When working on The Ayurvedic Cookbook some 27 years ago with my co-author Urmila Desai, I spent weeks trying to create a decent wheat-free chapatti. To not much avail. It seemed like it would benefit a lot of people, including Kaphas. While friends told me that certain brands of wheat-based chapati flour were easier for the gut to handle, I did not find it to be so for me. I avoided chapatis, and didn’t teach them in my cooking classes. I felt a little behind my chapati-savvy colleagues. But there were plenty of other delicious foods we could make together. So we did.
Recently I was eating at a new fine dining establishment in Santa Fe, Sazone. Its chef and instigator, Ferdinand Olea, creates fabulous food, a la Mexico City. Pricy yet wonderful. I was checking it out in support of my offspring, a high end server there. She was great and the food was inspired. It began with an elegant rectangular stone adorned with three remarkable New World sauces and these tiny fresh corn tortillas, no bigger than a few inches in diameter. When I saw and tasted the tiny tortillas, a light bulb went off inside. I could do this – I could do this with chapatis. Xanthum gum was now on the market, unlike three decades ago, and I was sure that with it plus tiny size, I could make some respectable tasty chapatis.
Inspired by a trip to teach in Baltimore for Susan Weis-Bohlen last month, I began to play. It was an education in Ayurveda. Here’s why. Food needs to taste good, look good, AND be easily digested. I started with a small bag of “GF flour #831” purchased in bulk at some point in the not too distant past from our local coop. I added the xanthum gum and proceeded as in any regular chapati, yet diminutive. The results were thrilling. Easy to make, tasty, warm, soft, fun, hallelujah! I drove the rest of the dough over to the afore-mentioned offspring’s home and asked her if we could put chapatis on the menu for dinner that night (she also has a rustic place in the woods, it must run in the family). She is a discriminating eater, not easily swayed by filial loyalties. She and her father have tested all the recipes in past cookbooks. I knew I could trust her opinion. She was positive: yes they’re delicious. Phew! I was tickled, to come up with something so easily. We ate quite a few.
But then. That night, a few hours later, safely back in my own place in the forest, the gas was terrible. I checked with her the next day. Digestible? No problem, all fine. She’s young, she’s Pitta Kapha with good agni. Me, I’m an aging Pitta Vata in the Vata time of life. It was a no go. If it isn’t easily digested by most people, it isn’t a healing Ayurvedic food. Back to the drawing board.
What was it? I thought about it. The gluten free flour had a beany aroma. Hm. That could be it. Not everyone does well with dried bean flour, no matter how beautiful and tasty the product. Back to the kitchen, with organic rice flour and quinoa flour. Here’s the digestible results.
GLUTEN FREE CHAPATIMAS
Time: I hour unattended, plus 20 minutes actual prep
Makes 24 3 inch chapatis Serves 4 – 8
Start these before you get hungry, like an hour or so before meal time.
Mix in a large bowl: 2/3 cup organic white or brown rice flour
1/3 cup organic quinoa flour
½ teaspoon xanthum gum
1/8 teaspoon pippali or black pepper (optional)
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)
Add, mixing in with your clean hands: ½ cup warm water
2 teaspoons sesame oil
Knead the dough until it holds together in a ball. Have fun kneading it a bit longer. Set it aside in the bowl, covered with a towel, for an hour.
Come back, add: 1 more teaspoon of oil to the dough.
Knead a bit more, and divide the dough into 24 equal sized tiny balls.
Heat a well-seasoned un-oiled iron skillet over medium high. Dust a cutting board with: ½ cup more rice flour.
Pat out one tiny ball into a circle shape, plop it on the cutting board, lightly dust it with flour on both sides, roll it out with a few strokes with a rolling pin or chapati roller or whatever you have (here in the woods, I used a clean hard cider bottle). Gently place it in the medium hot skillet. When it starts to puff up in places, turn it over. The whole process should go quite quickly. There’s room for three more tiny chapatis in your skillet (think pancakes), as they finish, add more in. You can work up to making them larger as you get more skilled with handling the material. The one limit to the size is that you really can’t easily put them over the open flame of a gas stove easily to puff them up further, though Susan did a pretty excellent job with this when we did make them in Baltimore.
Serve with: ghee or butter or dal or hummus or whatever you like
Tridoshic. They’re soft and warm, perfect for Vata. They’re nourishing, excellent for Pitta. They’re tiny, do-able for Kapha in moderation. Add more spices to the dough for Kapha if you like, or coriander, cumin, and fennel for Pitta, or a pinch of salt for Vata. Dessert chapatis, play with cardamom?
Alternative, notes on ingredients: if quinoa is not your friend, these can be made with all rice flour. From a traditional Ayurvedic perspective white rice flour is more suitable for Pitta (being cooler) than brown rice flour.
Xanthum gum is a polysaccharide made by a microbe Xanthomonas campestris. It is produced somewhat in the same way one nurtures a kombucha culture, yet on a wide scale. It is accepted as a safe food additive in many countries. Yet I wouldn’t feed it (or any other chapatti) to a premature infant! Economic sustainablity tip: buy a package of xanthum gum with 3 friends, for a few dollars each, and split it four ways. You need very little of it to have fun.
To store: wrap them in a dry kitchen towel and put them in a covered basket or tortilla warmer (30 minutes). Longer, up to 3 hours, you can put the towel wrapped chapattis in a crock pot on low. Still, good to reheat them on the tawa (iron skillet) in this case.
If you’re looking for other wheat-free flat breads, check out Rupen Rao and Aparna Pattewar’s new AYURVEDA COOKBOOK (www. Rupens.com). It has delicious traditional recipes, beautifully illustrated and photographed. There’s a barley roti, two millet flat breads, some tasty dosha-pacifying teas, and many great foods from Rupen’s restaurant in D.C. and his mom back in India. Dr. Pattewar, BAMS, does an excellent job of making Ayurveda clear and accessible to the reader. Bravo!
As I write this, the Ayurvedic Summit is in full roll, with a chance to hear wide-ranging perspectives on how Ayurveda is being practiced across the planet. Cate Stillman and Dr. Eric Grasser are skillfully grounding the process with their open insightful interviews, including a great one with Dr. Jessica Vellela, BAMS, a young American who spent 8 years immersing herself in Ayurveda in India, and John Joseph Immel of JoyfulBelly, to mention just a couple of the offerings. To register free while it’s happening, click here:
If you know that you’re going to want a record of the conference or to check out products, you can link to: https://qq114.isrefer.com/go/summitorder/AmadeaMO/