I've been promising a chapati recipe in my about bar for awhile now. I intended to put it up earlier but whenever I thought of it, I said to myself, just one more test batch should make them perfect. Of course, they never became perfect, but now I have a recipe that is close enough that I'm proud to put it up.
I've said before that for the gluten-free crowd bread is one of the main wished-for foods and challenges. Without gluten, regular loaves suffer from crumbly texture and a lessening of flavour, and while you may get used to it after awhile, for those of us who counted bread as among our favourite foods when we were still eating it, that acceptance is always qualified with an okay/but if only feeling.
Still, there is a saving grace for non-wheat eaters, and that is the richly varied world of flatbreads. Flatbreads can be made quite successfully without the gluten that breads need to rise. Looking at this article in The Cook's Thesaurus made me realize that there are many options available as inspiration for recipes.
Indian foods are a regular part of my diet and whenever I would visit an Indian restaurant, or was cooking them at home, I wished for chewy grainy chapati or puffy naan to dip into the sauces or dahls. I tried making rice flour chapati at home; in fact I've been working on it for months. But plain rice flour chapati, whether with brown or white rice flour, is almost flavourless, and certainly doesn't have the chewy texture I was looking for. To address that, I tried making it with a quick sourdough starter, one that could be left to set for only about an hour before I could use it in the bread or be refrigerated, fed, and used for up to a week or more. This was pretty successful in adding some flavour and chew, especally when I fried the bread in a teaspoon or so of vegetable oil in a cast iron pan. The bread was certainly acceptable but still lacked the whole grain flavour and texture that goes so well with spicy dishes.
Then one day I ran out of brown rice flour and decided to try buckwheat flour. Serendipidy! I couldn't believe how closely this bread resembled true chapati, and there was another surprise when I cooked it in my cast iron pan. The bread blistered a bit and separated into two distinct layers, exactly like pita. It was a little hard to pull apart and might not be able to be used as a pocket bread, but somehow the two layers enhance the bread's texture and taste. It is not just acceptable, but really good.
Besides the loveliness of the finished product, the buckwheat dough was soft, pliable and easy to work, completely amenable to being pressed out with only fingertips into even shapes. There is no tearing, rolling or crumbling as is usual in gluten-free products. It makes a soft and elegant dough that is a pleasure to work. The only slight challenge is making sure there is the right amount of water in the dough, which probably will take no more than one preparation to perfect. It's simple; if the dough looks too dry and crumbly when you are mixing it up, add a small amount more water before you knead it for about a minute. If it's too wet, it's easy to liberally dust the cutting board with white rice flour, knead it in and you're good.
I will say that the buckwheat flour I use is a local stoneground organic product with a mild flavour. It is a Japanese variety of dark buckwheat. In this recipe, cooked, it is very similar to whole wheat. For those of you in Canada (Atlantic Canada) look for Speerville Mill Stoneground Buckwheat Flour. For the rest of you, I recommend you try whatever is available and experiment. In Japan, you might try soba flour, which is just buckwheat or buckwheat and wheat flours mixed. If you are gluten intolerant you will need to check the label or ask. I think you may find that buckwheat flour is available from Tengu Natural foods. (Please be sure to ask them if it is 100 percent buckwheat.)
This product is very good, and since buckwheat is nutritious, I suggest whether you can eat wheat or not you might want to try it. It is as least as good as regular pita and chapati and much easier to form. Please wrap it up in waxed paper and refrigerate it if you want to keep it. It's great with either peanut butter or fruit chutney with dark coffee for breakfast. And I've made a pefectly yummy pan-cooked pizza with it too, topped with herbs, fresh tomato slices and grated parmesan.
You also might like it with curry, soups, dahls, salads, or with a sandwich filling/dip. I like it all those ways and eating it makes me forget I can't have breads made from wheat. In fact, I remember just why I love bread so much when I bite into it.
You might too!
Gluten-free Chapita (Makes about 5 breads, 6-7 inches/15-18 cm in diameter)
The Sourdough Starter:
1 tsp dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
2 cups lukewarm water
1 cup white rice flour
1 cup brown rice flour
Make a simple sourdough starter by adding about a teasoon of regular dry yeast, a teaspoon of sugar, and 2 cups of warm water to a sizeable bowl and after combining those with a fork adding a cup of white rice flour and a cup of whole wheat flour. The starter should have the consistency of a cake dough with just a bit of weight. If it needs more water or flour you can add it at this point. You want a meduim-thick dough that is liquid but not runny. Cover and set it out to rise for about an hour before you use it. You can leave it out for a few hours more to develop more sour flavour, but you should refrigerate it after that. I find that rice flour starter sours quickly.
The Chapita Dough:
1 cup sourdough starter
1/2 cup water
2 tsp salt
1 cup, more or less, as required, buckwheat flour.
Use a cup of starter in a bowl as a base for the chapita. Add 2 tsp of salt for flavour, a bit more water if you like, and then add enough buckwheat flour to make a not-too-dry crumbly looking dough. Mix it up with a fork and if it seems too dry add a splash more water and combine. Sprinkle a board liberally with white rice flour and put the dough onto it, gathering it together and kneading it just until it becomes smooth and soft, about a minute or less.
Cooking the Chapita:
Put your cast iron pan onto a medium heat and add a teaspon or so of oil to coat the bottom. Pinch off a golf ball-sized piece of dough and put it on your well-floured (white rice flour) board. Reverse it once or twice as necessary if it's a bit sticky as you pat it out into a round or irregular shape that is about 1/8 of an inch (1/2 cm) thick. Use an egg lifter under one side and your hand under the other to transfer the round into the pan. Allow it to cook and blister until it is light to medium brown, about a minute or two. Reverse it and cook until it looks a bit dry and parched on the surface and is cooked through, just about 30 seconds to a minute on the second side. Stack the finished ones on a plate as you make the rest of the breads, or wrap up the leftover dough and use it later in the day or even on the next.