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Sourdough Indian flatbreads

Friday, August 24, 2012


Chapati is one of those foods I grew up with. We usually ate it with a curry made of tinned sardines in tomato sauce and tinned peas. To bulk up the curry with extra starch for her seven active growing children, my mother would add cubes of potatoes.
At first, she used to manually roll out balls of dough into discs. I never helped, being averse to the kitchen. Later, she got a chapati/tortilla press and then, I decided pressing out circles of dough was fun and would fight for a turn at the gadget.
I don't know when my palate started rejecting tinned sardines (still love tinned peas and spuds!) but I have never grown out of my love for chapati. When I started cooking (later in life and only as a fully grown adult), I made and ate the flatbread at least once a week, sometimes with a simple dhall or potato curry, but most often, just on its own.
I've received all sorts of suggestions on the best way to make chapati. The flatbread is often associated with the Sikh community, and all the expert aunties have their own wonderful recipes: Mix ghee into the dough. Brush ghee on the chapati only at the end! Knead for half an hour. Don't knead! Use tepid water. The water must be as hot as you can stand if you stick in a finger! ... and so on. Thankfully, the ladies were not all together in one room when they were proffering advice and I didn't get caught in the crossfire.
The method I like best involves a combination of equal amounts of atta and plain flours, salt to taste and enough freshly boiled water to amalgamate everything into a soft dough. The dough is only briefly kneaded until smooth and set under a mixing bowl on a work surface for about 30 minutes. The residual heat from the water keeps the dough soft. From this basic recipe, other ingredients can be added for various flatbreads, like this Spinach Roti I posted on some time ago.
And why not a sourdough chapati? Technically, a chapati is unleavened, but a starter adds flavour more than leavening. The dough will puff up anyway on the heat even without any rising agent. With the starter, however, I use warm instead of boiling water.
Look at that pufferfish, er, dough go

Sourdough Chapati
Makes 8 (15cm) chapati

1 cup atta flour
¼ cup plain flour, plus extra for rolling
½ tsp salt
Large pinch of green fennel seeds
½ cup fed sourdough starter
½- ¾ cup warm water
Ghee or oil

Stir atta flour, plain flour, salt and seeds together in a mixing bowl. Add the sourdough starter and ½ cup water; stir until the mixture comes together. If still dry and crumbly, add extra  water a little at a time to form a soft, but not sticky, ball. Cover bowl and set aside for 10 minutes.
Divide dough into 8 equal pieces; form into balls. On a floured surface and with a floured rolling pin, roll out each ball of dough into a thin circle, about 15cm in diameter.
Meanwhile, heat a skillet or tawa until very hot. Brush some ghee on the surface. Cook chapati until puffed and lightly charred in places, about  2 minutes. Flip over and cook the other side. Place on a plate covered with a cloth to keep warm (brush with ghee and sprinkle with seeds, if desired), and cook the rest of the chapati.
Making herbed roti

Sourdough Herbed Roti
Makes 8 (12cm) roti

Sourdough Chapati dough
About 3 tbsp chermoula or any kind of herb paste

Form the dough and roll out as for the chapati into 15cm rounds.
Spread the circle of dough with about 1 tsp of chermoula.
Roll up the dough like a Swiss Roll.
Form the roll into a spiral like a snail's shell, pressing the spiral together to form a fat disk.
Flatten the dough lightly and roll out again to about 12cm. It will be thicker than the chapati. Cook like the chapati.

Don't discard, do 
Sourdough Pancakes
Sourdough Pizza


  1. I'm in awe, Jane! I had never seen herbed roti, I will have to give this one a try, sounds amazing!

  2. Wow, these look and sound amazing!! I love that you put herbs in there, great idea!!

  3. This chapati was really good! Thanks for the recipe!


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