Sri Lankan Flatbread

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I’m a complete fanatic when it comes to authentic flatbread. I love the fact that these are the types of bread that have been made for (in some cases) thousands of years, which means that in the early days the recipes were handed down from mother to daughter rather than being written down, each region having subtle variations.

Accompaniments replace cutlery, so if you imagine how you’d manage to eat your curry/stew without cutlery just using your hands (sometimes just your right hand), that gives you a good pointer to what you should be serving with your meal. How would you manage to eat the thinner gravy without a spoon? A spongy, thicker flatbread or plain boiled rice would enable you to mop these delicious flavours up using your hands alone. For dishes with less gravy and more substance, a good replacement for a spoon is a thinner, firmer flatbread that doubles up as a scoop.

Yeast wasn’t always easy to come by and even if it was, the fuel that it took to cook a full loaf of bread was expensive or hard to come by. Cooking was done over a fire. Fire was essential to keep the family fed and warm, so no one wanted to waste any of the energy that it provided. Therefore, unleavened flatbreads fulfilled many needs – they didn’t need yeast or a lot of fuel to cook them. They were used as edible cutlery, plates and napkins.

Leavened and unleavened flatbread served as a ‘filler’ too – flatbreads dipped into the flavours of the main meal meant that the person eating the flatbreads would feel full, even if they were low down the pecking order when it came to getting a serving of the main dish.

Yorkshire Puddings are a type of British flatbread. A tray would be placed under a piece of meat to catch the drippings as they cooked. The Yorkshire pudding batter was poured into this tray and then served ahead of the main meal, so that the guests filled up before the main event. Children and servants didn’t usually get any of the meat, they made do with the Yorkshire pudding.

The flatbreads are usually made with whatever is freely available in the region. If they can get away with using water as the liquid that binds the dough, so much the better – yogurt, coconut milk, juices sqeezed from vegetables/fruit. Anything that didn’t mean a long trek to the nearest water source.

I managed to find three coconuts for £1 which meant that I opened them, prised away the coconut flesh, grated it and froze it. I also tasted the coconut milk inside and if it was sweet, I froze it in ice cube trays.

If you haven’t got fresh coconut available, you can use desiccated coconut and a can of coconut milk as the liquid to bind the dough.

Coconut Roti (makes 6-8)

2 cups of white plain flour

1 cup of grated fresh coconut or desiccated coconut

1/2 tsp salt (optional)

1 (ish) cup of liquid – water/canned coconut milk/fresh coconut milk

1 handful of chopped fresh coriander (optional)

1-2 green chillies sliced (optional)

In a bowl, combine the flour, coconut and salt.

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Add the coriander and chilli if using and mix in.

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Add half of the liquid and mix with your hand, squishing the mixture through your fingers. Add more liquid until the dough is good and soft but not really sticky.

Put into a plastic bag and leave for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, divide the dough into 6-8 balls. Put a dry frying pan onto the hob over a medium/high heat.

Roll the balls of dough out quite thinly.
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Don’t stack the rolled pieces of dough because they’ll stick together.

Place into the dry pan and wait until you see the dough starting to take on a drier appearance with tiny bubbles.

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Carry on cooking until the underside takes on brown speckles before turning over and cooking the other side. You can use a fish slice to press down on the roti to ensure even cooking.

If you have any coconut milk that you need to use up, you can brush the cooked tops with it. You could also use solid coconut oil or butter. Plain is good too. Best served warm with a delicious curry!

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