Fall in love with these soft, layered, and delicious East-African chapati! These are perfect to serve for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or as a snack!
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For those who prefer a visual walkthrough, see how I make this Kenyan chapati recipe on my YouTube channel.
what is chapati?
Chapati (also known as chapatti, chapathi or chappathi) is an unleavened flatbread normally made using all-purpose wheat flour, water, salt and oil.
East African chapati, which is especially popular in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, is larger in diameter and is normally referred to as roti in India. Chapatis have their origins in the Indian subcontinent and were introduced to the rest of the world by migrant workers and merchants.
how to make soft and flaky (layered) East African chapati
Here is a step-by-step breakdown of how to make chapati. A detailed recipe card has been provided at the bottom of this page.
We start by mixing all-purpose flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. We then add the oil, followed by lukewarm water, a little at a time, and knead everything to a smooth dough.
Once done, the dough should feel soft and pliable, and no longer stick to the fingers.
Next, we cover the dough with a clean and damp kitchen cloth and allow it to rest for at least 30 minutes at room temperature. Resting the dough is an important step that allows the gluten to relax and make it more pliable, resulting in soft chapati.
We then divide the dough into balls, flour your work surface, and roll each ball into a 20 cm (8-inch) circle. Add more flour if the dough sticks.
For flaky chapatis (known as chapati za ngozi in Swahili), brush with oil, sprinkle with flour, roll into a rope, and coil into a cinnamon roll shape.
After coiling the dough balls, we let them rest under a clean kitchen towel for 10 minutes. Next, dust your work surface with flour and roll each ball into a flatbread about 20 cm (8 inches) in diameter and 3mm thick (about ⅛th inch). Feel free to adjust the size to your liking.
Heat a pan over medium heat and cook the rolled chapati dough until brown spots form on both sides. Control the heat; start with high heat and then reduce this to medium or low as needed to prevent burning or hardening.
Lightly brush both sides of the cooked chapati with ghee or oil and fry until golden brown and puffed
- Prepare the dough ahead of time and keep it refrigerated for up to four days or frozen for up to six months. For frozen dough, make sure to bring it to room temperature before using it, and to reserve some extra flour for kneading, as it will be more sticky when kneading and rolling, once thawed.
- Use lukewarm water for a softer dough. If using cold water, rest the dough for at least 30 minutes.
- Add buttermilk or maziwa mala to the dough for extra softness.
- Oil the rolled-out dough before cooking to achieve flaky layers.
- Make plain chapatis by skipping the oiling and coiling steps and frying the rolled-out dough directly. This also reduces the calories.
- Use an electric mixer to knead the dough if preferred, but avoid overworking it to prevent excess gluten development and chewy chapatis.
more Kenyan recipes
Try these other delicious Kenyan food recipes!
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Updated on November 7, 2023: Certain parts of this recipe have been simplified to enhance clarity and readability.
Soft Chapati Recipe
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
- 2¾ cups water
- 6 tablespoon ghee or cooking oil (to add to the flour, and to smoothen the dough)
- ½ cup ghee or cooking oil (to knead as well as fry the chapati)
- Mix the dry ingredients, namely all-purpose flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Add 3 tablespoons oil or ghee to the flour mixture and combine. Next, add the water, a little at a time, and use your fists or an electric mixer to knead for about 10 minutes until you obtain a soft and smooth dough. Feel free to add some flour in small handfuls, if the dough feels too sticky.5 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 tablespoon sugar, 2¾ cups water, 6 tablespoon ghee or cooking oil
- Add another 3 tablespoons of oil or ghee to the dough and knead some more, for about two minutes (you will use the rest of the oil to cook). The dough should now feel soft and pliable, and should no longer stick to the fingers.6 tablespoon ghee or cooking oil
- Cover the dough with a clean and damp kitchen cloth or plastic wrap and allow it to rest for at least 30 minutes at room temperature.
- Divide the dough into 10 equally-sized balls. Dust a wooden pastry board or your kitchen counter with flour, lightly sprinkle some flour on top of each ball of dough, and use a rolling pin to roll each into a circle of 20cm in diameter (about 8 inches). If the dough resists stretching, let it relax for a while and then roll again. Feel free to dust with more flour, if the dough sticks to the rolling board.
- Brush each chapati with a little melted ghee or cooking oil, lightly sprinkle some flour on top and roll it so it resembles a rope (skip this step for plain chapatis - see the notes below). Next, coil the rope towards the centre, and tuck the end in the middle.
- Cover the coiled balls of dough with a clean kitchen towel and allow this to rest for 10 minutes. Next, lightly dust your kitchen counter or wooden pastry board with flour again. Roll out each ball of dough into a circle of 20cm (about 8 inches) in diameter and 3mm (about ⅛th inch) in thickness. Feel free to lightly dust with flour, so it rolls out easily.
- Bring a non-stick or heavy-bottomed pan to high heat. Once hot, reduce the heat to a medium and place the rolled chapati dough on top. Cook each side until brown spots form and the chapati starts to puff up then use a spoon to flip.
- Lightly brush the cooked surface with melted ghee, allow the bottom to also brown and puff up, flip and allow the oiled side to cook for one to two minutes. Lightly brush the other side with ghee or cooking oil as well and allow it to cook for a minute or two, or until the desired level of brown has been obtained.½ cup ghee or cooking oil
- Serve chapati with tea or your favourite stews, curries, or grilled dishes.
- To make plain chapatis, skip brushing the dough with oil and coiling it into a rope. Rather, directly fry the chapati flatbread once rolled to a circle.
- Get the temperature right - heat your pan under high heat before you place the chapati on top. Once you start cooking, reduce the heat to medium and keep alternating between medium and low heat. Cook at too high a temperature and they will brown before they are cooked on the inside. Similarly, if the temperature is too low then they just harden up.
- Soft and layered chapati - Lukewarm water works best. If you choose to use cold water, then make sure to rest the dough for at least 30 minutes. Also, you can add a cup of buttermilk (maziwa mala) to your chapati. The acid in buttermilk helps relax the gluten, resulting in softer chapatis. Chapatis get their layers from the oil added once the dough has been rolled out before cooking, so I highly recommend that you do not skip this step if you want them flaky.
- Reduce the number of calories in your chapati by using less or no oil!
- Use whole wheat or ''Atta flour'' for more fibre.
- Knead the dough using milk or plant milk, instead of water.
- Use butter, ghee or any cooking oil with a high smoking point such as sunflower or corn oil. Avoid oils with low smoking points such as olive oil as these will dry your chapati.
frequently asked questions
Store cooked chapati on your kitchen countertop, in the fridge or freezer as follows:
- Keep in a sealed bag or inside a covered casserole dish on the countertop for 3-4 days.
- In a suitable container in the fridge for up to a week.
- And in the freezer for up to 6 months. Just make sure to keep them in a freezer-friendly bag, get rid of as much air as possible out of the bag then carefully place them in the freezer.
Additionally, you can make the dough ahead and using a suitable airtight container, keep it in the fridge for up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Feel free to get creative in the kitchen and experiment with these variations!
Add buttermilk (maziwa mala) to make your chapatis softer.
Vegetables - mix in some grated carrots, mashed butternut pumpkin or some grated red onion.
You can make chapati with eggs for some extra protein. Simply stir in one or two beaten eggs into the dough, when kneading.
Herbs - add some chopped coriander (cilantro) or your favourite herbs when kneading.
Place your cooked chapati on top of an omelette to make some tasty Ugandan Rolex.
Chapati was introduced to Africa by Indian labourers brought in by the British government during the colonial time to build railroads in East African countries such as Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.
After the end of the colonial era, many labourers remained in these countries as merchants and kept their culture, including their food culture. As a result of integration, curious local inhabitants started adapting this new cuisine.