I grew up eating an Indian flatbread called chapatti. As in most Indian homes, we used chapattis as a utensil. Instead of a fork or spoon, we tore off a piece of chapatti with our fingers and used it to scoop up some curry or a vegetable before popping the whole bite into our mouths.
Chapattis were also a favorite after-school snack. Back when I was in elementary school, my grandmother (Aaji) lived with us. I’d come home with my best friend Judy and we’d sit in the kitchen while Aaji served us hot chapattis, fresh off the griddle. Judy liked hers with butter and a sprinkle of sugar (just the way millions of schoolchildren eat their chapattis in
). I preferred mine with just the butter. We’d roll our chapattis into little cigars and then savor each bite. India
Chapattis take time and they’re labor intensive (two things I definitely didn’t appreciate when my mom stood at the stove, turning out one chapatti after another after a long day at work).
Made properly, chapattis are flaky, thin and light, and yet still incredibly tender. In most restaurants, you’ll find chapattis that are tender but thick. At home you might make a thin chapatti, but it’s likely to be tough, crackly, or dry.
Last time my mom came to visit, I stood over her shoulder as she made chapattis. I wrote down every step, trick and detail I observed. Chapatti making is still as much an art as it is a science. You have to make them over and over again until you know that the dough feels right, that you’ve added enough oil, that you’ve rolled them thin enough.
With practice, my chapattis are getting better. They’re still not in the same ballpark as my mom’s and grandmother’s. But with each attempt, I’m getting closer to carrying the chapatti tradition along at least one more generation.
Chapattis start with atta, a durum wheat flour.
To the atta you add salt and a little oil, breaking up any clumps with your fingers.
Then add water, just a little at a time. Mix and knead the dough, continuing to add small amounts of water, until the dough forms a ball.
You then cover the bowl and let the dough rest for up to a few hours. Once the dough has rested, remove it from the bowl and then knead it firmly. Then roll it into a log and break into equal-sized pieces.
It helps to have a small bowl of atta and another small bowl of oil on the counter for the next few steps.
Take each piece of dough and firmly press it into a flat cookie shape.
Dust it lightly with more atta, then roll it out into a flat oval with a rolling pin.
Spread some oil onto the flat oval, then pinch the oval in the middle.
Fold the oval in half so that it forms a circle.
Dust both sides of the oval with more atta and put it back into the covered bowl. Repeat this process for all of the pieces of dough.
Now this is where it gets interesting. From this point on you have to work pretty fast. It helps to have everything you need in place. That includes a frying pan (ideally with low sides) set over low heat, some atta in a bowl, several paper towels, and some butter.
Once you’re ready to go you sprinkle some atta on your counter and roll one piece of dough into a flat, thin circle (or as close to a circle as you can get it).
Turn the heat under the frying pan to high, then put the chapatti on the frying pan. Let it sit for a moment then, using your fingertips, gently rotate the chapatti a couple of times. Let it sit for a moment, then start pressing the chapatti with a dry paper towel. If you’ve rolled the chapatti properly, it will start to puff up.
Flip the chapatti over (my mom does this with her fingers but it’s fine to use a spatula). Then press the second side with a paper towel.
Remove the chapatti from the pan and immediately spread some butter on it and then cover it with a paper towel. As you make more chapattis, fold the chappatis in half over one another before covering with a paper towel. This helps to keep them from drying out.
Once you’ve finished one chapatti, turn down the heat under the frying pan and wipe out any blackened specks of atta with a paper towel. Then roll out the next chapatti, turn up the heat under the frying pan and start again.
When you've finished the chapattis, keep them under the paper towels for a few minutes and then transfer them to an airtight container.
1 ½ cups atta
¼ tsp salt
1 Tbsp oil
¼ to ½ cup water
Extra atta and oil
Make the Dough
Put the atta in a bowl. Add salt. Mix well.
Add oil. Mix well again, breaking up clumps.
Add water, a little at a time. Knead dough and continue to add water until the dough forms a ball. Towards the end, add water to your hand, not directly to the dough, so you don’t add too much water. Add a bit of oil to your hand for the final kneading.
Cover the bowl with a plate; let sit for at least 30 minutes or up to a few hours (put in fridge if longer than that).
Make the Chapattis
Take the dough out of bowl and knead firmly. Add oil or atta if needed for proper consistency.
Roll the dough into a log and break off pieces.
Roll each piece firmly into a flat cookie shape with your hands. Dust lightly with atta. Roll out with a rolling pin into a flat oval. Put oil on your fingers and spread onto the oval. Pinch the oval in the middle and fold it over into a circle. (My mom rolls the dough into a circle then oils and folds it twice into a triangle. This results in a more layered chapatti but it takes a lot of practice to roll a triangle into a circle.) Dust both sides with atta and put it back into the covered bowl. Repeat for all of the dough.
Preheat your frying pan (keep on low until almost ready, then turn to high).
Dust atta onto the counter. Lightly roll each dough ball into a flat circle. Dust with additional atta as needed. Make sure the edges are thin and even.
Put the chapatti on the frying pan. With your hand, gently turn it twice. Let it sit for a moment, then start pressing the chapatti with a dry paper towel. Flip the chapatti and press the second side with the paper towel. Remove from the pan. (It’s best to turn the chapatti over only once.)
Immediately butter and cover the chapatti with a paper towel. (As more chapattis are made, fold them in half over each other).
In between chapattis, turn down the heat under the frying pan and wipe off any remaining flour. Return to high heat when the next chapatti is almost rolled out.
Keep chapattis in paper towels for a few minutes, then put them in an airtight container.
Makes 10 chapattis.