Roti: Indian Flatbread

In terms of baked goods, roti has to rank among items having the greatest result for the least number of ingredients. If you are counting just flour and water that makes 2 ingredients. Traditionally, it is unsalted and therefore serves as an excellent foil to highly spiced or salty foods. It is an essential accompaniment for curries of all kinds. Roti can also be used for sandwiches—either wrapped in the entire flatbread, or cut in half and stuffed with your choice of filling. Use roti instead of tortillas to hold any number of grilled meats, vegetables, and sauces.When I taught middle school, we had an annual feast to celebrate academic success. As educators, we strove to show students that commonplace items can be used in ways unlike any they had seen before. One of the foods the kids prepared was roti; we made them by the hundreds. We cooked them on an iron skillet in the science lab, and then stepped outside to finish them on a propane-fueled barbecue grill. We made those with just whole-wheat flour, and they came out great every time.

Yield 6 roti
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup cold water

Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and add the water. Stir together with a fork, and then knead until smooth. This will take 2 minutes at most. Cover with plastic wrap and rest at room temperature for at least an hour.

Lightly flour a counter, and roll the dough into a log about 8 inches long (20 cm). Cut the dough into 6 equal pieces.

Flatten a piece of dough into a disk, and then use a rolling pin to roll it into a circle about 7 inches in diameter (18 cm). Keep the counter and the dough lightly dusted with flour to prevent sticking.

Turn on the 2 front burners of your range. On one burner place a griddle or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. There is no need to oil the skillet. Turn the exposed flame to medium heat. Cook the roti one at a time. Place one on the griddle and cook for about half a minute. Turn, and cook the other side until it turns opaque and you can see bubbles forming.

Pick up the dough, if you hold up one edge with a spatula you can grab it with your fingers. Use a pair of tongs if you are concerned about this, but be careful you don’t puncture the bread. Place the roti directly on the exposed flame. It will puff up like a balloon. When puffed remove to a cooling rack. Repeat for the remaining roti.

If you have an electric range: instead of placing the roti directly on a burner, use a metal spatula (pancake turner) to press down lightly on the flatbread after you flip it on the griddle. This will promote puffing. After you hold it down for a few seconds, release the spatula so that it can puff. You may have to do this to both sides.

When all are cooked, pile onto a serving plate, cover with a towel and keep warm until you serve them. Some people like to brush them with ghee (clarified butter) when they come off the flame. That’s up to you. I like them just the way they are.

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