Often after traveling, we arrive home to the lingering scent of fresh bread, a welcoming sign that our maid, I'll call her E, has prepared a meal for us. This is usually simple: some lentils (dal) and a vegetable curry along with a nice fat stack of chapatis she's left in the oven. There's really nothing like coming home to a hot meal.
E's chapatis are delicious. Thin, unleavened, whole wheat round breads which are smeared with just the right amount of ghee (clarified butter). Kind of like a tortilla, but made of wheat. Perfect for sopping up flavorful gravies and making little sandwiches from the curries!
I was curious to know how these are made so one day last week, E agreed to show me the ropes. She started in the morning by combining atta (whole wheat flour) and a small amount of salt in a bowl. She added water bit by bit just until she had made a dough that stuck together, then she coated her hands in water, pressed it together in a ball, and transferred it to a plastic container to sit for a few hours.
When the dough was ready, E got out the tawa (it's really the crepe pan we got at home in NJ last year) and put it on a medium flame. She put some flour on a plate to use for dusting the counter, and brought out the ghee I got from ABC Farms to smear on the finished chapatis.
One she got started, the process was finished within 15 minutes and boy did she make it look easy! She scooped a little dough out and formed a small ball between her hands, then rolled it out on the counter with a rolling pin, sprinkling flour as needed to keep it from sticking. After placing it on the tawa, she'd watch as small bubbles appeared on the top surface, kind of like a pancake, and then flip it over. 10-15 seconds later, the chapati would puff up and then she'd remove it from the pan to a plate where it was smeared with ghee. She repeated this with dizzying speed and accuracy, rolling the chapatis out in perfect circles of consistent thickness, over and over until she had about 20 of them on the plate.
While she was cooking I asked her about meals at her home. She shared with me that she wakes up at 4 am every day to make a pile of about 50 chapatis to accompany her family's meals throughout the day! 50! Her family eats them with every meal, similar to how we use dinner rolls or bread with our meals in the US.
There are other preparations of chapati that I would like to try making, one of which is puran poli, a lovely sweet dessert-like chapati filled with a spiced jaggery and dal mixture. I especially like to enjoy mine with a steaming cup of tea or masala chai. It is popular to eat in our state during holy times, like the 10-day festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, which just so happens to be occurring as I write this. Perhaps now is the perfect time!