Cornmeal Roti

(Photo by su-lin/Flickr)
(Photo by su-lin/Flickr)

These discs of flat bread have a warm yellow color and slightly sweet flavor, and stay moist and pliable after cooking. The type of cornmeal to use is a very finely ground yellow cornmeal usually available in Indian grocers and not the coarser Italian type sold as polenta.

Makes 8-10.

Ingredients

250 ml/8 fl oz/1 cup water
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon ghee or butter, melted
1/2 cup fine-ground yellow cornmeal
1 ear tender fresh corn (optional)*
150 g/5 oz/1 1/4 cups atta or roti flour

Directions

Combine cold water, salt, sugar, butter and cornmeal in a medium saucepan, stirring until there are no lumps in the cornmeal. Place over low heat and stir constantly until mixture boils and thickens. Turn heat as low as possible, cover the pan and leave over heat for 3 minutes. Remove to a bowl and allow to cool to lukewarm. Add corn (if using) and atta or roti flour and mix to a pliable dough. It may be necessary to add a little extra flour or a few drops of water to achieve a consistency which will allow the dough to be kneaded. On a lightly floured surface, knead for 8-10 minutes until smooth. Cover closely with plastic wrap and allow to rest for at least 1 hour.

Divide the dough into egg-sized portions, rolling each one into a smooth ball with floured hands. On a lightly floured surface, roll each one with a lightly floured rolling pin to as perfect a circle as possible. The rotis should be thinly rolled, and about the size of a bread-and-butter plate. When all are rolled out, start cooking them, starting with those that were rolled first. The brief resting after rolling gives a lighter result.

Heat a tawa or heavy frying pan (non-stick if possible) and cook rotis over medium heat in a dry pan. No fat is used. Allow the first side to cook undisturbed for a minute, then flip the roti over and cook the second side for a minute. Now comes the interesting part. After the first couple of minutes cooking the roti is gently pressed, first around the edges and then in the centre, with a folded tea towel or with a frying slice. This encourages rising.

Small bubbles make the texture light and delicious and often the roti will puff like a balloon. Turn once and press the other side also. Stop the cooking when there are a few brown spots on the roti. Stack rotis on clean tea towel and fold the towel over them to keep warm while cooking the rest. Serve with dry, spiced dishes or simply spread with butter as a snack.

*If sweet corn is in season, take an ear of very fresh and tender corn and with a sharp knife slice off the tops of the kernels. Save them to use in another dish such as Spinach and Corn Bhaji. Scrape the sweet milky juice from the corn into a bowl using a spoon or the back of a knife. Avoid the outer skin of the kernels. A single ear of corn should yield the 1/4 cup you need. In case you're wondering why the tops of the kernels are not included in the roti, they make holes in the dough when rolling it thinly. Canned creamed corn may not be used for the same reason.


Recipe excerpted from Encyclopedia of Asian Food by Charmaine Solomon (Periplus Editions, 1998).