When it comes to flatbreads India has so much more to offer than the ubiquitous chapati or naan. Different regions all have their own specialities, often making good use of locally available grains. You don’t have to limit yourself to wheat and rice. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a properly made whole wheat chapati, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t give some of the less well-known breads a try.
So with that preamble off my chest let me introduce a Maharashtrian farmer’s staple – the humble bhakri. Traditionally a pearl millet or sorghum flatbread, this ingenious culinary creation of my Indian ancestors will always be close to my heart.
This post is about hand-patted sorghum bhakri called ‘jwarichi bhakri’ or jowar bhakri. Popular in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat and Rajasthan, this bhakri is known to Indians by many names. Whether it is jowar roti, jolada roti, jwarichi bhakri or jonna roti, the key ingredient is the same – sorghum millet or ‘jowar’, as it’s called across India.
What is sorghum or jowar?
Sorghum is a type of millet that has a subtle, sweet and nutty flavour. The sweetness and nuttiness intensify just before the sorghum crop is ready to harvest. (A short diversion follows: The pre-harvest stage of this grain is called tender sorghum, or more colloquially ‘hurda’. Tender sorghum heads are usually harvested from December through to early February in Maharashtra, for roasting in fire pits to make ‘hurda’. The ever so lightly roasted tender grains have a smokey flavour and aroma which wonderfully complements their inherent sweet and nutty taste. Dried hurda is milled into flour to make another flatbread called thalipeeth)
I feel particularly privileged that I sometimes get to make this flatbread in the UK with flour sourced straight from my ancestral farm in India. Millet, whether sorghum or pearl millet, has a lot going for it agriculturally. It’s considered a superfood. Not only is it a fibre-rich nutritious grain, it also helps farmers overcome food and water security challenges in arid parts of the world. Being a rain-fed crop needing minimal fertilisers and pesticides (as the crop is less vulnerable to pests), seeds of millet can be stored for years in drought-prone regions. Jowar or Sorghum is typically sown during both kharif & rabi seasons, mostly under rainy conditions in India and harvested between April and June.
How does a jowar bhakri taste?
Soft on the inside with a crispy outer layer of ‘papudra’ (as we call in Marathi), this sorghum bhakri tastes divine with some of the indigenous rustic curries I grew up with such as matkichi usal, tuirchya ghugrya, pithla, gwarichiya shenga, methichi bhaji… and the list goes on. In terms of flavour, this bhakri is moist with sweet, earthy and nutty notes from sorghum.
Bhakri is rustic country food, nevertheless, there is a real craft that goes into making this flatbread. I’ve been taught by an expert, my Mum! She makes it look effortless. Despite learning to make a passable bhakri myself, I remain in awe of her skills.
What are the health benefits of eating millet flatbreads like bhakri?
Jowar or sorghum is gluten-free and that makes it an easy choice for celiac or those with gluten allergies.
Compared to other grains like rice or barley, sorghum is high in fibre which helps those with digestion issues as well as people with heart conditions or those just wanting to lose weight.
Sorghum is digested slowly, so bhakri helps regulate blood sugar levels for those with diabetes and obesity. It is packed with nutrients like iron, protein and magnesium which makes calcium absorption easy. Iron and minerals help improve blood circulation as well as improve energy levels.
Bhakri is not only tasty, but it is also gluten-free and rich in fibre. So I find it hard to understand why it is not better known in the UK where I live. Sadly 6% of the population here have some kind of gluten allergy. European chefs have embraced other exotic or unusual grains, such as quinoa but not millets. Perhaps millet will be the next en vogue ‘super grain’ in the West?
My English husband certainly loves bhakri even though he had only ever heard of millet being good for budgerigars before he met me.
This sorghum bhakri aka jowar bhakri is
- Vegan and gluten-free
- Healthy and highly nutritious
- Perfect in summer as this millet has a cooling effect on the body
- Tastes delicious
- Introduces millet to your diet
- Makes a filling portion
While there are several ways to make a millet flatbread, bhakri is traditionally made by patting the dough by hand. The main difference between a roti and a bhakri is that the bhakri is always hand-patted whereas a roti is usually rolled using a rolling pin.
Millet flour has different characteristics from wheat flour. So the cooking technique for making bhakris is not the same as that for chapatis. If you want to know how to make soft neat bhakris please take note of the following aspects of the bhakri-making process:
The essence of a good bhakri lies in the quality of the flour used. It should be finely milled and no more than two months old. I remember my Mum used to thresh the grains before picking stones and debris. Then she would take the grains to a local mill for fresh finely ground flour. It was hard work but we always had the freshest bhakris at home.
Bhakris made with stale flour tend to crack during cooking, if not break up completely.
The consistency of a bhakri dough is critical. A dough too tight will make the bhakri hard. Too soft or loose and it’ll stick to your fingers and break as you pat the bhakri. As sorghum flour has no gluten it comes together with slightly more water than needed for wheat flour. So always add water a little at a time.
Sorghum flour dough tends to dry out quickly so it either needs to be covered or made afresh for each bhakri. I tend to make a bigger portion of dough and keep it covered whilst I am patting and roasting the other bhakris.
The more you knead the dough the softer the bhakris will be. So I tend to knead the plum-sized ball of dough again on a flat surface before patting it into shape.
The hand patting bit:
Patting a bhakri dough can be hard… or easy. Hard because the lack of gluten can break the flatbread as you pat it unless it’s well-dusted. Easy because once you understand the technique of dusting and applying consistent pressure as you pat, you can easily make, even a thin, evenly patted round bhakri.
I use a plum-sized ball of dough. I dust it thoroughly with sorghum flour before flattening it in between my palms to press it into a 5cm wide disc. I then gently place the flattened dough onto a well-dusted surface or a board and start rotating it whilst patting using the outer edges of my right palm. The idea is to keep the centre thick and the edges thin at this stage. Once the dough reaches about 8-9 cm in diameter, I continue patting as I shift the pressure point to the centre of the bhakri to enlarge it further. My bhakri varies between 15-17 cm in diameter and is 2-4 mm thick, but this is just my personal preference. The key is to start small and increase the size as your confidence grows. And make sure there is always plenty of flour on the underside of your expanding bhakri as you pat it. Every now and then you’ll need to dust your hands and loosen the flour a tad underneath the bhakri. Then gently lift the bhakri by loosening along the edge with your fingers and lift it with both flour-dusted hands.
The roasting bit:
The trickiest bit about making a bhakri is the roasting IMO. The flat pan or tawa has to be maintained at just the right temperature before you place the bhakri on it. Too hot and you’ll see bubbles forming on the surface. So place the bhakri floury side up, onto a warm tawa over a low flame to start with. Moisten the surface by gently sprinkling some water and spreading it around evenly using fingers whilst the tawa is not too hot. Turn the flame up to medium and allow the underside to cook for up to 2-3 minutes or until the water on the surface of the bhakri has completely dried out. Then start loosening the edges using a steel spatula and flip. Now turn the heat up to high and cook the bhakri for another 3-4 minutes. Loosen the edges again and gently check using the spatula whether the underside is cooked enough to flip again. Flip once more and start pressing it down using the spatula or cloth and you’ll notice the bhakri puff up as you press. Allow it to roast for 3-4 minutes, then using the spatula gently place it puffed side down directly over an open flame. Rotate the bhakri using the spatula as it roasts. Transfer to a cloth or kitchen paper lined plate or a flat bowl or basket. Bhakri is best eaten warm.
How to store bhakris?
Bhakris are best eaten fresh, the same day they’re made. However, they can be stored in the fridge for up to three days. Refrigerated bhakris are less soft and may get brittle when you reheat them. However, stale bhakris don’t go to waste in India; there are several recipes that put them to tasty use. But I digress. Freshly cooked bhakris can be wrapped in kitchen paper and then stored in a ziplock bag (ideally a biodegradable one) to preserve for a few days. They can be very gently reheated for a few seconds in the microwave.
Sorghum ‘Bhakri’ Flatbread / Jowar Bhakri / Jwarichi Bhakri / ज्वारीची भाकरीCourse: MainCuisine: MaharashtrianDifficulty: Hard, Medium
Indian cuisine offers a rich variety of flatbreads but many are little known outside their region of origin. Jowar bhakri is one such speciality, beloved by farmers for its health benefits and rich flavour, it really deserves to be more widely enjoyed. They are not as hard to make as some would have you believe. You just need a well-worked dough of sorghum flour and water, with a pinch of salt. They are best patted to shape by hand. Then roasted on a tawa, top and bottom, before finishing on an open flame. Soft on the inside, crisp on the outside, eat them while they’re hot! Detailed recipe is below.
120g (1 cup) sorghum or jowar flour
180ml (¾ cup) hot water
½ tsp fine salt
Sorghum or jowar flour for dusting
Water to sprinkle for roasting
- Mix the flour and salt in a large flat bowl (we call a ‘parat’). Add the water a little at a time taking care not to scald your hands as you knead the dough. Bring the dough together by continually pressing down with your knuckles and collecting with hand(s). Keep it covered with a plate in the bowl
- Take a plum-sized ball of the dough and knead it again over a flat surface to make it soft.
- Take the dough ball in hand and sprinkle the flat board/plate/surface generously with the flour and dust your hands with it.
- Now start flattening the ball of dough to a 5cm diameter disc by pressing and patting it between the palms of your hands whilst rotating.
- Place the dough onto the well-dusted board or plate. Now start patting with your right hand whilst using the left hand to hold the board or plate firmly as you pat and rotate the dough. Pat the dough whilst applying gentle pressure using the edge of your palm around the edges of the dough. Keep rotating the dough as you press until it’s 9 cm wide.
- Now shift the palm pressure to the centre of the dough and continue patting (and rotating) as you fully enlarge the flatbread to 15 cm or more.
- Using your well-dusted fingers, gently lift the flatbread along its edges and place it floury side up onto a flat pan or tawa over a low flame.
- Using your hands gently scoop and spread some water over the flatbread ensuring it is fully moistened and covered in a slurry of wet flour right up to the edges.
- Turn the heat up to medium-high and cook the flatbread for 2-3 minutes or until the wet surface has almost dried out. Then, loosen the edges using a steel spatula and flip.
- Roast the other side over a high flame for 4 minutes or until it is 75% roasted. Loosen the edges and flip again. This time the bhakri will puff up as you gently press the surface down either with a spatula or dry cloth. Allow it to fully puff up if it does.
- Using a pair of tongs, directly place the puffed-up side of the flatbread down over another hob with an open flame and roast evenly by rotating it using a spatula. The bhakri may char a bit along the edges and in places but that’s expected. Eat it warm.
- Make sure you get the freshest possible bhakri flour. Its shelf life isn’t as long as wheat flour and tends to acquire a bitter taste as it ages. Don’t be tempted to buy in bulk. The flour should be no more than 2 months old.
- The sorghum flour should be very fine. If not, you will need to sift it before kneading the dough.
- If the flour is fresh then you can use water at room temperature to knead the dough instead of hot water.
- Knead the dough thoroughly until it gets properly soft. There is no gluten in millet so it won’t acquire the elastic quality of a chapati dough but that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve a soft and reasonably pliable consistency.
- Bhakri is traditionally flattened by hand rather than using a rolling pin. Make sure your hands are dry and well-dusted with flour.
- If the bhakri breaks whilst patting, loosen the sides and join it with a bit of dough.
- You need a pre-heated tawa but don’t get it too hot. Otherwise, you’ll end up with one side over-cooked and bubbles forming on the top.
- After placing on the tawa, floury side up, moisten the top surface thoroughly with cold water before flipping.
- If the bhakri edges tear on the tawa, join them by rubbing with water.
- If you’re looking for a smokey flavour in your bhakri, then don’t skip the last step which involves roasting one side over an open flame. However, you can still get a decent result if you skip this step.
- Don’t expect it to come out right the very first time. Practice makes perfect!