We are Punjabis – I happily include myself in this statement – and because we are Punjabis, we eat chapatis.

Chapatis (pronounced chah-PAH-tees) are flat breads made from whole wheat flour, water and a little oil.  If you’re feeling extra fancy you can add a bit of salt.  If you experience Indian food mostly in restaurants, you may not be familiar with chapatis, since naan is more popularly served.  But in our household, they accompany almost every meal.  Basically, chapatis are like utensils – used for scooping up a bite of lentils or vegetables or smooshing items into bite-size pieces, even wiping a plate clean.  A “real” Punjabi can tear off a piece of chapati, fold it into the perfect scooping device and scoop up a dish without ever getting their fingers dirty – all with one hand.

I however, still need two hands for tearing up my chapatis and folding them into scoops. My fingers still get a little dirty in the process, so my Indian table manners leave a little something to be desired. Perhaps I shouldn’t be calling myself a Punjabi… yet.  More like a Punjabi-in-training.

notice how Hubby easily tears the chapati with one hand – a true Punjabi

Making chapatis is a basic recipe that is great for all Indian food fans to master.  However, the making of chapatis takes a little finesse, so it might take some patience but the effort is well worth it and homemade chapatis will elevate your Indian meal to the next level.  You’ll be thanking yourself.

Back in our college days in Chico, before I knew how to make chapatis, Hubby used to buy soft white-flour tortillas from our local Safeway in place of real chapatis.  They can never be a substitute for chapatis and these days we are amazed we ever ate them.  Then one summer, after a couple of years of tortillas, Hubby took off for a month long India trip that turned into three months. While he was gone, a college friend of his, Raji, stayed with me while she took a summer class at San Jose State University. During her stay, she instructed me in the art of chapati making.

Raji was used to making chapatis twice a day for her family of seven, making an average of thirty chapatis a day.   I think Hubby was the one who asked her to teach me how to make chapatis while she was staying with me.  It’s possible he actually pleaded.  At the time I didn’t have the authentic Indian chapati board and roller, so I used a cutting board and a big rolling pin which works just fine.

My first few attempts at chapatis didn’t result in the same ultra-thin and soft chapatis that Raji produced.  Mine were crispy and hard. They were…chapati-crackers. I have since learned that the way to have great chapatis is to have great dough and then knead it a lot.  For the dough, we want a soft and flexible dough so it can be stretched and rolled thin. We also want a dough that will produce a soft and bendy chapati.  To achieve the ideal dough, we need the right flour.

Indian style chapati board and roller, found at most Indian grocery stores.

If you have easy access to an Indian store, most of them carry a huge selection of chapati flour, which is a finely ground whole wheat flour; more fine than the typical whole wheat flour found at an American supermarket.  Chapati flours are usually labeled “chapati flour” or “chapati atta” or sometimes just “atta”.  Atta is the Hindi/Punjabi term for flour, all of these names refer to the same thing.  I know there is some variation amongst the brands and many seasoned chapati makers are particular about what brand they use, however  I haven’t figured out the differences yet and usually I just get one that is 100% whole wheat.   There are a few brands that mix chapati flour with all-purpose flour, called atta-maida (maida is just all-purpose flour).  I prefer the nutrition from 100% whole wheat so I don’t use the mixed brands.

If you do not have access to chapati flour, you can sift together equal parts of whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour. This will estimate the consistency of chapati flour, although it may be a little tougher. If you find you need to soften up the dough a bit, cake flour might be a good substitute in place of the all-purpose flour. Try using whole wheat pastry flour in place of all-purpose if you want to avoid white flour all together. When using a softer dough you may have to knead it longer to create more elasticity.

Flours made from harder wheat allow you to roll out the dough thinner, making the highly desirable thin chapati that Indians love.  Flours made from softer wheat will create a soft chapati, helping you avoid hard crispy crackers like I had, but the softer dough makes it much harder to roll out.  So the best is having a mix of hard wheat and soft wheat, which is what authentic chapati flour is.

I used to make chapati dough by hand, which made me dread making it.  At some point I graduated to using the food processor, but I found I still had to knead the dough by hand at the end to reach the right elasticity, which I didn’t like either.  Now, I have graduated to making my chapati dough in my Kitchen Aid stand mixer.  I love my kitchen aid.  Now I don’t mind making dough everyday because besides pouring ingredients into it, I basically don’t have to do any work.  I use my dough hook attachment and let the machine knead it for a good 5 minutes on medium. The process is the same weather using a stand mixer, a food processor or mixing by hand.

Check out another recipe for making chapati dough by hand.

Making the Dough

There are so many ways of “correctly” making a chapati that it can become very confusing.  In an effort to find out the best way of making fool-proof chapatis, I researched as many chapati recipes as I could find, in addition to what I have already been doing and tested them out.  Everyone is in search of the ideal “soft” chapati and one expert will tell you to add oil or butter at the beginning while another swears that adding it at the end makes all the difference.  I have realized that people have many different methods for making the same thing and they seem to all create a good chapatis. My conclusion is, sometimes they come out hard and sometimes they come out soft, it’s a learning process and there are some basics to keep in mind that help create a softer chapati:

1. Create a soft and slightly sticky dough.

2. Knead the dough really well so it becomes pliable.

3. Have a really hot griddle or pan to cook the chapatis on so they are not on the stove too long and get over cooked and become hard.

 

Makes: 20-30 chapatis

Time: 10 minutes plus an hour for the dough to rest

Ingredients:

3 cups chapati flour (or 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour)

1 1/2 cups water

salt, to taste (optional)

1/2 teaspoon ghee or oil

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, measure out the flour.  If using a substitute for chapati flour, sift the flour so it is well mixed and the coarser bits are left out.

While the flour is mixing, gradually and slowly pour the water into the flour. Pour a bit more water in the beginning and then less water as it begins to mix and come together. Constantly mix while pouring the water until a soft and slightly sticky dough forms.

Knead the dough for 5 minutes until it becomes elastic and can be pulled and stretched

knead the dough long enough to make it elastic so it can be pulled and stretched thin. This helps make a wonderfully soft chapati

Cover the dough all around with a thin layer of oil – butter or ghee can be used instead – then cover with a damp kitchen cloth or in some Tupperware for 30 minutes or longer. I like to make my chapati dough a few hours before rolling it out or the night before.  Letting the dough rest produces a softer chapati.


Making the Chapatis

You will need a rolling pin and board, some extra flour for rolling and a hot griddle or pan for cooking.  I also like to have two kitchen towels or paper towels, one for pressing the chapati as I’m cooking (this helps it cook evenly) and another for wrapping the chapatis once they are done. This helps them keep warm and steamed and helps them stay soft. To roll out my chapatis I keep a small container of chapati flour on hand.  I keep this in my “chapati drawer” where I also keep my board and roller along with a cloth I use for pressing the chapatis while they are cooking.

my chapati drawer

Before starting on the dough, put your griddle or pan on high heat so it is very hot once the chapatis are ready for cooking.  The pan should be hot enough so it’s just below smoking. Cooking on a hot pan lets the chapatis cook faster and be over heat for a shorter time, this will help keep them soft but they can also easily burn quickly so be attentive when they are on the stove.

1. Take out the rested dough, give it a light kneading and tear off a piece that fits in the palm of your hand.

2. Roll the dough around in your hands, pressing firmly, using a circular motion to create a ball.  Roll the dough in the flour and then press the dough flat in the flour.

3. Take the flour-coated dough in your hands. Use one hand to press the dough flat at the edges by cupping your hand so you press the dough between your fingers and your palm.  Use the other hand to turn the dough in a circular motion, pressing the dough continuously into a circular disk.  You may need to lay the dough back in the flour if it is sticking to your hands.

4. Coat the dough on both sides with more flour and lay the dough on the rolling board.  I like to roll the dough twice up and down in one direction and then turn 45-degrees and repeat so that the chapati remains in the shape of a circle. You will need to add more flour to the dough if it begins to stick to the board and rolling pin.  Careful not to use too much flour, this makes it harden when cooked.  Continue until the chapati is the thinnest you can roll it without it starting to tear, lose shape or stick too much.   This takes a bit of practice and your first few chapatis may be odd shaped.  When I was first learning, Hubby and I would try to guess what country’s map my chapatis resembled.

5.  Lay the chapati on one hand and flip it to the other, flipping quickly back and forth to help stretch out the dough more and shake off some extra flour. You want to flip the dough onto each hand quickly so the dough actually is stretched out by the motion.

6. Lay it quickly on the hot griddle or pan trying to flip it down so it lays flat. Try to lay it without any wrinkles.  It is hard to reposition the chapati once it is down on the pan.

7. Cook the chapati for 30 seconds, until the color changes from light to dark and small bubbles start to show.  Once the bubbles start, flip it over and let it cook for another 30 seconds.  This is when I take a kitchen towel and lightly press around the whole chapati so all areas touch the pan and cook evenly.  Pressing lightly often helps the chapati puff up as well, which is great!  Flip the chapati after 30 seconds so it doesn’t burn.  You may need to cook each side again for another 10-30 seconds so there are no raw spots.  This is when it is easy to burn the chapati and over-cook it.  There should only be small brown spots, large brown spots means it’s burning. Use the towel to press down on the spots that look raw.  Don’t let the chapati sit in one place for a long time or it will burn. Keep the chapati rotating, turning in a circular motion and flipping so it cooks evenly but doesn’t burn.  If you like, you can coat a little butter or ghee onto the chapati.

8.  If you are not eating the chapati immediately or have more to make, place the cooked chapati onto a kitchen towel and wrap it up in the towel.  This helps keep the chapati warm and captures the steam coming off the chapati helping it stay soft.  If you put a hot chapati on to a plate, condensation forms under the chapati making it soggy and the top cools off and becomes hard.  I actually like to fold the hot chapati into a triangle and then wrap it.  I find the chapatis are softer when folded up, perhaps more steam is retained in this way.

Chapati Troubleshooting

Tips for rolling out chapatis

  • When shaping the chapatis, roll them out confidently but softly, taking effort to keep their round shape.  If you press down too hard while rolling, the dough will stick to the board.  If you are too careful, it will never roll out and will probably be too thick.
  • Use more flour to help the rolling in the beginning but try to use less flour when it is almost rolled out. Dry or loose flour on the chapati will make it hard and crispy when it cooks on the griddle so by the time it’s rolled out enough, it shouldn’t have a lot of flour still on it.
  • To roll it out thin, you need good dough.  Make sure to use oil or butter at the beginning of the mixing and then the more you knead the dough, the better it will roll out.

Why are my chapatis crispy?

There are a few possibilities:

  • Needs more kneading:  The first solution to all chapati problems is kneading.  Whenever I asked my mother-in-law, mummy-ji, how to get them softer, or get them thinner…her answer was always, knead it more.
  • Overcooked/burnt: either the burner too high or you left it on the griddle for too long
  • Too Thin: The thinner the chapati the faster they cook so it’s possible they were just overcooked.  It’s actually hard to roll out a chapati too thin.  I’m always trying to get mine thinner.
  • The dough did not “settle” long enough: The dough needs to rest between when it is first made and when it is cooked.  A lot of people say to cover the dough and let it rest for 20 minutes, some say 30 minutes.  I usually don’t like make chapatis with freshly made dough.  I find they always end up crispy, so I usually make my chapati dough a few hours before hand or the previous night.  However, if you are in a pinch, I’m sure 20 to 30 minutes is fine.
  • The chapati is coated in too much dry flour when put on the griddle: perhaps in an attempt to make sure the dough did not stick to the board, you generously coated it again and again in flour.  This works well when first beginning to roll it out but if you still have a chapati coated in lots of dry flour when it’s about to go on the griddle, all that flour will create a crispy chapati.  If you have springily dough, you shouldn’t need too much flour to roll it out thin.  If it sticks a lot, you probably didn’t knead it enough.  Which brings us back to our first possibility…

Making the Chapati Dough

Makes: 20-30 chapatis

Time: 10 minutes plus an hour for the dough to rest

Ingredients:

3 cups chapati flour (or 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour)

1 1/2 cups water

salt, to taste (optional)

1/2 teaspoon ghee or oil

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, measure out the flour.  If using a substitute for chapati flour, sift the flour so it is well mixed. While the flour is mixing, gradually pour the water into flour, faster in the beginning and then slowly, constantly mixing until a soft and slightly sticky dough forms.  Knead the dough for 5 minutes. Coat the dough all around with a thin layer of oil – butter or ghee can also be used – then cover with a damp kitchen cloth or in some tupperware for 30 minutes or longer. I like to make my chapati dough a few hours before rolling it out, or best yet, the night before.  Letting the dough rest produces a softer chapati.

Making the Chapatis

You will need a rolling pin and board, some extra flour for rolling and a hot griddle or pan for cooking.  I also like to have two kitchen towels or paper towels, one for pressing the chapati as I’m cooking (this helps it cook evenly) and another for wrapping the chapatis once they are done. This helps them keep warm and steamed and helps them stay soft.

To roll out my chapatis I keep a small container of chapati flour on hand.  I keep this in my “chapati drawer” where I also keep my board and roller along with a cloth I use for pressing the chapatis while they are cooking.

Before starting on the dough, put your griddle or pan on high heat so it is very hot once the chapatis are ready for cooking.  The pan should be hot enough so it’s just below smoking. Cooking on a hot pan lets the chapatis cook faster and be over heat for a shorter time, this will help keep them soft but they can also easily burn quickly so be attentive when they are on the stove.

1. Take out the rested dough, give it a light kneading and tear off a piece that fits in the palm of your hand.

2. Roll the dough around in your hands, pressing firmly, using a circular motion to create a ball.  Roll the dough in the flour and then press the dough flat in the flour.

3. Take the flour-coated dough in your hands. Use one hand to press the dough flat at the edges by cupping your hand so you press the dough between your fingers and your palm.  Use the other hand to turn the dough in a circular motion, pressing the dough continuously into a circular disk.  You may need to lay the dough back in the flour if it is sticking to your hands.

4. Coat the dough on both sides with more flour and lay the dough on the rolling board.  I like to roll the dough twice up and down in one direction and then turn 45-degrees and repeat so that the chapati remains in the shape of a circle. You will need to add more flour to the dough if it begins to stick to the board and rolling pin.  Careful not to use too much flour, this makes it harden when cooked.  Continue until the chapati is the thinnest you can roll it without it starting to tear, lose shape or stick too much.   This takes a bit of practice and your first few chapatis may be odd shaped.  When I was first learning, Hubby and I would try to guess what country’s map my chapatis resembled.

5.  Lay the chapati on one hand and flip it to the other, flipping quickly back and forth to help stretch out the dough more and shake off some extra flour. You want to flip the dough onto each hand quickly so the dough actually is stretched out by the motion.

6. Lay it quickly on the hot griddle or pan trying to flip it down so it lays flat. Try to lay it without any wrinkles.  It is hard to reposition the chapati once it is down on the pan.

7. Cook the chapati for 30 seconds, until the color changes from light to dark and small bubbles start to show.  Once the bubbles start, flip it over and let it cook for another 30 seconds.  This is when I take a kitchen towel and lightly press around the whole chapati so all areas touch the pan and cook evenly.  Pressing lightly often helps the chapati puff up as well, which is great!  Flip the chapati after 30 seconds so it doesn’t burn.  You may need to cook each side again for another 10-30 seconds so there are no raw spots.  This is when it is easy to burn the chapati and over-cook it.  There should only be small brown spots, large brown spots means it’s burning. Use the towel to press down on the spots that look raw.  Don’t let the chapati sit in one place for a long time or it will burn. Keep the chapati rotating, turning in a circular motion and flipping so it cooks evenly but doesn’t burn.  If you like, you can coat a little butter or ghee onto the chapati.

8.  If you are not eating the chapati immediately or have more to make, place the cooked chapati onto a kitchen towel and wrap it up in the towel.  This helps keep the chapati warm and captures the steam coming off the chapati helping it stay soft.  If you put a hot chapati on to a plate, condensation forms under the chapati making it soggy and the top cools off and becomes hard.  I actually like to fold the hot chapati into a triangle and then wrap it.  I find the chapatis are softer when folded up, perhaps more steam is retained in this way.

Published on: Aug 24, 2011

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Making chapati dough by hand.

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