Along the Silk Road theme, I present homemade Lavash bread of the Caucasus. Perhaps the precursor of the Indian Roomali Roti (literally, handkerchief bread). [I am sure that the Jewish matzo is a close sibling somewhere on that taxonomy.]
Lavash is traditionally made in a tonir (a tandoor) in Armenia, where the incredibly thin, oval, flat bread is slapped on the inside of an extremely hot tonir and the bread cooks rapidly. A creative chef came up with the idea of using an inverted bowl/kerai/wok to make the handkerchief-thin bread rapidly in the kitchen or even at roti counters at restaurants. I have to research the origin of this ingenious idea, that is so ubiquitous in India.
I must confess that this is a difficult one and requires some flat-bread (roti) making expertise. But if you have some basics under your belt, this is well worth a meditative challenge. It is amazing what just flour and water can produce! In this rendition, I give a swirly take on the classic with activated charcoal.
Rolling pin and board; thick bowl or wok or kerai.
- White dough: 1/2 cup whole durum wheat flour (atta) + 1/2 cup white all-purpose (maida) flour + salt
- Black dough: 1/4 cup atta + 1/4 cup maida + 1/2 tsp food-grade charcoal powder + salt
A. It is important that the dough be soft- make each dough with water. Rest them for at least 15-30 minutes, covered with damp kitchen towel.
B. Divide each dough into eight equal-sized parts. Then roll each in your palm of your hand into ropes. If not malleable, rest the dough again to make it so till you can get an even rope of length 10-12 inches. Pair a white and black rope (the black will be slimmer than the white) and swirl into a disk as shown in the pictures. Cover with damp kitchen towel and let them rest for at least 10 minutes.
C. Using plenty of bench flour (white flour), flatten the disk and roll using your pin until the roti is at least 10 inches in diameter. Cover with damp kitchen towel and let it rest.
D. Heat the inverted kerai/wok on HIGH heat- you will be making the roti on the concave surface (not convex!).
E. While the wok heats, for the final “roll” use your hands to slap the roti from one hand to the other, while flipping it (I learnt from the Armenian women –who are primarily the Lavash makers– that you can use your forearm as well while flipping, particularly since the traditional Lavash is large and oblong shaped). When your knuckle shows through– it is thin enough.
F. The kerai must be very hot by now; place the roti on it. Flip after 30 seconds and 15 seconds on the other side. Don’t overcook- then it will harden.
G. Fold into quarters and keep covered till ready to serve. Go to Step E. to make the next roti.
Notes, hints, tips:
- You can always make just a white roomali roti. 1 1/2 cups flour (50 % atta, 50% maida by volume) makes 8.
- Do NOT destroy any sophisticated (not-stick etc) wok on this. I used a much-beaten, old kerai (that was on its way out) for this and it turned out perfect. Time and over-use had already seasoned it. Resurrected, now it occupies a new, special place in my cabinet.
- Flatbread / roti making is usually accompanied by “flour-shower” in the kitchen (haha!) that will take some cleaning-up effort. But well worth the trouble.
- Here’s what makes a roti roomali:
- (a) white flour in the dough to provide the gluten for it to stretch thin;
- (b) soft-soft dough, but using plenty of bench flour to roll (some suggest to use milk instead of water to make the dough);
- (c) rest the dough, covered with damp kitchen cloth as often as necessary, and, more;
- (d) HIGH heat cooking for about 30 secs on each side- as you place the roti on the metal surface, it should immediately start puffing.
- Can’t do the air-flipping of Step E: No worries. Roll it thin using the rolling pin. Can’t roll thin: No worries. See the following.
- Can’t roll thin enough (or only upto 6-8 inches diameter): No worries. Follow the exact process, but roast for about 45-60 secs on each side. Just before serving, puff it on the open fire (ala Indian phulka). It may not be roomali, but will still be a deliciously soft roti.
- In Yerevan, I saw hard Lavash being sold in the markets: the makers and sellers were almost always women. In any case, if you wanted your Lavash soft, they sprayed water on it. How clever!