Last year we went to Kenya for our honeymoon. We stayed in a few different lodges and hotels as we travelled round, facing fairly substantial buffets at each one. Hotel buffets are always a tricky proposition, there’s that temptation to grab everything and you end up with four types of carbohydrate something mayonnaisey, something with gravy and it all just sort of …mingles. I like a bit of cohesion in my meals, even if it’s a cohesion recogisable only to me. In Kenya the rice and daal at every buffet offered the perfect solution,it was a sensible combination, you knew it was going to taste good, fill you up for a tough afternoon of finding lions and besides it came with a side of wonderfully flaky, chewy chapatis. They’re the perfect, hot, greasy in the best possible way, savoury mop for some soupy daal. Working out how to make them at home was my first task on our return.
Turns out they’re a bit like chess. Easy to learn, hard to master. The recipe is so simple as to be laughable. I used this one since it was the easiest I can find, even with its cup measurements (measuring by volume? Why why why? Liquid-fine, flour-just about, butter?? How do you measure a cup of butter??) Personal prejudices aside I set about.
2 cups of flour (2 of my in no way accurate Nigella cups produced 10oz or 280g)
Mix the flour and salt together and then rub one tbsp of oil into the flour (as if it were butter)
Add the water in splashes and mix with your hands until you get a pretty firm, elastic dough. You won’t need all the water.
You can knead the dough a bit but it won’t be very elastic to start with, don’t worry about that, it gets a bit of a rest which makes it much easier to work with.
Then split the dough into four, roll out each one into a circle, smear about half a teaspoon of oil over each one, roll it up, then roll it up again into a snail. Cover the snails and leave for 20 mins (if you’ve got longer, they can wait too).
When you’re ready to cook them, heat up a pan on a high heat with a splash of oil in. Roll out your snails to about 10 cm in diameter, (don’t be tempted to make them too thin, a bit of chew is what you’re after), then turn your pan down to medium and cook on one side till it starts to puff up, turn over and cook for another couple of minutes till done. It helps to oil the pan between each one, a once over with some oil soaked kitchen roll (big fat wad of so your fingers get nowhere near what is by now a fairly hot pan) is good.This is where the mastery comes in, they need to be cooked through, getting the temperature and timing right to get the balance between flakey and chewy. They’ll be pretty good whatever though.
Ta-da, that’s it, chapatis. Obviously they go with rice and dal, but since they’re pretty neutral, they fit in nicely anywhere where a flatbread or naan would go (and so much cheaper than buying, naan bread especially), I usually make them to go with curry or tikka-ey things. A sprinkling of nigella seeds, before they’re rolled up, adds a bit of interest. I’ve also tried them with a Chinese meal, using sesame oil to rub over the surface before rolling and then sprinkling over chopped spring onions and sesame seeds to edge them over to China, taste wise.
For the purposes of research, I also make some with wholemeal flour (one batch half and half, one batch all). Kinda tasted like digestives and came out way too thin. Think this may be the first time I’ve ever used wholemeal though so it’s a work in progress.