What do you call them? In Gujarati they are called rotli, and in other parts of India roti, and also chapati – which is often used outside of India. They are a soft, unleavened, flat bread made from a mixture of brown and white wheat flour, used to scoop up your curry. They are also delicious freshly cooked drizzled in butter and sprinkled with sugar, we were allowed that as a very rare treat when we were kids!
My road to making the perfect rotli was pretty painful, I started learning when I was about 12 or 13, and my family endured lots of bad rotli – overcooked or raw, doughy or too thin, and some very interesting shapes. Finally after a couple of years of practicing they started to get rounder, more even and something resembling my Mum’s rotli.
There are a couple of secrets to making the best rotli – really hot water, a really hot pan and a thin rolling pin (called a velun). The water should be as hot as you can stand it, preferably just boiled, as it will help to make a soft, pliable dough which in turn makes rotli fit for scooping
To cook the rotli a cast iron ‘tavi’ is used, but you can also use a wide, non-stick frying pan. Being the 21st-century second generation Indian I am I use a flat non-stick tavi with a handle – thin enough to get hot enough and easy to wash afterwards. A gas flame is the best but I did manage with an electric cooker for a number of years, you just need it on the highest setting.
A thin rolling pin, called a velun, is the best for rotli because it has a lighter touch than normal rolling pins. By all means use your normal rolling pin, but don’t be too heavy handed. If you’re going to get into Indian food and rotli making, invest in a velun – you’ll find them in some Indian grocers, anywhere with lots of Indian shops (Leicester, Bradford, Southall, Wembley) or try Spices of India or eBay.
Most of the time a round board, like a chopping board, is used to roll out rotli on, this does help you achieve a round shape, but a normal rectangular board will do.
My Mum always uses ‘medium’ flour which is basically a mixture of brown and white, which means you’ll get softness from white flour but flavour from brown. You can get special chapati flour in large supermarkets, but plain flour works just as well.
- 100g medium chapati atta or plain and wholemeal flour mix
- 1 tsp oil
- 100ml boiling water (or as hot as you can stand it)
- Heat up your tavi or frying pan on a medium/high heat.
- In a large wide bowl rub the oil into the flour. Make a well into the centre and add all of the water in, mix in with a fork until it starts to come together, and then knead lightly with your hands until it is a soft, pliable dough. It will be hot to the touch, so take your time. The gluten doesn't need to develop a great deal in the dough so don't overwork it.
- Split into 6 balls just larger than a golf ball. Dip the ball in flour and then flatten out and roll into a circle around 2mm thick. Try not to flip the dough over, but do add a little more flour if it starts to stick.
- Once your pan is heated up turn it down slightly to maintain the temperature. Put the roti top side down on the pan and cook for just 30 seconds before flipping over. The rotli just needs to have a few pale spots on it, rather than be cooked yet. Cook for a minute or so until there are brown spots on it and then flip over. At this stage you want it to puff up!
- Press down lightly with a spatula, wooden spoon or a thick piece of kitchen roll to encourage it to puff. Don't worry if it doesn't, as long as it is cooked through you are fine. The puff just adds softness. Once cooked put on to a plate and repeat the process with the rest.
- Spread with a little butter if you'd like and serve with your favourite curry. Rotlis are best eaten just after they are made.