Basic Unleavened Whole-wheat Bread (Chapati)
The most popular of all unleavened breads, chapatis are traditionally made with stone-ground whole-wheat flour. Thus they're rich in fiber, vitamins B and E, protein, iron, unsaturated fats, and carbohydrates. Like all whole-wheat breads, chapatis also contain phytic acid, a chemical that regulates the amount of calcium and other minerals the body absorbs. So while connoisseurs can relish chapatis for their refined taste, texture, and aroma, natural food fans can enjoy them for their varied nutritional content as well.
Note concerning flour:
Most Vedic breads are made with a kind of stone-ground whole-wheat flour called atta, or chapati flour. This flour, available in Indian grocery stores, is quite different from the kinds available in supermarkets and health-food stores. Chapati flour consists of whole grains of wheat finely milled to a near powder. (Cooks in India usually make it even finer by sieving it through a very fine screen in a utensil called a chalni.) Chapati flour is tan or buff in color and bursting with nutrition. Doughs made with it are velvety smooth, knead readily, and respond easily to shaping.
If chapati flour is unavailable, you can use regular whole-wheat flour. You should either sieve this flour to reduce its coarse texture or replace a portion of it with unbleached or regular all-purpose flour. How much all-purpose flour you should add depends on the quality of your whole-wheat flour, but generally two parts whole wheat to one part all-purpose gives good results. (For best results, use freshly milled flours.)
To measure the flour, first sieve it and then lightly spoon it into a measuring cup until it overflows the rim. Finally, level it off gently with a knife. If you pack the flour into the measuring cup or shake the cup, you'll get an inaccurate measurement because of compression or settling of the flour.
In following this recipe, begin with the least amount of water suggested. If the dough turns out too soft, add additional flour. Remember:
Flours vary according to the type of wheat they're milled from, the processing they undergo, and the amount of moisture they absorb during storage. So even the most accurate measurements may need small adjustments.
2 1/2 to 2 2/3 cups sieved chapati or whole-wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
2/3 to 1 cup lukewarm water
4 to 5 teaspoons melted butter or ghee
A flat surface near the stove
A flat iron griddle / Two burners
A cake rack (needed only if you're using electric heat)
A pair of tongs
A rolling pin
A cake tin or pie tin lined with a thick clean kitchen towel (needed only if you're not serving the chapatis right off the stove)
A pastry brush or teaspoon
To prepare the dough:
First put aside 1/2 cup of flour for rolling the chapatis. Then add the salt to the remaining flour. Now fill a receptacle with about 1 cup of lukewarm water. Holding the receptacle in one hand, add about 2/3 cup of water to the flour and work it with your other hand until it begins to hold together. Mix vigorously, adding enough water to make a pliable, soft dough. (The look and feel of the dough will determine how much water you need.) Fold and knead the dough by pressing it with your knuckles or palms until it is silky smooth, or for about ten minutes. Now gather the dough into a compact, smooth ball, place it in a bow], rub it with water until a thin film forms, and drape it with a damp towel. Allow the dough to sit for at least 1/2 hour at room temperature. If the dough is covered well, you may let it sit as long as 6 to 8 hours while the water and gluten in the wheat form an elastic, web-like framework.
To shape and cook the chapatis:
Prepare the cooking area by collecting the necessary ingredients and equipment. (If you don't plan to serve the chapatis one after another right off the stove, place each cooked chapati between the folds of the towel in the cake tin or pie tin. But remember the chapatis must have breathing space, so don't cover them so tightly that they become soggy from the steam inside them.) Place a bowl with the melted butter or ghee nearby, along with the pastry brush or teaspoon. Preheat the flat iron griddle over medium heat for about three minutes. Take the 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour you saved and place it in a small, shallow dish.
Knead the dough, adding more flour if it's too sticky. Divide the dough into about a dozen equal pieces. Then take the pieces one at a time, coat them with a little flour, and roll them between your palms to shape round, smooth balls. Place the balls on a plate and drape them with a damp towel.
Now take the first ball and immerse it in enough flour to prevent sticking. Then flatten the ball into a two-inch patty, dip the patty into the flour on both sides, and, using a rolling pin, roll it out from the center to make a disk about 3 1/2 inches across. Dip the disk into the flour on both sides and then roll it in all directions until the dough is evenly thick all around. The circle of dough should be as thin and as round as possible, and it should measure about 5 to 6 inches across. While rolling the chapati, use just enough flour to prevent it from sticking.
Lift up the flat disk of dough, slap it back and forth from one palm to the other to shake off any excess flour, and then slip it onto the preheated griddle. Cook for about 40 to 50 seconds, or until you see small white blisters appear on the surface of the dough. Now turn the chapati over and cook for another 35 to 45 seconds, or until small brown spots form on the underside and the surface blisters with air pockets.
Lift the chapati off the griddle and carefully place it directly on a high gas flame or a cake rack placed over an electric burner set on "high." Within ten seconds the chapati will swell, fill with hot steam, and puff up. Use the pair of tongs to turn the chapati over, and then toast it until the puffed surface is marked with tiny black spots.
Remove the chapati from the heat and slap out the hot air so the chapati collapses. Brush one side with melted butter or ghee and offer to Krishna immediately or place between the folds of a thick clean kitchen towel for offering later.
Try to establish a rhythm in your movements so you're rolling one chapati while another is baking. This way you can make a chapati every two minutes or so.
[This article was published in the May 1982 issue of Back to Godhead magazine (Vol. 17, No. 5). For the full article on chapatis by Visakha Dasi, visit http://btg.krishna.com/chapati-bread-fit-lord.]