Rotlis: Staple Indian Bread

Almost two months ago, my mom had surgery on her back. I was totally freaked out about it. I kept having these nightmares of having to jump on a plane to fly for 26 hours in case something went wrong.

Given the time difference, the surgery was starting in the evening in South Africa and ending in the middle of the night. And I did not really know what to do with myself while the surgery was happening. My father had promised to call once the surgery was done. I couldn’t fall asleep but I didn’t have the attention span to read or watch TV. In that situation, I like to cook something that I find calming and takes a lot of time to make: usually that means making rotlis or a fruit pie. That night in honor of my mom who I don’t think has ever even had an American-style fruit pie, I made rotlis—65 of them. We stacked them in the freezer. They lasted us a month by which point my mom had fully recovered, of course.

Making rotlis actually does require some practice. I grew up making them for our nightly dinners. They are basically at every Gujarati meal. Like any angsty teenager I HATED making them. But my brother who didn’t have to make them growing up now is totally jealous that I can make them and he can’t. Ha!

Like the debras, the first few times I made them, the dough stuck to everything; they were oddly shaped and didn’t fluff up with air the way they were supposed to. But even when they weren’t perfectly fluffed with air and not circular they were still pretty delicious.  And the best part is that they are healthy (the Kiwi told me to say that because I think it was a big selling point for him).

Finding the flour is the hardest part, honestly. The first two times I lived in South Africa—14 years ago and 9 years ago—I couldn’t find rotli flour ANYWHERE. A lot of people use all-purpose flour, mixing in a little bit of ground whole wheat flour. But I didn’t like the rotlis that came out of that mixture. I tried to use just ground whole wheat flour and it also wasn’t right. Finally, after 2 years of living here this time around I found it in Greenside, near the Checkers (in case any South African wants to run to buy some).

Making the dough is super fun. I would highly recommend that you use your hands, otherwise you don’t know if you have the right consistency. You are supposed to leave the dough a little sticky, but I always cheat and make it so it doesn’t stick to my hands thereby making them easier to roll out. My mom says it makes my rotlis not as good but honestly, I can’t taste the difference.

I used to love eating them hot, straight off the pan. It is akin to having bread straight out of the oven. Nothing tastes more delicious than that. Usually everyone puts on a little bit of ghee (clarified butter) on the rotli after it is fully cooked. I don’t bother. However, I do sometimes spread salted butter on the rotli when it is hot and scarf it down while standing at the kitchen counter waiting for the last one to cook. It is like the Indian version of hot buttered toast.

But usually you don’t have rotlis alone. They are always accompanied with a veggie or lentil dish. The Kiwi actually eats the rotlis like a thin pita, cutting them in half and filling them with whatever vegetable or lentil we are having with them. I honestly have never seen anyone do that before, but it seems to work pretty well.


This made me 20 rotlis

2 1/2 c rotli flour –see above, you can use a mixture of white flour and ground whole wheat flour, but I just don’t think it is the same

1 1/2 t canola oil

1 c water

1/2 c flour for use when you are rolling out the rotlis

Pour oil into the flour and mix. Add water little by little mixing the whole time. Dough should look like photograph above. It should be relatively soft and easy to knead but not too sticky. Leave the dough to rest for an hour.

Oil your hand and knead the dough. Make 20 evenly sized balls.

For rolling out the rotli: Pour extra flour into a wide-mouthed bowl. (I use rice flour here but you can just use leftover rotli flour or any other flour you have, e.g. cake flour, all-purpose flour. Not chickpea flour!). Start rolling out the dough trying to make it as circular as possible. If you feel like the dough is sticking either to your rolling pin on the rolling board then dip both sides of the rotli into the flour bowl. Return to rolling. You will probably need to keep dipping both sides of the rotli into the flour bowl about 3-4 times during the rolling process.

For cooking the rotli: Heat pan on medium high heat. Put your rolled out rotli onto the pan. Cook one side and flip. Cook the other side. Take the pan off the flame and put your rotli directly on the flame (see note below if you have an electric burner). I know it is totally scary but trust me it works! Wait to see if it fluffs up with air but not too long lest you burn it. Flip it to the other side and put on flame.  Take it off and smear with ghee or butter if you want.

Note: If you have an electric gas you can put a small stove top grill over the burner to cook it right on the burner. Do not put it directly on the burner.

Note 2: You can roll out rotlis as they are cooking, but if this is the first time you are trying I would suggest rolling out one rotli, cooking it and then moving onto the next one.

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4 Responses to Rotlis: Staple Indian Bread

  1. Sandra says:

    What is the purpose of putting it directly on the flame?

    • From my experience, it makes the rotli softer and less tough and crisp, but you can cook it just on the stove top in a pan. You just have to keep it on longer to make sure it cooks thoroughly. It will be a little crisper though.

  2. Nasreen says:

    My grandmother used to say that if your rotis puff up like this, it means your mother in law really loves you!! In my experience—the trick is to get a non-Indian mother in law who is so impressed you made bread that she’ll love you even if they dont puff up!

  3. Ashmita says:

    Rotis are yummy but I prefer rice.

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