In 2009 I was privileged to spend a few months working in South India. India is a huge country and there is a massive variation in cuisine between the regions. We stayed in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka but also spent some weekends in Kerala. Every meal we had was very different but the one constant was chapatis (and lime pickle).
Chapatis are to South Indians what a sliced loaf is to the British. With rice it is the staple carbohydrate and I am completely converted. I do enjoy other Indian bread such as naan and paratha but chapatis always take me back to Gudalur in the Nilgiris Hills of north eastern Tamil Nadu. They are soft and thin (closer to a tortilla than a naan) and you can therefore fill them with whatever you are eating.
They are also so simple to make, are whole grain, fat free and very cheap!
Even if you have never made any sort of bread before do not be intimidated. The recipe I was taught in Gudalur requires only one ingredient (and water), no yeast and only a frying pan to cook.
As flour is the only ingredient, you get better results with higher quality flour, I prefer the stone ground type as it has a bit more texture. It’s a rustic bread so don’t worry too much about the shape or getting the thickness perfect.
- Whole meal flour (approx. 200g per person will make about 3 each)
- Tap water
- Pour your flour into a clean dry work surface.
- Make a small dent in the middle of the mound and add some water.
- Work with your hands until the water has worked into the flour.
- Add more water small amounts at a time until the flour has come together to form a dough.
- It shouldn’t be too wet. At this stage you should be able to work it without it sticking to your hands or the work surface.
- Knead for a five minutes.
- Cover in cling film and rest for 1/2 hour.
- Divide into portions (about the size of a tangerine). Roll into balls: if they are round at this stage they will be round once rolled.
- Roll out until 2-3mm thick. Use some flour to stop sticking if necessary.
- In a dry pan cook the chapatis on a medium-high heat.
- Once air bubbles start to rise flip them and do the same.
- Put in a cloth covered bowl to keep warm.
- Repeat with all your chapatis.
- Enjoy fresh with whatever Indian food you feel like cooking. Best to eat with your hands and include some Indian pickles/raita/yoghurt! Great with a cool beer (Kingfisher is my favourite Indian beer as this was the one available where we were).
Note: they should catch slightly so that each chapati should be speckled with bubbles the tops of which should be slightly burnt. This is important for the smoky flavour!