The beauty of roti
Unleavened bread is a wonderful thing. I've known this for a while, but it fell off my radar screen for a couple of years. I got caught up in the hoopla that (justly) surrounded Jim Leahy's No-Knead Bread and turned to the magic of an easy artisan-style loaf whenever it came time to bake. That changed this past weekend, when I went with an Indian dinner menu for an informal gathering (a.k.a. Game Night).
I'm no Indian food expert, but with the help of Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking, I turned out a great meal featuring braised chicken with bay leaves, cardamom and cloves; lentils in garlic butter; a fresh mint relish; saffron rice; and Besan ki Roti, or Chickpea Flour Bread. Roti requires a bit of last-minute effort, but the recipe couldn't be simpler and the results are terrific. Griddle baked and finished over an open flame, the roti puff up, the soft aroma of chickpea flour wafting into the kitchen as the breads gently deflate and are brushed with ghee (clarified butter). The bread is lovely by itself, though it's the perfect vehicle for scooping up other foods. I'll be making roti for solo meals, rolling out small portions of dough on an as-needed basis, but it's fun party food, something guests can help with just before you sit down to eat.
Note: I plan on increasing the amount of red pepper a bit the next time I make roti. I couldn't taste it and didn't get any heat using the recommended 1/2 teaspoon in the original recipe that follows. Follow your taste buds.
Chickpea Flour Bread (Besan ki Roti)
Makes 24 six-inch roti, enough for 8-12 people
Adapted from Classic Indian Cooking
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup chickpea flour
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon red pepper (optional)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 1/4 cups (or more) warm water
additional all-purpose flour for dusting
Put the whole wheat flour, one cup of all-purpose flour, chickpea flour, Kosher salt and red pepper (if you're using it) in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse a few times to combine, then add then the water slowly through the feed tube with the machine running. The dough will come together in a shaggy mass.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 10-15 minutes by hand. The dough will be soft and slightly sticky. Cover and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes, but up to 24 hours, before you plan to bake.
Place the dough on a work surface, dusting flour at the ready, and knead gently for about a minute. Divide it into 2 balls, then divide each of those into 12 equal portions. Roll the pieces into small balls and cover with plastic wrap as you work with them individually.
Place one ball on your work surface, dusting with flour to prevent sticking, and flatten with a rolling pin. Roll into a disc about 6-inches in diameter.
Bake on a hot griddle (I used a cast-iron skillet) until a few brown spots appear and the bottom is cooked, then flip over and cook the other side for about 30 seconds. Using a pair of tongs, hold the bread flat over another burner — over the flame — with the gas set to high. Cook for 10-15 seconds, then turn and cook the other side for another 10-15 seconds.
Serve as is, or brush with ghee (clarified butter). Roti doesn't reheat well — it gets dried out and leathery — so enjoy fresh off the flame or at room temperature.