Indian flatbreads can be incredible if well-made. Light as air, brushed with ghee, they can make a meal.
Trying to recreate Indian flatbread at home is almost always a disappointment. I’ve never heard of a home kitchen equipped with a tandoor, and approximating one on a pizza stone never seems to work as well as you like. Chapatis, however, should be easy. They are unleavened, and cooked on a skillet. But then there is the matter of the flour. Many recipes will recommend simply using whole wheat flour, but if you do so you are almost sure to not meet expectations. Indian flatbreads are made with a flour called “atta.” It is stone ground incredibly fine from durum flour, and contains the proper balance of gluten and protein necessary to make proper chapati. It can be bought online or at an Indian supermarket. If you are willing to go through the trouble of making dough from scratch, it would be foolish not to seek out the proper flour. In Philadelphia there is an Indian Market at 4204 Walnut where I was able to find atta.
- large bowl
- medium bowl
- plastic wrap
- parchment paper
- large, clean, flat work surface
- rolling pin
- cast iron skillet or griddle
- pastry brush
- 8 oz atta flour
- 6 oz hot water
- cooking oil
1) Make the dough. Add flour and a healthy pinch of salt to the large bowl. Slowly pour the water into the bowl while mixing with your free hand. When the dough comes together in a cohesive mass, remove from the bowl and knead for 5-10 minutes. It should make a smooth, supple, elastic dough. Place a splash of cooking oil in a medium bowl, and add the dough. Turn the dough until it is completely coated with cooking oil and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest for 1 hour.
2) Shape the dough. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead for a few minutes. Shape into a twelve inch log and divide into quarters. Divide each piece three ways. This should leave you with twelve pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and place underneath a clean damp kitchen towel. One at a time, remove a dough ball from underneath the towel and roll into a six-inch thin disc on a well-floured work surface. Stack the discs, separated by parchment paper as each is completed.
3) Cook the bread. Pre-heat a cast iron skillet over medium to medium high heat until for several minutes until it is very hot. One at a time, cook each side of the flatbread for a minute or so, flipping with tongs. The bread should become blistered, and slightly charred. Remove from the skillet and brush one side with melted ghee. Serve.
Although you are sure to fail without atta flour, even with atta, your first attempt may not be a complete success. There is a bit of feel involved, and those who cook perfect bread at Indian restaurants do it all day every day. From my internet research I have found that it is important to use hot water in the dough, and that the rest period is essential. If you do not plan to eat the bread immediately, you might want to add about a tsp or two of oil to the dough.