The Quest for the Perfect Roti

If cooking is an art, and baking is a science, making the perfect Roti is a little of both. For most people who eat Indian food (mostly likely at a restaurant), they do serve bread with a meal — but it’s usually Naan.  Roti (or Paratha) is a little different, but still fried. The recipe for the dough is pretty simple:

2-4 cups flour

1-2 tsp baking powder

1-3 tsp oil, ghee, or butter

3/4 to 1 cup water

Oil and Butter Baste

Notice there’s no yeast in the mix? That’s because it’s a unleavened bread designed to be cooked and eaten in a relatively short amount of time (i.e., the time it takes a prep a dinner). Many cultures have similar breads, but when I was 11, one of my friends was from a Navajo tribe in Arizona. One day he came over when my mom was making Roti and he pointed at it and said, “Your mom is making Fry Bread.” I corrected him and said it’s Roti, but he kept saying that it was the same as Fry Bread. He finally made some one day, and while its similar, it’s not the same. Fry Bread dough is made with the following:

3 cups unbleached flour, sifted
1/2 cup dry powdered milk
1 Tbs. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup warm water or milk
2 quarts oil for deep frying

Cooking each bread is different, too.  Roti is usually fried in a Tawa that looks like this:

It’s made of cast iron and it’s probably the best way to fry Roti.  Yeah, you could use a regular pan, but cast iron seems to hold a steady heat better.

Fry Bread is cooked in a deep frying pan in about 1-2 cups of oil. So, yeah, they are similar in that both are quick breads that are fried, but like I wrote earlier, they are different. Navajo Fry Bread looks like this when cooked:

And the Guyanese Roti that I’m used to eating looks like this when cooked:

While I’ve listed the ingredients that go into making the dough (and how much of this and that to add), I have to say that I don’t measure — except for the flour. Everything else I eyeball. Now why would I do that? Because when I started making Roti I had it written down, but it just didn’t come out right.  It took about a year or so, but I was finally able to make Roti that was near perfect. You might be asking yourself, “So, hotshot, what is perfection when it comes to Roti?”  Well, it’s a few things.  First you have to know how long to fry the dough on the Tawa.  Second is how to regulate the heat because if the Tawa is too hot, then you burn part of the dough while leaving other parts raw.  Not good. Third, your ingredient should be mixed so when the Roti is fried, it swells up like a balloon. And fourth, once it’s cooked, you have to clap it together to make it flaky, but not dry. It can be difficult at times, but what makes it a challenge is to find the right balance of oil in the making of the dough, rolling it out, and frying it on the Tawa (Roti needs a combo of oil and butter at various stages).

Now, instead of writing a long post taking you through the process step-by-step, this video is pretty close in explaining how my mom taught me to make Roti — even though they don’t use a Tawa.

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