In India, every region has its own name for flatbreads; in Gujarat, they are known as rotli, in the north as roti, some call them phulka, and of course, they are more commonly known as chapati in the West. However, there are also lots of variations in terms of flavourings, as well as in the choice of flour type, of this unleavened flatbread staple. In fact, in Gujarat, flours such as white millet and black millet are occasional alternative choices to wheat flour. Typical to Gujarat, thepla are made with wheat flour, and flavoured with wonderful spices, a small amount of grated cabbage, or even a little cooked rice, and plain yoghurt. They are toasted on a tawa (flat cast iron pan) with a little oil, and are usually eaten as part of a meal, but can also be eaten as a snack with a cup of masala chai. I remember as a child, whenever we went on day trips to the seaside, or even when we flew to India in the summer holidays, my mother would make a pile of thepla to take along to eat. Aeroplane food was virtually inedible at the time, and certainly unappetising, especially for her, being a strict vegetarian, so it was important to have a supply of healthy, and filling home cooked foods to sustain all of us on those long trips.
Even though I love thepla, I have only just recently learned from my mother how to make them, as I always felt they would be too much like hard work! But far from it, they’re easy to make once you practice a couple of times, and they’re utterly moreish. If you’ve tried my chapati recipe, you’ll be familiar with the rolling technique, so all you need to do for thepla, is to master the toasting bit.
To make 8-10 thepla:
8 oz medium brown chapati flour
Around 130 ml hot water in a measuring jug
1 tbsp organic cold pressed olive oil + a few extra teaspoons in a small bowl for toasting
Half tsp turmeric powder
Half tsp caraway seeds
Half tsp each of ground cumin and coriander
A pinch of mild chilli powder
Half tsp salt
1 tbsp slightly sour organic yoghurt
2 tbsp finely grated cabbage
You’ll also need a tawa/cast iron flat griddle pan, a wooden chapati, or chopping board for rolling the thepla, and a thin rolling pin
Put the flour in a mixing bowl, and add the spices and salt. Mix well, and add the cabbage and oil. Mix again to ensure you have combined everything, before adding the yoghurt. Now continue to bind it all together with your hand. Add a little water, maybe 25 ml, and mix it in with a spoon, before adding a little more, going slowly so you can gauge how much more you will need. Keep adding small amounts of the water (you won’t use all of it) until everything is starting to come together and becoming a dough. Now, bind it some more with your hand, and then start to knead it for a few minutes. You should end up with a soft, smooth, and pliable dough. Remove it onto a wooden board, and splash a few drops of oil on it; knead it again for a few minutes, put it back in the bowl, and cover it with a tea towel. Let it rest for half an hour or so.
When you are ready to make the thepla, shape the dough into walnut-sized balls, and flatten them slightly. Sprinkle a little flour on the wooden board, and spread it around a bit. Now roll each of the flattened balls into round discs of about five inches diameter, lifting it after a couple of rolls, and sprinkling more flour on the board so it doesn’t stick. Put each thepla on a large platter, slightly spread out. If you put them in a pile, they will stick together. When you’ve rolled out half of them, put a tawa or a flat cast iron griddle pan on a high heat. It should be very hot before you start toasting the thepla.
Place your first thepla on the pan, turn the heat down to medium, and wait until the underside is cooked, but not yet brown. Flip it over, and with a teaspoon take a little oil from the bowl, and pour it on the thepla and a little around the edges of it too. Using the back of the teaspoon, spread the oil over the surface of the thepla to lightly cover it. Wait a few seconds before flipping again, and dab a little oil on the upside with the spoon, but not around the edges. Now gently press the thepla with a flat turner to help it to brown. Check if the underside has started to become flecked with golden brown patches, and if so, turn it once more to cook the other side. Press again with the turner; you should end up with a random pattern of brown patches on both sides, as seen in the photo. Repeat until all the thepla are cooked, placing them on top of each other on a plate, covering them with a tea towel to keep them warm as you go.
Serve freshly cooked with a vegetable curry, such as my dry potatoes , or at room temperature as a snack with masala chai.