One of my favourite cuisines is Indian. I learned that spices make all the difference in any food and the Indians know damn well how to handle them. Cumin, turmeric, nutmeg, star anise, cloves, all kinds of pepper… The list (and combinations) is endless.
But worry not, for I’m not here to give a recipe for samosas, dahls or chicken in coconut milk sauce. I adore and I attempt to create some of those typical amazing Indian dishes at home, but I must admit that I’m sassy and I always change something and make it on my own way so, it would be kind of weird for this Italian/Brazilian gall to come here teaching you how to make Indian food. What I want to talk about is one of my crushes when it comes to this flavourful cuisine that, as amazing as it may sound, it has quite a plain flavour. The chapati.
As popular as rice, legend says that the chapati is the first bread invented in the world, dating back to more than 10 thousand years. In India, is common for people to eat with the right hand and they use these flatbreads to, sort of, “replace” silverware and grab the food.
Actually, saying that the chapati tastes like not is kind of an understatement. It’s made to be neutral because it’s flavour is brought up wish whatever dish you serve with it. Whether you’re pairing it with a nice curry, veggie stews of just a nice spread of ghee, everything is allowed to add more and more flavours to turn the “simple” flatbread into a unique delicacy.
If it’s really the oldest bread ever made I can’t be sure but, it is, certainly, the most simple one. With no yeast and just 2 ingredients I must confess that I spent many years of my life loving the chapati and, at the same time, not believing that a homemade attempt would work out. It’s that kind of too good and too easy to be true kind of thing.
But let’s face it, we must go out on the rain with no fear to get wet and it only took one pandemic, a lockdown and a sweet and helpful Indian friend to get me into trying to make my own chapati at home. And, OMG, it worked! I went crazy and became an even bigger fan of chapati and I’l not just making it all the time, I’m getting half of my friends to go out and make their own chapatis as well.
Let’s go the the recipe otherwise I won’t stop talking.
Ingredients (to make 4 chapatis of 6″ each)
1/2 cup of wheat flour (you can do 50% whole wheat / 50% plain flour)*
1/4 cup warm water
When I was a kid, back in Brazil in the 80’s, my mom used to make playdough for me and my brother to play with. Flour + water (and sometimes she would add powdered jelly to make it colourful). Well, that’s the exact same thing.
Put 1/2 cup of flour into a large bowl. I was “naughty” and added a pinch of salt, but the original version of chapati doesn’t call for it. Now, you’ll pour the water little by little and mixing it with the fingers. When it starts to turn into a dough get your hands dirty and knead it for about 5 minutes. Do it inside the bowl (that’s why I suggest that you use a large one) so you won’t add no more flour, preventing your chapati ti crack when it bakes. You’re looking to obtain a homogeneous elastic dough.
Turn it into a small ball and let it rest covered by a wet cloth ar plastic film for, at least, 10 minutes.
Now it’s time to open the dough and, for this, you need to sprinkle a little bit of flour on your countertop – sprinkle… little bit… remember that the chapati doesn’t like too much flour. Work the dough a bit just to get it back into shape and divide it into 4 equal parts. With a roll (or bottle, like me) open the dough into a thin disc.
Don’t worry if you can’t make a perfect circle. It’s a rustic homemade flatbread. Just make sure you make it pretty thin.
Non stick pan. No need to grease. Medium heat. Get the pan hot and place your disc on it and let it “bake” for about 40 seconds. You’ll see some small bubbles being creates. While it’s on the pan, you can sprinkle some water with your fingers on top of it to help create the bubbles.
Gently, not to break the dough, flip the bread – with a spatula or tweezers – and let it cook on the other side. If you wish to get a more “toasted” bread, you can give it another round of a few seconds on each side. And you’re done!
The Indian friend I told you about sent me a few videos on chapati and I see that they keep the breads wrapped in a towel to keep them warm and fresh till it’s time to eat. I used a kitchen cloth and worked just fine.
*#LOWCARB: In the amazing world wide web I found a few low carb versions of the chapati made with almond flour. If you’re on that team and feel adventurous, give it a try and let me know how it turns out.
Water and flour is just the beginning
My first attempt was a basic one. My friend sent me a few videos and gave me precious tips. He told me I had no reason to be afraid just because I had an electric stove. That it would work out just fine.
He also suggested amazing delicious dishes to pair with the chapati, but the fact that I was not sure of my success I felt I should lay low. I decided to run a test and, if it worked out I would just eat it plain, spreading some cream cheese on it. That’ll would make me less frustrated if it turned out to be a huge failure.
I the end, I thought it was such a huge success that I got more and more adventurous and “innovative” with my chapati. I started adding some dried herbs to the dough. Oregano, chives, fine herbs. One prettier than the other, but I was still just pairing my chapati with loads of cheese, some salad and my ordinary microwave omelette on the quarantine brunch.
Up to the day that I thought to myself: what if the chapati turned into a pizzetta in pandella – the famous frying pan pizza. I hesitated, of course. In times where one must be careful when it comes to cultural appropriation I got scared. Would Italy confiscate my passport or the the Indian community expel me from their Parisian neighbourhood?
But the thing is, the Italian soul within me and the fact that I was craving for pizza kicked stronger and, on a Sunday afternoon I followed a friend’s advice and pretended that I was playing around with the so called “fusion cuisine” and the pizza/chapati was brought to life. A delish!
When I showed the result to my Indian friend Praveen I was kind of scared that he would not be so pleased with me being sassy with his traditional delicious cuisine. And then, for my most sweet surprise, he greeted me with the most amazing comment that would make my grandma oh so proud. He said that I had turned the chapati into a painting and that the crazy colourfulness of the dishes reminded him of the work of Italian painters.
I told him that whenever I make chapati I think about him and that I’m so grateful for him to push me into giving it a shot and not being afraid of it to go wrong. and I really mean it. I’ll always think of him around my chapatis, whether their being served with curry or as a pizza. I’ll always cherish this sweet friend the virtual world brought to me, proving me that my love for homemade comfort loving food does have the power of bringing people (and cultures) together.
Let’s get one thing straight: your kitchen, your rules! Everything is allowed. The important thing here is to be happy (and eat well).
The other day, my chapati was even made into a base for a falafel sandwich (I added turmeric to the dough, therefore the beautiful colour). What about you? What are you going to pair your chapati with?