Guyana Style Roti

by Kris on January 18, 2012

I have a love hate relationship with roti. It is the most wonderful thing to sink your teeth into, which is perfect because after trying to make it, the only thing that will relieve frustration is biting something (well, maybe kicking, punching, and crying helps too).

For years I’ve been trying to make this wonder of Guyanese cuisine. I always ended up with an oily tortilla like fry bread and ensuing anger. What makes roti so incredible are the light buttery layers inside the chewy outer skin.

I’ve begged Sonia endlessly to get her mother’s recipe to no avail. However,  she did tell me that the dough is not what makes roti so great, it’s the technique. I was determined to eat roti with my chicken and potato curry so I spent the afternoon watching countless youtube videos of old Guyanese women mixing and folding dough.

It seemed as though every woman had her own way of creating flaky roti, so I combined all this knowledge and went to work. My first batch ended terribly and I was left with my usual oily tortilla fry bread. Rather than giving up, I tried again.

This time I paid a lot of attention to how I rolled and folded the dough. I was very generous with oil on each fold and made sure after every step it had time to rest. I also remember Sonia’s mum covering the bowl of dough with a damp cloth, so I tried that as well.

Once I was ready to cook, I made sure I did not press down on the center of the roti while it was frying in the skillet. I carefully held it down on the edges while spinning it and flipping it every ten seconds. The hardest part of making roti is the end. In all of the videos, women would pick this hot oily bread up with their bare hands and clap it between their palms. This is probably the most important step as it removes the air inside and creates the thin flaky layers.

I attempted to do it bare handed, because these women made it look so easy. As I tried to clap the roti, I felt my skin burning with hot oil. I chickened out for the remaining roti’s and wore oven mitts. Regardless, the end result was quite successful! I have to practice this technique, but I am definitely getting somewhere with it! I combined all the knowledge I learned and created this recipe to help all of the roti newcomers out there. If it fails the first time, keep trying.

Do you have any roti techniques? I’d love to hear them!

  • 2 ½ cups all purpose white flour (plus more for dusting)
  • 1 Tsp. cumin
  • ½ Tsp. curry powder
  • 2 Tsp. baking powder
  • 1 cup warm water
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil

Sift together flour, cumin, curry powder and baking soda in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and slowly add 1 cup of warm water. Mix with your hands until a moderately soft yet workable dough forms.

Flour your work surface and knead for 8-10 minutes. Place dough in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Rest for 15-20 minutes.

Divide the dough into 8 small balls and flatten them with the palm of your hand. Place dough back into the bowl, cover with damp cloth and rest an additional 10 minutes. Do not stack the dough.

Dust your work surface with flour. Roll one ball of dough into a 4 inch circle. Rub ¼ teaspoon of vegetable oil onto the dough and sprinkle with a pinch of flour. Fold the dough into thirds, rubbing oil on top of each fold. Ensure not to press hard on the dough when folding as you want to keep air between each layer.

You should now have a long piece of dough folded onto itself twice. Loosely roll it up so it looks like a croissant, oiling the dough as you go. Coat the dough in another ¼ teaspoon of oil and place on a flat surface covered with the damp cloth. Repeat until all the dough has been folded and rolled, rest for 10 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil over medium heat in a cast iron skillet or a tawa if you have one.

Flour your work surface. With a rolling pin, flatten the dough into a four inch circle. Place the dough into the frying pan.

A trick to I discovered to flaky roti is to constantly turn the dough as it cooks. Use a spatula to hold down the edges as you rotate, ensuring not to press down on the centre. After 10 seconds turn the roti and continue to turn. Toss it back and forth every 10 seconds for about two minutes until it has puffed up and light browning begins to appear.

Now comes the hard part. Traditionally, when the cooking is complete, you quickly pick the roti up with your bare hands and clap it between your palms to remove the air. It takes a lot of practice to get this right and it hurts! I did this process wearing oven mitts, and I recommend doing the same.

Place the cooked roti in a colander with a piece of damp paper towel on the bottom. Cover the colander with the damp cloth.

Repeat the process until all your roti is cooked. Eat immediately.

To store roti, place it between damp paper towels in a sealed container in the fridge. To reheat it, cover the roti with a damp paper towel and microwave for about 30 seconds. The damp paper towel helps it to stay moist.

Serves 4

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