Chapattis, or how I finally defeated my nemesis

Chickpea curry and chapattis

Up until fairly recently, I had a love-hate relationship with chapattis (or chapatis). I absolutely LOVE eating them, especially when they’re freshly made by my mum, but I used to hate trying to make them myself.

For one, I could never get the dough right because my mum is rubbish at giving proper weights and measures for anything food-related (“Add one spoonful of oil.” “But how big is the spoon?” *shrug*). Secondly, I was TERRIBLE at making them come out completely round. You might think it’s a bit stereotypical, but the scenario with the daughter of Indian immigrants struggling to obtain her mum’s approval due to an ever so slightly wonky chapatti – or something resembling a map of India, in my case – is very much real, folks.

So, what changed? Well, it seems all I had to do was move out of my mum’s house, put together a recipe that made actual sense, and practice, practice, practice.

Chapatti dough

Chapatti dough

First, the dreaded dough. Neither I nor my mum think you can get away with just chapatti flour (or atta, as it’s also called) and water, although this is fairly traditional thinking. The secret to the perfect chapatti is almost certainly the little bit of fat that you add to the dough – a bit of sunflower oil and some sunflower spread rubbed in.

(My mum’s top tip for buying chapatti flour, by the way, is to look for anything with ‘Gold’ in the name, e.g. East End Gold Chapati Atta, to ensure a quality atta. Seriously. I LOVE MY MUM.)

The other key to getting the dough right is to not in any circumstances add too much water. Always, always go slowly when adding it, otherwise you’ll end up with a soggy dough and the vicious circle that is adding flour to counteract the sogginess, then adding water because it’s too dry again, etc etc.

Chickpea curry

Chickpea curry

Once you’ve given the dough a good knead, cover the bowl and leave it to rest while you prepare the curry to eat with your chapattis (assuming you’re going to make a quick vegetarian curry as I usually do, rather than spend hours on a luscious lamb curry). I made my favourite, chickpea curry, when I took these pictures and you can find the recipe for that below along with the chapatti recipe.

Then it’s time to roll out and cook the chapattis while the curry is simmering. The trick is to use plenty of flour in the rolling out process so that the chapatti turns by itself while you’re rolling it out, and to keep adding more flour as soon as it starts to stick. This is something my mum neglected to explain to me, hence my complete inability to turn out anything vaguely round when I was a teenager. It also helps to have a chapatti rolling pin that’s tapered at each end, although it’s not essential.

Chapatti tava

Chapatti tava

Now for the cooking. Again, it helps to have a special chapatti pan called a tava or tawa, but you can get away with a frying pan just fine. Luckily, my mum gave me loads of kitchen equipment when I bought my house, but you can buy Asian equipment at pretty much any large Indian grocer or cash and carry.

First, lay the rolled-out dough on the hot tava…

Chapattis

…then wait until it’s nicely puffed up…

Chapattis

…before flipping it over. The underside should have brown patches, like so:

Chapattis 4

Then all you do is leave to cook for a bit longer before transferring it to a plate:

Chapattis

And that’s it! Smear some butter on the warm chapatis and you’re good to go as soon as you’ve put the finishing touches to your curry.

It seems so simple now but believe me when I say the above pictures are the result of years of struggling to get it right. Luckily, now I’ve found out how to do it you can skip straight to the nice, round chapattis with your curry without the pain!

As it just so happens to be bread week on the Great British Bake Off, I’m submitting this to the Great Blogger Bake Off organised by Laura at I Love Crafty. I expect to be fully upstaged by both the other participating bloggers and the contestants’ amazing bakes on the show tonight!

The recipe – chapattis

Makes 4 (to serve 2 people) – easily doubled

  • 125g chapatti flour, plus extra for rolling out
  • 0.25 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 60-70ml warm water
  • 1 tsp sunflower spread (I use Vitalite)
  • butter, to serve

Method:

  1. Stir the salt into the flour, then add the oil and 60ml of the water.
  2. Mix everything together until you get a fairly soft dough. Add more water if needed, but do this a few drops at a time.
  3. Rub the sunflower spread into the dough and knead for a couple of minutes until soft and smooth. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave to stand for 15-20 minutes, ideally while you make the curry.
  4. Put the tava or frying pan over a medium-high heat to get very hot.
  5. Split the dough into four equal pieces and roll each one into a ball. Gently flatten each one between your hands to create fat ‘discs’.
  6. Liberally sprinkle the surface with flour and roll the first disc out into a circle, always making sure there’s enough flour to keep it turning by itself under the rolling pin. Make sure the rolled-out dough is evenly thin – you’re looking for a thickness of around 2mm maximum.
  7. Cook the dough circle by placing it on the hot tava, making sure there are no bumps or wrinkles. Leave to cook for 1-2 minutes (roll out another chapatti while you’re at it!) until the top puffs up quite considerably and the underside has brown patches, then flip it over and cook for another minute.
  8. Transfer the chapatti to a plate, place the next dough circle on the tava to cook, and roll out another circle while it’s cooking. Repeat until all the chapattis are done. Spread a little butter over the top of each chapatti and serve with a piping hot curry.

The recipe – chickpea curry

Chickpea curry and chapattis

Serves 2 (easily doubled)

  • 1-2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 0.5 tsp cumin seeds
  • 0.5 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 small white or red onion, chopped
  • 1 bird’s eye chilli, finely chopped (note: I like my curries very hot so you might be better off with half a chilli if you don’t!)
  • a 1-inch cube of ginger, finely grated
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed or finely chopped
  • 0.25 tsp red chilli powder
  • 0.5 tsp ground turmeric
  • half a tin of chopped or peeled plum tomatoes (if using the latter, squish them with your fingers to break them up a bit)
  • 0.5 tsp solid jaggery goor (unrefined cane sugar) or 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 400g tinned chickpeas (or red kidney beans or butter beans, or even parboiled chopped potatoes and some frozen peas)
  • a splash of lemon juice
  • 0.5 tsp garam masala
  • a handful of fresh coriander, chopped
  • salt, to taste

Method:

  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds.
  2. When the mustard seeds start to pop, add the chopped onion and fry gently for a couple of minutes, being careful to not let the seeds burn.
  3. Add the bird’s eye chilli, ginger, garlic, red chilli powder and turmeric and cook – still very gently – for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently to prevent sticking.
  4. Add the tomatoes and jaggery or brown sugar, and simmer for another couple of minutes before adding the chickpeas and covering the pan. Keep on a low simmer while you roll out and cook the chapattis (about 10-15 minutes), stirring occasionally.
  5. Add the lemon juice and garam masala, stir and then turn off the heat.
  6. Stir in the coriander, season with salt as you see fit, and serve with your nice, round chapattis.

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