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How To Make A Chapati

March 28, 2021
by the gentle author

In celebration of spring, we are having a sale with all titles in the Spitalfields Life Bookshop at half price. Enter ‘SPRING’ at checkout to claim your discount.


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Today we present one of Jagir Kaur’s recipes from Suresh Singh’s A MODEST LIVING, Memoirs of Cockney Sikh, as photographed Patricia Niven. These recipes have been eaten by Jagir & Suresh’s families for generations in the Punjab and they still cook them today in the East End. I was lucky enough to eat many chapatis cooked by Jagir while we were working on the book and the everyday magic of watching them inflate like balloons never ceased to delight me.

A MODEST LIVING, Memoirs of Cockney Sikh is included in the sale.

Suresh Singh & Jagir Kaur in their Spitalfields kitchen

Chapatis are the grain staple of the Punjab where most of the grain harvest of India is cultivated. We always include rotis and they are part of our blessed ceremony.

Makes about fifteen chapatis

3 cups atta (wheat) flour
1 cup cold water
1–2 teaspoons of oil (optional)
butter, ghee, or vegetable oil for coating the finished roti (optional)

Knead the flour, water, and oil (if you are using it) into a smooth dough. Then let the dough rest in the fridge for at least half an hour.

Take half-handfuls from the dough and shape them into round saucers with your palms, these shapes are known as ‘perras.’

Flatten out the perras from the centre using your thumbs to make thick, disc-like shapes, using a rolling pin to further flatten them out. Shape the chapati by tossing it back and forth from one hand to the other, making a clapping sound.

Use a tawa (flat cooking plate) to cook the chapatis. Set the tawa on a medium heat and place the flattened-out dough on the hot plate, flipping the chapati every fifteen to twenty seconds.

Towards the end of the cooking process, the chapati may be toasted briefly on the naked flame to puff it up like a balloon. This also helps cook it more evenly. You can dab a little butter or ghee on the finished chapatis to keep them fresh. Be careful not to get any grease on the cooking plate as this will make your kitchen very smoky.

Keep the chapatis warm by wrapping them in a clean tea towel.

For yellow chapatis, which are eaten with Sarson da Saag, use corn flour instead of atta (wheat) flour, and hot water instead of cold water.

Makes about ten chapatis

2 cups of fine corn flour
3⁄4 cup boiling water (start with half a cup, and add a tablespoon at a time to get the right consistency)

Mix the ingredients with a spoon until the corn flour absorbs all the liquid, making a sticky (not runny) dough. Add more water or corn flour as needed. Then knead with your hands into a ball.

Divide the dough into five equal portions. Wet your hands and flatten the dough by tossing it between your hands, making a clapping sound.

Place the tawa on high heat and place the flattened-out dough on the hot plate. Toast for about three minutes, turning frequently until brown on both sides and puffing up in the middle.

You can dab a little butter or vegetable oil on the finished chapatis to keep them fresh.

Chapati ready for cooking

Turning the chapati

Flipping the inflated chapati

A finished chapati

Buttering the chapati

Jagir Kaur with her cat Lohri Ji at 38 Princelet St

Photographs copyright ©Patricia Niven

Click here to order a copy of A MODEST LIVING for half price

You may also like to read these other extracts from A MODEST LIVING

A Modest Living

At 38 Princelet St

A Hard-Working Life

Joginder Singh’s Boy

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Esther Wilkinson Rank permalink
    March 28, 2021

    I loved the story, photos and recipes — I think it does take a special touch to make such splendid chapatis. Oh yes, we loved seeing your black and white cat too!

  2. Linda Granfield permalink
    March 28, 2021

    Ah, there are many times when I wish I had a gas stove, not a ceramic-top version. (Condo building rules–no gas stoves.)

    However, these chapatis sound so delicious I will print the recipe and take it to my gas-stove-owning son who loves to cook.

    “Mum’s coming!”

  3. Cherub permalink
    March 28, 2021

    The tawa cooking plate reminds me a bit of the type we call a girdle in Scotland. It’s used on the hob to make thin potato scones and thicker girdle scones, both are triangular in shape. A girdle sometimes has a half hoop shaped handle for carrying.

    I remember a friend of ours in London we used to visit and his mum and sister making chapathis, I could never quite get the hang of the technique they used with their hands for shaping them.

  4. March 28, 2021

    Fascinating, especially the ‘inflated stage’ of the chapatis; and loved the beautiful colours of Jagir Kaur’s outfit

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