Indian main course

Chapati चपाती

Chapati is perhaps one of India’s most popular flatbreads, made with just three ingredients: whole wheat flour, warm water and salt. Chapati is particularly popular in the North of India, where wheat is the staple (unlike in the South of India where rice is the main food).

Chapati’s primary ingredient is Indian whole wheat flour known as “gehoon ke atta” गेहूँ का आटा or just shortened to “atta” आटा (“gehoon” गेहूँ means “wheat” and “atta” आटा means “flour” in Hindi) and commonly known in the English-speaking world as “atta flour” or “chapati flour”.

Whole wheat kernels are comprised of three main parts: the germ, the endosperm and the bran.

Chapati flour is produced by finely grinding the entire wheat berry (germ, endosperm, bran and all). Traditionally this was done using a stone mill called an “atta chakki” आटा चक्की in Hindi or simply “chakki” चक्की which literally means “flour mill” (“atta” आटा means “flour” and “chakki” चक्की means “mill”). In the olden days, Indian households would feature a chakki which would be used daily to grind whole wheat kernels into freshly ground chapati flour.

Indians roll out the chapatis using a circular wooden board known as a “chakla” चकला in Hindi, which is paired with a wooden rolling pin known as a “belan” बेलन.

Traditionally, chapatis are cooked in a slightly concave cooking vessel known as a “tavaa” तवा which means “pan” in Hindi. The “tavaa” is often made of clay or cast iron. The clay tavaa is known as a “mitti tavaa” मिट्टी तवा  or “mitti ka tavaa” मिट्टी का तवा  which literally means “clay pan” (“mitti” means मिट्टी “clay” and “tavaa” तवा  means “pan”).

Cooking over this clay “tavaa”, especially over a traditional firewood fire, lends a distinct smoky flavor, aroma and texture to the chapatis which modern day cooking vessels and heating fuels cannot replicate.

It is generally accepted among Indians that apart from producing superior-tasting traditional Indian fare, these unglazed, organic earthen cooking vessels are healthier options for cooking food.

Like its clay counterpart, the cast iron tavaa also produces a superior chapati owing to its uniform heating and heat retention characteristics. Additionally, it is believed to increase the iron content in food and is hence favored over modern day cooking utensils such as aluminum and non-stick pans.

Yield: 7-8 chapatis

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups stone ground atta flour
  • Warm spring water as required
  • Salt as desired

Method:

 In a roomy bowl, combine atta flour and salt.

Add warm water bit by bit until a dough begins to form.

Using hands, push forward and press down the dough with your knuckles, until it is smooth, pliable and longer sticky. Don’t overwork it as it would lead to tough, leathery chapatis.

Form a cylinder with about a 2 inch diameter.

Lightly flour a a chakla or a wooden surface if a chakla is unavailable.

Heat up a clay or cast iron tavaa over medium high heat over firewood if available for a more authentic chapati.

While the tavaa heats up, pull out a lemon-sized piece of dough and using hands, roll it into a ball, then flatten it into a neat disc about 1/2 an inch thick and 3-4 inches in diameter.

Use the belan or a wooden rolling pin to roll out this disc into a chapati approximately 6-8 inches in diameter and about 1/8 – 1/9 of an inch thick.

Place the chapati onto the heated tavaa. Cook until dark brown spots appear on the bottom surface of the chapati.

Flip and cook the other side, until brown spots appear. The chapati may puff up in which case just press it down.

Serve hot with ghee and curries.

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Cumin Rice (Jeera Chawal जीरा चावल / Zeera Walay Chawal زیرے والے چاول )

Cumin rice is a flavorful and aromatic rice dish popular in India (northern India in particular) and Pakistan. In its simplest form, it consists of rice and roasted whole cumin seeds while more elaborate versions could also include spices such as cinnamon and cardamoms, nuts such as cashew nuts, dried fruits such as raisins, herbs such as curry leaves and coriander leaves (also known as cilantro or Chinese parsley) and other ingredients such as lemon juice and slices of onion. There are no fixed recipes for cumin rice as the possibilities are endless. The key ingredients are rice and cumin and other optional ingredients can be added as desired.
In India, cumin rice is known as “jeera chawal” जीरा चावल in Hindi (“jeera” means “cumin” and “chawal” means “rice”) while in Pakistan the dish is called “zeera walay chawal” زیرے والے چاول in Urdu (“zeera” means “cumin” and “chawal” means “rice”).

Cumin has been used for hundreds of years in Indian cuisine and since ancient times the spice has been valued in this region for its medicinal properties. Cumin is a good source of iron and it is believed to aid digestion according to ayurveda. Cumin is known as “jeeraka” in Sanskrit, one of the world’s most ancient languages once spoken in India thousands of years ago. The word “jeeraka” is derived from the word “jeerana” which means “digest” in Sanskrit.

Similar to cumin, turmeric is very widely used in Indian and Pakistani cuisine. For this particular dish however, the addition of turmeric for cumin rice tends to be more popular in Pakistan than in India.

While the dish could be made with all types of rice, long-grained basmati rice is the favored variety.
Modern recipes for cumin rice sometimes feature vegetable oil, however as with most Indian and Pakistani dishes, ghee, rather than vegetable oil was traditionally used to make this dish. Ghee imparts a distinct flavor to the dish and hence cumin rice made with ghee is generally superior in taste compared to cumin rice made with vegetable oil.

Version 1 (Basic cumin rice)
Serves: 3
Ingredients:

  • 2 cups long-grained basmati rice – washed and soaked for at least 1 hour
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2-3 tbsp ghee
  • 1/2 cup sliced onions
  • Water to cook the rice
  • Salt as desired

Method:

Drain water from the rice.

In a heavy bottom pan over low heat, sauté cumin seeds and onion slices until brown and aromatic.

Add soaked rice and water as needed to cook rice.

Cook rice as usual.

Once rice is cooked, serve immediately.

Version 2 (Punjabi style)
Serves: 3
Ingredients:

  • 2 cups long-grained basmati rice – washed and soaked for at least 1 hour
  • Few drops lemon juice
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 3-4 cloves
  • Water as needed to cook the rice
  • 2-3 tbsp ghee
  • Salt as desired

Method:

Drain the water from the rice.

Pour water as needed to cook the rice, salt and lemon juice.

Cook rice as usual.

In a separate heavy bottom pan, heat ghee over low heat.

Add cloves, bay leaves and cumin and sauté until spices are aromatic and browned. The spices burn very easily so keep a watchful eye.

Add the cooked rice and stir gently.

Serve immediately.

Version 3
Serves: 3
Ingredients:

  • 2 cups long-grained basmati rice – washed and soaked for at least 1 hour
  • 1/2 cup onions – sliced
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger-garlic paste
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 6-8 fresh curry leaves
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2-3 tbsp ghee
  • Salt as desired
  • Water to cook the rice

Method:

Drain the water from the soaked rice.

On a cast-iron skillet over low heat, roast the cumin seeds until brown and aromatic.

Ensure they do not burn.

Stop heat and set aside.

In a heavy bottom pan, heat ghee over medium heat.

Add sliced onions, ginger-garlic paste, salt, turmeric powder and curry leaves.

Sauté till aromatic.

Add water, soaked rice and bring to a simmer.

Add roasted cumin seeds and salt and let rice cook as usual.

Once cooked, serve rice immediately.

Version 4
Serves: 3
Ingredients:

  • 2 cups long-grained basmati rice – washed and soaked for at least 1 hour
  • 1/2 cup onions – sliced
  • 1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
  • 2 fresh green chilies – slit down the middle
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1/3 cup raisins – soaked in warm water for 10-15 minutes
  • 1/3 cup cashew nuts
  • Water to cook the rice
  • 2-3 tbsp ghee
  • Salt as desired

Method:

Drain the water from the rice.

Heat ghee over low heat in a heavy bottom pan.

Add the cumin seeds, raisins (discard water), cashew nuts and fry till the cashew nuts turn brown and aromatic.

Next, add the green chilies, ginger-garlic paste and sliced onion.

Fry till onions soften.

Add salt.

Add the soaked rice and give a gentle stir to combine.

Pour water as needed to cook the rice and let rice cook as usual.

Once rice is cooked, serve immediately.

Version 5
Serves: 3
Ingredients:

  • 2 cups rice – washed and soaked for at least 1 hour
  • 1 inch piece cinnamon stick
  • 2-3 cloves
  • 1-3 green cardamom pods
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Water to cook rice
  • Salt as desired

For tempering:

  • 2-3 tbsp ghee
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tbsp cashew nuts
  • 2 green chilies – finely chopped
  • 2-3 tbsp coriander leaves – finely chopped

Method:

Drain the water from the rice.

Pour rice, cinnamon stick, cloves, bay leaf, cardamom pods, salt and water as needed to cook the rice.

Cook rice as usual.

Once rice is cooked, stop heat and set aside.

In a separate heavy bottom pan, heat ghee over low heat.

Add cumin seeds and sauté till cumin seeds turn brown and aromatic.

Add cashew nuts and green chilies and cook for a short while.

Add cooked rice and chopped coriander leaves.

Stir gently till ingredients are combined.

Stop heat and serve rice immediately.