I firmly believe flatbread has magical qualities. It can revive dull dinner conversation during that gaping time when the food seems like it’ll never be ready. And, when the meal finally arrives, flatbread is there to happily house any number of visitors, including stews, sandwich fillings, spreads, dips, and cheeses. It can even make a grouchy baby happy again.
I’m into it.
Are you with me?
Here’s the short of it: I go to my happy place when presented with a steaming stack of warm, buttery flatbread. Today we’re celebrating Chapati – a thin, wheaty flatbread much adored in Kenya (with roots in Indian cuisine). Like the other flatbreads we’ve done so far on this Adventure (pita bread, naan, corn tortillas, chinese pancakes, injera, and laxoox), chapati brings on my mega smile.
Those who make chapati daily – and there are plenty of such people in Kenya, not to mention India – they can zip out dozens of dinnerplate-sized specimens in mere minutes, rolling one while another cooks. They make the chapati so fast that even the first one made makes it to the table piping hot, soft, and ready for nibbling.
The key to soft chapati is using hot water and, once cooked, brushing both sides of the hot chapati with either ghee or – in a pinch – butter (you can just rub a stick of butter on the chapati – the heat will melt the perfect amount onto the flatbread. The rich moisture from the butter will keep the bread soft. Also, it is critical to keep the chapati covered so they don’t lose heat (at room temperature they become somewhat tougher).
While a local would ideally make chapati with Atta flour, a super finely ground wheat flour available at Indian markets, you can also obtain good results with all purpose and whole wheat flour. If you do use Atta flour in this recipe, use 1 cup and leave out the other two flours called for in the ingredient list.
Makes 6 small chapati or 2 large
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp salt
hot water, as needed (start with 1/3 cup)
vegetable oil for cooking
ghee or butter for brushing
Just for fun, let’s make our chapati in the beautiful Gede ruins of Kenya, a Swahili town that was abandoned in the 15th century. Today, tree roots cover the walls, but once upon a time this was a bustling community with vibrant trade.
When you arrive, find a comfy spot to cook. I like the fire ring pictured above. There’s room for all of us if you like it, too.
Mix together the flours and salt in a medium bowl.
Next, add hot water a little at a time until a soft ball forms.
Knead for five minutes until smooth and elastic. Now nestle it under a damp cloth and let rest for 30 minutes to an hour.
Next, divide the dough ball into 6 even pieces.
Form each piece into a ball and then roll out thin and flat, using flour as necessary.
Next, heat up a griddle, flat iron pan, comal, or other such pan over medium high (do not use nonstick). I used a comal purchased at our local latino market for $7.00 – a steal!
Add a little vegetable oil, as needed. Cook chapati on one side until the color changes, it begins to bubble up, and brown spots form underneath. This should take 15-30 seconds.
Flip and cook the second side, letting it puff up, inflating like a balloon.
Remove from heat and immediately brush with ghee or butter and stack. Cover with a cloth to keep cozy and warm.
PS. You’re down with eating with your hands, right? Use the chapati to scoop up food instead of silverware.