely in a plastic bag.
As roti simply means ‘bread’ in Hindi there are different types of flour used to make different types of roti. The one I am using here is a wholemeal wheat flour called ‘atta’ which is available in most shops now, even supermarkets. It can also be referred to as ‘chapatti’ flour although there are differences between roti and chapatti.
Researching the ratio of flour to water I have found varying quantities. This is most probably as different flours can absorb different amounts of liquids. I have found recipes that use from half the amount of liquid to flour in weight to equal quantities. You will just have to experiment. Here we are using 130 grams of flour which took 90 ml of water.
The ‘tava’ is a traditional Indian griddle usually made out of cast iron. They are slightly concave and must be heated before the roti is placed on to it. A little practise is needed here as the temperature will vary depending on the thickness of the roti.
A thin roti requires a higher heat as they should cook faster to stop them becoming hard and brittle. A thick one needs a lower heat as it needs longer on the tava to cook through.
If you don’t have a tava a dry frying pan works pretty well.
Roti should most definitely be eaten with your hands. Most commonly a piece is torn off which is just the right size to envelop a morsel of food from your plate into the perfect single bite size piece.
A little about the dough...
You need to develop an understanding of what the perfect roti dough should be like.
In the Ultimate Curry Bible, Madhur Jaffrey simply says, ‘a moderately soft dough’. My wife Sarah reckons she knows better and the best word is ‘pliable’. Another commonly repeated guide is that the dough should come away from the bowl and hands leaving them clean. The trick is to keep adding the water a bit at a time until you get the mix you want.
The mixing and kneading is a three stage process...
Firstly, bring the flour and water together with your fingers in a claw.
Secondly, scrunch the dough together through your fingers to check the water content. Use your judgement as to whether to add more water if too hard and dry or more flour if too wet.
Finally, using a ‘rolling knuckle press’ flatten the dough all over then fold the dough back on itself
Repeat the process until you have a soft and pliable dough..
Leaving the dough to rest is also important to allow it to become softer and more supple.
The perfect roti should puff up completely. Try not to burn your roti when you first put it on the tava as this can affect the chances of it puffing up evenly. A few seconds is enough before you flip it on to the other side. Holding your fingers (if you have asbestos hands, if not use a tea towel) onto the roti as it cooks can help force the air through and encourage it to puff. If you see a hole or tear through which air is escaping then hold a tea towel on the hole to again force the air to puff the roti.
When they come off the tava have some ghee or a pack of good quality butter half unwrapped and ready to smear over the roti before tucking them into a tea towel. This helps keep them moist as well as adding to the flavour.
- A mixing bowl big enough to hold the dough.
- A rolling pin.
- A wooden or marble board for rolling the roti out on.
- A tava
- A smaller flour bowl for dipping the roti.
- 130 grams of wholemeal wheat flour or ‘chapatti’ flour
- 90 ml water (blood temperature)
- Half a teaspoon of salt
- Butter or ghee
Weigh out the flour into your mixing bowl.
Get your tava on a low to moderate heat to warm up.
Gradually mix in the water with your fingers in a stiff claw. We used 90ml here but remember it may take a bit more or less.
When you are happy start to knead with the rolling knuckle motion.
Tear off a lump of dough and roll into a ball The size will depend on the size of your tava. Your final roti should fit nicely onto the tava and not hang off the sides. A bit of practise here.
Flatten the ball with your thumb and index fingers and roll out into a circle using the flour from your small bowl to prevent sticking.
Using your rolling pin roll out into a circle.
Now turn up the heat under the tava. To check if the tava is hot enough, drop a few dots of flour and if it starts to turn brown the tava is ready.
Flip from one hand to the other when finished to remove excess flour.
Slap it straight on to your tava.
Give it a few seconds and then flip it over. Timing will depend on the heat of your tava of course but remember you don’t want it to burn or it may not puff up properly.
Watch it puff!
Press down on any holes with your tea towel to aid the puff. When it is puffed up and cooked rub butter on it and keep it warm wrapped in a tea towel in a heat retentive container.
We enjoyed our roti with a spicy black dhal, cucumber pickle and marinated chicken straight off the barbecue.
Many thanks to my wife's family in London for all their help.