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India Breads: Have you had your Roti today?

.In India, the aroma of fresh bread is not from the soft loaves we might envision. Indian breads are unleavened and taste best hot off the griddle.

Indian breads go by many names including roti, naan, chappati, paratha (parantha), and phulka. Poori (fried, puffed bread), is traditionally reserved for festivals and for special guests. Most Indian breads require chappati flour, which is available at ethnic markets. Whole-wheat flour makes a good substitute. Indian bread recipes are simple to make; however, some skill may be required to cook them properly. (scroll down for rest of article)

This chappati recipe is the basis for a variety of flat-griddle breads. Some cooks include salt and oil, while others believe that any ingredients but flour and water detract from the other flavors in the meal. Dry fry the chappatis in a skillet on high heat. In India, cooks use a tava, or tawa, which is a heavy iron skillet. If you have a cast iron model, use it.

-4 cups chappati flour or whole-wheat flour
-½ teaspoon salt
-2 cups warm water

Sift the flour and salt together. Slowly add the water, about 1 cup to begin. Knead until firm and add more water as necessary. The bread should be elastic and not sticky. Test by pressing with a finger - if none of the dough sticks to your finger and the dough springs back, it is ready to rest.

Cover the dough with a damp cloth and let it rest for about 30 minutes in a warm spot.

At this point, you can leave the dough in the refrigerator overnight. Just bring to room temperature before rolling out and cooking.

Pinch off balls that are about the size of lemons. Roll each ball out on a floured surface until it is the size of a 6- or 8-inch tortilla. Make sure the edges are wafer-thin.

Place the flat chappati in the skillet; as brown spots develop, turn it over. The second stage in cooking a true India chappati is to hold it over a flame and allow it to puff up. You can duplicate this process over a gas burner with a pair of tongs, but it is not essential. As an alternative, try a quick broil in the oven. Once the chappati puffs, press it down to eliminate the air. Serve immediately or brush with butter and place in a tortilla warmer or wrap the chappatis in a towel.

This recipe will make about a dozen chappatis.

In Indian recipes, you will often see the ingredient ghee, which is a clarified butter found at ethnic markets.

Now that you have this basic recipe mastered, you can experiment with other ways to cook Indian breads.

Pooris are prepared and cooked this way: prepare as if making chappatis. Pooris are deep-fried and served hot just after they have puffed up. The rolled-out size is only 3 inches in diameter. Knead the dough briefly after you have separated the dough into balls. Use a slotted spoon to hold the pooris under the hot oil until they are puffed.

Make Parathas this way: prepare using chappati recipe. Roll out and brush with butter or vegetable oil. Fold in half, brush with butter; fold again and brush. You will have a triangle that should now be flattened with a rolling pin. Place in dry hot skillet and continue brushing and turning as the paratha browns and puffs.

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