I found beautiful examples of roti on a trip to the Caribbean this year that took me near Trinidad. These flat breads were brought to the islands in the nineteenth century by East Indian contract laborers but developed, over the years, a distinctly Caribbean style. They make a lovely wrap for a variety of hot West Indian curries (I especially love them with lamb or goat keema inside, enlivened by West Indian curry powder). To make the rotis, channa dal (available at Indian groceries, and also called Bengal gram) is ideal, but any split peas will do.
½ cup channa dal
1 ½ teaspoons salt, plus more for sprinkling
1 ½ teaspoons cumin seed, toasted in a hot pan for 1 minute
4 cups flour, plus extra for the bench
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 oz. cold butter (half a stick) cut into small pieces (pea-size)
Vegetable oil for shallow-frying
Bring 2 cups of water and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt to the boil in a saucepan. Rinse the channa dal, then add to boiling water. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
After 30 minutes, drain off water and reserve dal.
In a spice grinder, grind the cumin seed. Mix ground cumin with reserved dal, and place in food processor. Pulse a few times until the mixture is mashed, but with some whole pieces of dal remaining. Reserve.
Place the flour in a large mixing bowl. Mix with baking soda, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Add enough warm water, blending with your hands, to form a soft dough (2 cups water, or a little less, should do it). Do not knead, or even over-mix. Sprinkle the cold pieces of butter over the dough, and quickly blend in with your hands. Let rest for 5 minutes.
After the rest, divide the dough into 8 balls, then flatten each one slightly. Create a deep depression at the center of each ball, and fill each depression with 1/8 of the dal mixture. Bring the sides of each ball over the center, and twist–forming 8 balls with dal enclosed. Let rest for 2 minutes.
Sprinkle a little flour on a board, and add one of the balls. Flatten the ball, then start rolling with a pin. Your goal is a round pancake, about 10″ in diameter, no more than 1/8″ thick (the thinner the better). Make sure the roti doesn’t stick to the board while rolling; turn frequently. Try to make the roti as even as possible in thickness. Try to keep the dal inside. Repeat until you have 8 uncooked rotis.
Place about a tablespoon of oil on a griddle or large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add one raw roti (or more, if they fit), and cook for 2 minutes per side, turning occasionally. They should have golden-brown blisters on the outside. After removing rotis from pan, salt lightly and hold them under a towel. Repeat, replenishing oil, until you have 8 cooked rotis. Serve warm.
Makes 8 rotis, good for 8 lunchtime servings.
David Rosengarten is a travel writer, cookbook author and TV journalist who has hosted or co-hosted approximately 2,500 shows on the Food Network. A frequent guest on NBC’s Today show, David has written about food and wine for a wide array of publications and travels frequently throughout the U.S., Europe, Latin America and Asia, writing and lecturing on various culinary subjects Currently, David is the editor-in-chief of The Rosengarten Report, which received the James Beard Award in 2003 for the best food and wine newsletter in the country.
Recipes by Rosengarten is a recurring bi-weekly feature on www.winemag.com.