In India we have a saying that all one needs for a comfortable life is roti, kapda aur makhan (food, clothes and home.) It is one of the truths of life that you can be pretty comfortable with very little and with the basic necessities of life, and there are a lot of people in India and in the world who live with just that.
I was chatting with my mum about money. As she put it, she worked all her life, and while she made enough money, she also spent it all on us and our education and to give us a comfortable life that lacked for nothing. Now that she is retired, she made a conscious decision to travel and stay with us, and to spend any money she had on experiences and family. It made me think about my own life and the role of money in it. I am a lucky woman. I have a husband who makes enough money to provide me and my family with a wonderful living, and I also have a job that enables me to have luxuries like being able to attend conferences, spending money on props and eating out, and generally having a very comfortable life. I also understood that I take this very much for granted, and talking to my mother about this made me understand how privileged my life really is.
It also made me realise how important it is to be grateful to the people who make our lives comfortable, happy and fulfilled.
Making roti is one of the most basic skills of Indian cooking. Whether you call it roti, phulka or chapathi, this is the staple of Indian cuisine and the one thing every daughter of the house learns to cook. After all, as Mrs. Bhamra in 'Bend it Like Beckham' says, 'what family would want a daughter-in-law who can run around kicking football all day but can't make round round chapatis?' Ouch.
But see, this is my big secret.
My mom and I have one thing in common – we both really dislike making rotis. I don't know why, perhaps it is the very basic-ness of it. Growing up in South India meant that we usually had rice as our staple meal, rather than rotis, and while mom made the occasional chapathis for breakfast, it wasn't something she really enjoyed making. As for me, um, I was busy learning how to make pasta instead of poppadums.
All this changed when Adz, my girl, decided she likes chapathis and parathas. Suddenly, ever the doting grandmother, mom decided she and I would make rotis. When mom came to visit us in England, she used to make a freezer full of rotis, so I wouldn't have to make my disastrous square ones. Thank goodness for not having Indian in-laws, is all I could say.
This year, however, I decided it was time, after all these years that I start to make round round rotis. So mom and I sat down, measured out the amount of flour and water we use, the salt, the oil and everything that goes into the dough. Mom snickered, though, she reckoned any Indian daughter should know how much of what to use pretty instinctively.
Humbug, I said, as I pulled out my vintage sixties KitchenAid and proceeded to produce the softest dough we'd ever made. Shame, mom said, we don't have all these fancy fancy machines to help us in India. Nope, I smirked... you can't carry a KitchenAid all the way to India, Air Canada would have a field day with your excess baggage fee (she is Indian, after all, and we usually check in twice - first after she has her luggage weighed and second, after she's repacked in the airport.)
For all her snickering, mom and I did find common purpose. It was time to make our chapathis puff up, and they did. Success, at last.
I think mama was relieved. Finally, as Mrs Bhamra said, having just let Jess go to the States, 'at least I taught her full Indian dinner, the rest is up to God', she had fulfilled her duty as an Indian mom and taught her daughter to make round round soft soft chapathis.
Makes about 10 - 12 rotis, depending on size
2 cups whole wheat roti flour *
½ - 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 tablespoon coconut or neutral oil
½ - ¾ cup water (as required)
Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the middle and pour in the oil.
Pour in the water, a little at a time, mixing it in with the flour, until you have a soft dough.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface, and knead well for 7 – 10 minutes, until it is very smooth and silky.
Cover and rest for at least ½ hour.
Divide the dough into 10 - 12 equal pieces. Dust your work surface with flour. Gently, using a floured rolling pin roll out round chapathis, about 6 – 8 inches in diameter.
Heat a non-stick or cast iron pan, on a medium high heat. When hot, place the rolled roti on the pan. Fry for about 30 seconds to a minute on the first side, and when you see little air bubbles popping on the surface, flip the roti.
Cook for another minute on the second side, then flip it again.
At this point, press gently at various points on the surface of the roti, and it should puff up. As soon as the chapathi is puffed up, take off the heat.
Wrap the rotis in aluminium foil to keep them warm.
Note: There are several brands of atta, or wholewheat that you can use to make rotis. Mom and I really prefer Pillsbury, and we recommend it.