The alchemy of flour, salt and water

This morning, as I sat where I am sitting now, I really meant to put my nose to the grindstone and not delay the inevitable and sit and look for a job. But I sit and look for a job a lot. Since this is a chore that is not very exciting or particularly rewarding, I tend to let my mind wander and I get distracted. This morning, since I also delayed something else that is inevitable: eating breakfast, I found myself sitting in front of a computer, hair a mess, teeth not brushed, still in pajamas obsessing about a breakfast burrito. Normally this would not present a problem. We often pick up whole wheat tortillas at the store when we purchase groceries, but this past weekend it seemed like a much better idea to have a lot of fun instead of doing chores so we never quite made it to the store.

The prospect of cleaning up the mess known as me, and transporting myself to a grocery store in order to come home and cook seemed a hell of lot more daunting than skipping straight to the kitchen and creating an even bigger mess by starting a whole step backwards. When I say starting a whole step backwards, I of course mean making the wraps for my breakfast. Last week while perusing the Indian food section of my cookbook collection (yes, I have so many books that they can be categorized into sections, don‘t you?), I was noticing that there was a chapati recipe in each book. Recipe is a little bit of an overstatement. Chapatis are flour, salt and water, kneaded for a few minutes, flattened with a rolling pin and cooked in a heavy, hot pan. Same thing in each book. Easy.

But… I was thinking, would they be the same thing as the tortillas I buy? Not really, flour tortillas have a little bit of fat in them. The chapati recipes I was looking at have no fat, but the dough is kneaded for as long as I would knead a yeasted dough. They wouldn’t be soft but they should have a nice texture. The other challenge to my idea of a breakfast burrito would be the size. I only have a nine inch cast iron skillet. My chapatis would be bigger than a standard corn tortilla, but not big enough to wrap things up burrito style. I would have to make my breakfast resemble something more along the lines of a large taco. Fine with me. Filled with eggs and cheese and other goodies I could scare up from the depths of the vegetable drawer and the pantry, my chapati breakfast wraps would be a triumph!

Would you care to make breakfast with me? First let’s make chapatis:

In a large bowl, mix together 2 cups stone ground whole wheat flour and ½ tsp salt. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and slowly start to mix in between ¾ – 1 cup of water. I started with ¾ of a cup but being that I was using stone ground whole wheat instead of Indian atta flour, I think I needed more moisture. I used almost a cup of water. Begin kneading the dough in the bowl until it starts to stick together. Transfer the dough to your favorite kneading surface (mine is a lightly floured wooden board) and knead for seven minutes or more until you are able to form a supple, smooth dough. Form this dough into a round ball (see above), cover with a clean kitchen towel and let it sit for twenty minutes.

Divide the dough into eight even pieces and roll one into a thin round (about 9” in diameter).

Heat a 9” or larger cast iron skillet over high heat until it begins to smoke and then lower the heat to medium. Carefully transfer the first round of dough to the pan so that it lays flat.

Cook for about a minute until it starts to form bubbles. Turn the chapati over and press down with a clean dishtowel to make sure all of the surfaces contact the pan. Cook for about a minute and turn over again. Make sure the edges especially are cooked all the way.

Remove the chapati to a tortilla warmer or a dishtowel lined basket to keep warm.

Repeat the process seven more times until all chapatis are cooked. I was able to roll each chapati out in the time it took for the bubbles to form on the first side, so I did these assembly line fashion. If this is too stressful, roll them out and stack the dough between pieces of wax paper or parchment so they are ready to go.

While my fresh chapatis were safely tucked away warm and toasty in a tortilla warmer, I did a reconnaissance of what food was left in our kitchen. Here is the lovely chapati wraps I was able to make for a hearty brunch.

Chapati breakfast wraps

(Makes 4 wraps)

4 chapatis

2 – 3 tsp olive oil

½ red onion, halved again and then sliced thin

1 zucchini, sliced thinly into rounds

Salt and pepper to taste

5 eggs, beaten

15 oz can black beans

Chili powder and cayenne to taste

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar

¼ cup cilantro, minced

1 avocado, pitted and cubed

If the chapattis are fresh, keep them warm. If not, toast them on both sides in a cast iron skillet and keep them warm until you are ready to use them.

Saute the red onion in olive oil until it softens and begins to brown slightly. Add zucchini, season with salt and pepper to taste and cook until the zucchini softens and just begins to brown a bit.

Meanwhile, heat the black beans in a small pot over medium heat. Season with chili powder and a dash of cayenne to taste.

When the veggies are cooked, add the eggs to the pan. Scramble the eggs, stirring until fluffy and cooked.

Put a chapati on a plate. Top with ¼ of the scrambled egg mixture. With a slotted spoon, drain some of the black beans and use them to top the eggs. Next add the shredded cheese, then cilantro and avocado.

As I said before, the texture of the chapatis was not soft like the flour tortillas we Americans are used to. There was a toothsome quality but they were still soft enough to wrap up the fillings. They had a good wheat flavor with a little bit of a smoky charred flavor from toasting in the cast iron skillet. I really enjoyed them as a wrap for this egg mixture and they were surprisingly easy to prepare.

I used stone ground whole wheat flour for these but I may try using whole wheat pastry flour or a mixture of stone ground whole wheat and whole wheat pastry flour. I’ve never used atta flour so I am not sure what would be closer to authentic. If anyone has experience making chapatis with the proper flour, let me know what you think!