Dinner for us has always been Chapatis for a long time. I remember Amma rolling out these hot for dinner since my high school days. Those days I remember eating right off the tawa sitting in the kitchen. Then came a period when I started helping her in making the chapatis. Back then, Amma used to get whole grains, them ground and store in bulk. Now we mostly buy ready to use flour. Chappatis for us mean, goduma pindi (atta) mixed with just salt and water, if they are to be consumed right away.
If it's for lunch, Amma would use other things to make them soft. During college days, Amma started preparing stuffed chapatis for lunch. Other times, I preferred carrying Chapatis with Subjis. Chapatis were always hassle free and no mess to handle. Moreover I never really preferred to carry rice for lunch. When we got introduced to North Indian cuisine, we saw they referred few things as Roti and rest as paranthas. The difference was in how they make. For us, it means all the same. This can be called Chapatis or Rotis or Parathas. In South, we call all these by one name Chapati.
The way and on what utensil these chapatis are prepared, gives it an unique taste. One sterling chapati eating incident I will always remember, was eating at our family friend's place. That day we stayed late and aunty compelled us for dinner. Boy, was I happy that I stayed back. What we ate that night will always remain fresh in mind. She made real thick chapatis. Must have been the size of 3 to 4 regular chappatis rolled out as one. But each one was well roasted and cooked and to top, it had many layers. It was so wonderful. I have been planning to try the same from memory, never got around it. Though I will always remember the taste and feel of those thick chapatis. Whenever I carry chappatis for lunch, everybody loves and says it so soft even after 5 hrs.
In the early years, whenever I speak to my North Indian friends, I would be asked questions if it was a roti or paratha or whatever they could think of, in their language. I figured I ought to understand what they mean. After a search on internet, I came across this description which fits everything I have been thinking.
Chapati or chapatti or Chappati is a type of roti or Indian bread. It is made from a dough of atta flour (whole grain durum wheat), water and salt by rolling the dough out into discs of approximately twelve centimeters in diameter and browning the discs on both sides on a very hot, dry tava or frying pan (preferably not one coated with Teflon or other nonstick material). If the chapati is held for about half a second directly into an open flame, causing it to puff up with steam like a balloon, it becomes the Gujrathi and Punjabi phulka. The steaming (ballooning) step can also be achieved by placing the chapati in a microwave oven for five to ten seconds. However, because microwave cooking can cause the chapati to become soggy, a heated grill or open gas flame is recommended.
Often, the finished chapatis are brushed with ghee (clarified butter). Variations include replacing part of the wheat flour with pearl millet (bajra) or maize (makka) or (jowar) flour. The chapatis are then referred to in Hindi as bajra roti or makke ki roti and in Marathi bhakri. When a mixture of pearl millet, maize and gram flour is used, the chapati is called a missi roti. In the southern and eastern parts, one cannot have that option for all the terms roti, chapati, paratha or kulcha would imply majorly, if not exclusively maida contents. In some parts of Maharashtra, chapati is called poli. In Gujarat and Punjab it is called rotli or phulka.
Since I am always asked how the chapatis I carry are always soft chapatis, I used to tell them how my Amma makes. She is known to have used few other ingredients also. Depending on the situation, she adds milk or ghee / oil / curds. All these aid in getting the chapatis soft. However, even without adding any of these you can still get soft chapatis, if you cook them right. When you hard press on the chapatis while cooking, it tends to get hard.
Chapati Recipe / How to make Basic Roti
Wheat Flour / Atta - 3 cups
Salt to taste
Curds - 2 tbsp
Water - 1/2 glass
Ghee - 1/2 tsp (opt)
Makes about 8 Chapatis.
Cast Iron concave griddle 8-12 inches in diameter called tawa
Shallow mixing bowl
A rolling pin
Clean floor or a base or large plate for dusting the dough while rolling it out
Making the dough:
Take the flour in a large bowl. Add Curds, Salt and Ghee. Crumble well so that the flour is well mixed with all these.
Then slowly add the water and using hand mix the flour and water in a rotating motion to gather all the flour. Continue mixing until all the flour is mixed into a mass. The dough is ready when it become a non sticky, knead able dough. When the dough is kneaded, it will be elastic and smooth.
For more soft rotis, kneading it well gets the effect. Let it rest for sometime. If you are using anything like curds, milk, oil or ghee, you can let it rest for 10 mins, else it can be kept for some 30 mins.
If you want crispy chapatis, you can cook these immediately. But if you will have to consume right away. Another trick to soft ones, is to cover the dough with moist cloth.
Divide into equal balls of lemon sized ones. On a lightly floured surface, flatten one ball of dough with your hand. Using a rolling-pin, roll out the dough into a thin, round discs, about 5 inches in diameter.
Once the dough is rolled out and brushed with ghee or oil, fold it as a triangle shaped. Dust with flour again and roll out evenly
Cooking a Chappati:
Preheat a cast-iron tawa over medium heat and grease it with oil. Gently lift the rolled out chappati and flip on the tawa.
When you find bubble appearing on top, turn it over. Let it bubble again. Turn it over and then brush oil over the surface of the Chappati and turn it over. Repeat the process of brushing the chapati on the other side.
Lightly press on the sides, so that the sides get well cooked.
The whole process takes about 1 -2 mins. If you want to store them soft and not moisten with water, cover the cooked chappatis with either tissue paper or towel.
Storing these in hot boxes, will make them soft with its own stream going down.
Other Indian FlatBread that are worth a try:
Leftover Rice Parathas
Biyam Rotti ~ Rice Flour Roti
Stuffed Paneer Parathas