Chapati Time, Excellent
This November, Tasting Table is going to party like it's 2015. Join us.
It's midafternoon, and Aarti Sequeira is in desperate need of a little chapati break. The Food Network star and cookbook author got up before dawn to appear on the Today show, hauled her suitcase through the streets after her cab driver was pulled over and arrested(!), and has a cross-country flight back home to California in a few hours—and she's in her third trimester to boot.
Refreshed by a sit-down in the relative calm of the Tasting Table Test Kitchen, Sequeira is more than eager to get down to the task at hand: the bread she's loved since childhood (see the recipe). She's not a baker by trade and doesn't make any other kind, but in the Indian culture in which she grew up, the ritual is as basic as breathing.
"There's something about rolling chapatis that is incredibly meditative for me. It's my time. It keeps my hands busy so that my brain can think or not think," she says, working her fingers into a bowl of finely ground atta flour. "There is something linking me to my mother who lives in India who might be rolling chapatis at that very moment. Or my aunts or my cousins. It's just so powerful for me."
It's not a complicated bread—just flour (she prefers atta, but a blend of all-purpose and whole wheat will do), water, salt and oil—but it's essential to the everyday Indian table. "They'll have one chapati for breakfast, and then around four o'clock, they'll have a cup of tea and maybe a chapati with some jam on it, and they accompany most meals," Sequeira explains. That's why many households will have a large batch of dough on hand in the fridge, ready to pinch into golf ball-size portions, roll into rounds and cook into a puffed crisp on a tava griddle (a cast-iron skillet will do just fine).
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Though the rolling might take a little bit of practice—Indian daughters learn at their mother's elbows and spend a lifetime having their technique critiqued—the now-recharged Sequeira dotes on the "forgiving" nature of the dough. "It's a gift of a bread," she says. "It's calling you into the kitchen and saying, 'I will do whatever you need me to do. You don't really need to measure me. You don't need to use leavening—none of that fancy stuff. Let's just spend some time together and work some stuff out.'"
The finished chapatis are generally used as an eating vessel to pick up curry or vegetables, but in Sequeira's home, they're treated more like bread slices. Her husband likes his with a thick smear of butter, hot off the pan, and she favors them with a dollop of cool, creamy yogurt and a spoonful of salty, spicy Indian pickles. "With that warm chapati, it's just home to me." And they're a nice snack to have on hand for when guests visit this holiday season.
Ready to roll?
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