Whole wheat roti is a simple Indian flatbread that's usually served as part of a complete meal of vegetable subzis, curries, and all manner of flavorful dal made from beans and lentils.
You will sometimes hear roti referred to as chapati, or phulka in different parts of India. These are all the same type of flatbread made without any oil. The word roti is derived from Sanskrit, and it is the most common.
Whole wheat roti provides texture to an Indian vegetarian meal, as well as a convenient spoon to pick food up with.
In India, it is customary to use only the right hand for eating. Tearing the bread with one hand is a bit of an art form, but it’s not too difficult!
Try holding the bread down with your pinkie finger and using your thumb and first and second fingers together to tear off bitesized pieces.
In India, whole wheat roti is most associated with the Northern wheat-growing states, but roti is still enjoyed throughout the country due to its many desirable virtues.
Roti is widely eaten in other Southeast Asian countries, South Africa, and the southern Caribbean, but India claims to have invented it first.
The Many Virtues Of Roti
My mother-in-law showed me how to make roti. At that time, she taught me two virtues of roti: healthy whole wheat flour and no oil.
I completely agree with my mother-in-law’s roti virtues, and I would like to add a few additional virtues from my perspective.My mother-in-law taught the two virtues of roti: healthy whole wheat flour and no oil. There are more. Click To Tweet
Firstly, I love that whole wheat roti is an ultra simple homemade “tortilla shell” without additives or preservatives. The simple transformation of flour into edible bread is a magical experience, and the smell of the whole wheat flour dry roasting on the skillet is almost heavenly.
I also love the texture whole wheat roti adds to a meal.
I have a thing about texture. If I am eating soft rice, soft dal, and cooked vegetables—which is a typical Indian vegetarian meal—I want something crunchy, or at least chewy, to balance it out. Roti does the job. Whole wheat roti also adds beautiful golden-brown color to your plate.
Making roti from scratch isn't difficult once you get used to it. Since each roti is small, and the dough is pliable, rolling them out is easy.
When cooking roti, if you are using a gas stove, there is a wonderful connection to fire. Fire is how my mother-in-law puffs up her roti.
In this recipe, I will show you how to puff up your roti on your skillet, which can be done on a gas or electric stove.
Avoid My Mistake
Before you dive into making whole wheat roti, I’d like to share with you one of my biggest roti mistakes, so you don’t have to learn it the hard way.
The mistake I made was to try to make roti for too many people (6+). To make matters worse, it was my new Indian family that I had invited over for dinner.
Everything went wrong. I didn’t add enough water, and it made the dough hard and very difficult to roll out. All the other food was ready, and my aunt ended up helping me with the roti. Finally, she gave me the gentle advice to not try to make roti for a large number of people. 🙂
This is a lesson that I’ve definitely taken to heart. Whole wheat roti is best when eaten fresh, so it doesn’t work well to make them too far in advance, or try to make them for too many people.
When you start rolling and cooking the roti, it takes 100 percent focus. What I do is prepare everything else for the meal, including the roti dough, and then make the roti last.
After a while, you will get into a rhythm of “roll and cook, roll and cook,” one after another, and that is when you know you are a roti expert.
The recipe below makes four roti, which is good for two people. You can double the first recipe for a family of four. Most people eat two roti per meal. I hope you enjoy the process of making roti.
For tips and information about which flour to use, and what tools you need to make roti, please see my Amazon recommendations below, or the recipe notes.
Which Type Of Flour Is Used To Make Roti?
For making an unleavened Indian flatbread like roti, it really helps to have the right flour.
Whole wheat flour from a conventional Western grocery store can sometimes be too coarse. I recommend trying Bob’s Red Mill organic stone ground whole wheat flour, which is finely ground.
The ideal flour can be purchased from an Indian store, or online. It could be labeled "atta for chapati." Atta in India is made from hard red, hard white, or durum wheat.
The best flour for roti will be labeled chakki atta. Chakki atta is made using a traditional stone mill, which leaves the bran and nutrition of the whole wheat grain intact.
The chakki mill is comparable to stone milling in the West, but chakki atta is milled to a finer consistency. Chakki atta allows you to get a very smooth, soft, and pliable dough.
Why Is A Tava Used To Cook Roti?
In India, a tava is used to cook roti.
A tava is a type of frying pan, which can be purchased flat, or with a very slight concave shape. It is the perfect pan for cooking flatbreads, and it can be purchased for $20–$40 online, or at an Indian store.
If you do not have a tava, you can use a large, non-stick skillet, a crepe pan, or a pancake griddle.
What Type Of Rolling Pin Is Used For Roti?
In India, the rolling pin used for roti is known as a belan. A belan is basically a long stick with a taper at each end. (See image below).
It is most similar to a French rolling pin.
The right rolling pin is super versatile, and it makes rolling Indian flatbreads a breeze. If you don’t have one, any small rolling pin will work.
Whole Wheat Roti Flatbread
- ¾ cup flour
- ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons warm water
- ¼ teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
- This recipe works best with a finely ground whole wheat flour, a flat skillet or griddle, and a simple rolling pin. In the notes section below I share with you how whole wheat roti is made in India, and include links so you can source the equipment if you wish.When I was learning Indian cuisine, I desperately wanted someone to show me what an unfamiliar item was, and where I could purchase it. It took marrying an Indian to get that introduction. 🙂 Now you have me. 🙂 🙂Of course, you don't need to purchase anything special if you don't want to. There are substitutions below in the Notes section that will allow you to get started with this recipe using your own pantry ingredients and kitchen equipment. Have fun! This recipe is so simple, it's sublime.
Make the dough
- Add the flour and water to a bowl. Use a wooden spoon to mix until the flour comes together with the water into a shaggy mess. If it does not come together, add a few extra drops of water. If it is too sticky, sprinkle in a bit of flour. Now set the spoon aside and prepare to get your hands dirty.
- Transfer the dough to your counter and knead vigorously until very smooth (about 3–5 minutes).
- Gather up your kneaded dough into a ball, and cover with plastic wrap or a damp cloth to prevent it from drying out, and let it rest for at least 30 minutes.
Roll out the roti
- Divide the dough into four individual portions. Shape each portion between your two palms into a smooth ball. Set the portions aside, and keep them covered until ready to use.
- Set up an 8-inch plate with about half a cup of flour on it for dusting your roti.
- Start with the first portion of dough. Press it between the palms of your hands into a flat disk about 2 inches in diameter. Dust the disk on both sides using the flour on the plate. Sprinkle more flour onto your rolling surface. Roll the roti out to 4 inches using a small rolling pin (belan) and dust again on the plate.
- Now roll the dough evenly until it is 7–8 inches in diameter. Dust with additional flour if it starts sticking.
Cook the roti
- Pre-heat a flat griddle or tava on medium-high heat. To check if it is hot enough, put a couple drops of water on the tava. If it sizzles right away, it is ready.
- Put the roti on the tava. When you see the top start to change color and begin to bubble, flip it over. There should be some light brown spots on the roti after you flip it.
- Cook the second side for about 30 seconds and flip again. There should be light brown spots on both sides now.
- At this stage, the roti will begin to puff up. Use a spatula or a damp cloth to gently press down on the edges of the roti. Turn the roti as you press. Press and turn, press and turn. The air bubbles will start to merge together and grow larger, until eventually the entire roti puffs up. If it is getting too dark on one side, flip it over and work on the other side.The trick here is to avoid pushing so hard that you poke a hole in the roti’s surface. This will release the air and prevent it from puffing further. If you see a hole, use the cloth or spatula to cover it up as you push, or turn the roti over to suffocate the hole. The roti is cooked when both sides have nicely browned spots and the entire surface of the roti has changed color and looks dry. Depending on the quality of your flour, the amount of kneading you did, the evenness of your rolling method, and the temperature of the skillet, the roti may not puff up entirely. This is okay. Stop trying before the roti burns. You can still enjoy the roti. Keep working on your technique and one day you will be rewarded with a perfectly puffed up roti. (I am still working on this myself.)
- Once the roti is fully cooked, you can choose to leave it plain, or drizzle a bit of ghee on it.
- Place the hot roti on a plate or shallow dish and cover with a clean dish towel. The dish towel keeps the roti warm, but still allows steam to escape so that the roti does not become soggy.
- Continue the same process to cook the remaining roti.