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A traditional recipe in an unexpected place

Fresh rotis can be the basis of a burrito, accompany a meal, or e part of a salad.
Fresh rotis can be the basis of a burrito, accompany a meal, or e part of a salad.
all photos by Faith Bowman

The food landscape is made up of many different cultures, many times fragmened by slight differences in cuisine. The French are known for sauces and flawless presentation, the English have Jamie Oliver now, so their food has expanded past Yorkshire pudding and mushy peas. In America, many immigrant cultures come armed with traditional recipes that sometimes drop out of sight as people seek to assimilate into the dominant culture. One such recipe recently appeared on Bon Appetits's website.

The recipe for 'addictive flakey bread' is actually a recipe that many New Yorkers of West Indian/Caribbean descent know as roti. Roti and curry is a staple of the culture's cuisine, a testament to the influence of the British Empires importation of Indian workers who shared the recipe with blacks in the Islands. A hot floury roti flatbread works much like a tortilla, in that you an wrap a meal inside of it. Cheaply made and and quickly cooked, roti (also known as 'chapatis' n India) can be pre-made and cooked on demand in minutes.

The actual recipe is very simple- flour, salt, oil (or melted unsalted butter, but ghee would be better) and water. The initial dough is made and then kneaded into a smooth, soft state and let to rest for at least 4 hours in a warm place. Once the dough has rested, you make 10 pieces and roll them into balls, and place them on a baking sheet to rest for about 15 minutes. Flour a clean flat surface and roll out the dough balls, then twist the flat disk into coils. At this point, you can either refrigerate the coils and use them as needed or you can move on to the cooking stage.

Cooking is simple- a skillet or the bottom of a large cooking pot should be coated with a thin film of oil (Bon Apetit says you can use butter, but they may mean 'ghee', clarified butter) and use medium/high heat. Roll out the coil just before cooking, then float over the bottom of the pan. The shake the an t make sure that the roti isn't sticking to the bottom. Flip it after about 90 seconds and cook the other side. Transfer to a paper towel covered plate or dish. They're best served warm.

You can stuff a roti with salad and chicken, roasted vegetables, or try a dessert style stuffing with fresh mangoes and a sweet cream based dessert sauce. Serve with chili, or soup as an alternative to regular bread. Once you have the recipe and technique down, you can roll out a flatbread and have it read to liven up a meal of leftovers. Try personalizing it with different spices. Let yourself go and see how many variations you can find for 'addictive flakey bread'!