If there is a dish that can attest to one’s culinary skills, it is chapati! The best Kenyan chapati is soft with a slight chew and flaky layers. This unleavened flatbread is a staple in Kenyan cuisine, as well as neighboring countries. Despite sharing a name with the Indian bread of the same name, it’s more similar to a paratha due to its layered structure.
The key to successfully making chapati is practice and time. Every family knows who the good chapati makers are, and who isn’t allowed to touch it.
Chapati making is commonly a communal affair, made in an assembly line style, each cook preparing a certain step. The ingredients are simple- flour, water, salt, and fat. The dough is prepared in a basin, starting with the flour and salt. Room temperature water is slowly streamed in as it’s mixed by hand. Determining the correct amount of water is critical here. Add too little and the chapati will be rock hard and dual as a frisbee once cooked. Too much water, they won’t hold shape. This makes preparing the dough, the most critical part in chapati making and left for the best cook to do.
Once the base dough is made, it’s divided and shaped into balls and the assembly line begins. There is the job of rolling, adding the fat, final shaping, and cooking. This task can be accomplished by one person, but cooking communally serves as a dual function of making cooking more leisurely, as well as giving people time to socialize.
2 cups white bread flour, plus additional for rolling
2 cups fine whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Roughly 2/3 cup oil
Roughly 1 1/2 cups warm water
In a large bowl mix together flour and salt. Add 2 tablespoons oil, and slowly pour in the water while mixing with your hand, adding only enough water until it becomes a scraggly dough. Start to knead the dough, adding small splashes of water until there are no more dry spots.
Turn the dough out onto a clean lightly floured surface, and knead until the dough comes together is elastic and smooth. About 3-5 minutes. Divide the dough into 8 pieces, shaping into balls.
Cover the dough with cling film or a clean kitchen towel and allow it to rest for at least 1 hour. Dough has rested long enough it has softened in texture.
Working 1 piece at a time, use a rolling pin to roll out the dough as thin as possible. It’s okay if there are a few small tears. If the dough springs back when rolled, it needs to rest longer.
Using a pastry brush, coat the top rolled out dough with a layer of oil. Lightly sprinkle top flour a good pinch of flour. Starting from the bottom, roll the dough upwards into itself until shaping into a thin log. Tuck it into a spiral shape. Repeat with the remaining dough. Be sure to keep resting dough covered so it doesn’t dry out.
Roll out the spiraled disks into circles, about 2-3mm thick, using as little flour as possible. Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat.
One hot, lightly brush with oil and carefully place the rolled out dough. Once the dough forms large bubbles and is no longer sticky at the top, lightly brush with oil before flipping, cooking another minute or so until golden brown. Repeat with the remaining dough, keeping warm between 2 plates.