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.
Whole wheat roti is best eaten fresh. Cover it with a clean dish towel and it will stay warm for about 30 minutes.If you need to reheat the roti, do so covered in a warm oven (250 degrees Fahrenheit). I have heated it in a low oven for a few minutes in the towel, and it worked well. I have also heated the roti in a towel in the microwave, and it also worked well.
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 wheats.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.
Skillet or Tava
Regarding the skillet used for cooking the roti, in India a tava is used.A tava is a 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.Here is an Amazon link for a flat, non-stick tava.Here is an Amazon link for a very reasonably priced cast iron griddle.If you do not have a tava, you can use a large, non-stick skillet, a crepe pan, or a pancake griddle.
Rolling Pin or Belan
A final consideration for equipment is the rolling pin, known as belan in Hindi. A belan is basically a long stick, tapered at the end. It is similar to a French rolling pin. Here is a link for a nice looking belan. These rolling pins are super versatile, and make rolling Indian flatbreads a breeze. If you don’t have one, any small rolling pin will work.