Sunday, February 21, 2010

Collective Intelligence and The Art of Making Soft Chappatis

For a long time I could not make soft chappatis (Indian Flat Bread). Since my wife and I are rice eaters, it did not matter much and we did not try hard enough. It all changed when we were advised to add more wheat to our diet. You can buy chappatis from the local Indian store. But I am into this 'make everything from scratch' streak lately.

Since I am a big fan of collective intelligence, and believe in the future of long tail solutions, I decided to try the collective intelligence approach to find out if some one very similar to my family has faced this issue.

This was the criteria for my search. The target family has to be south Indian expats in the US (because they are rice eaters), with little time to spare and yet, have a desire to cook healthy food. More importantly, they must have faced the frustrating problem of dealing with flaky or wafer like chappatis and they must have been successful in making soft chappatis. They must have posted their experience, not just their solution on the web. Several others must have tried out their solution and must have verified that their solution works. If they are using any equipment that equipment should have been used, reviewed and commented upon by atleast a 100 people. Tall order, right? No. Turns out there is a South Indian family, working in the technology industry, that has faced this problem and has figured out a solution and has blogged about it. About 5-6 similar people have tried out the solution and given feedback about what worked and what did not work for them. There was confirmation of the process even from a Chinese lady, who is married to a (chappati eating) North Indian. It does not get better than this.

I tried out the approach recommended and it turned out better than my usual chappatis. I learned from the blogger that the key to soft chappatis is the following
  • Knead the dough for atleast 15 minutes
  • Add 2 spoons of oil to the flour
  • Add 2 tablespoons of milk
  • Use warm water to knead the dough
  • Set the dough aside for 20 minutes before making chappatis
  • Keep it overnight in a fridge for even better results
The key to making soft chappatis is the ingredients and the kneading. Since one of the readers in the blog said she used a food processor, I decided to, using the collective intelligence approach again, look for the best food processor to mix dough. Turns out the Kitchen Aid Artisan Food Processor is the most popular among home bakers in the US.
KitchenAid KSM150PSOB Artisan Series 5-Quart Mixer, Onyx Black
The listing on Amazon.com has 1656 reviews, most of which gave a 5 star rating for the product. There were reviews from a house wife who advised users on how to address certain common problems and reviews from an aircraft mechanic, who loves to cook, on the components used in the mixer.

So I ordered it and used it to make the dough. Now I get to pick whole grain wheat for my chappatis, they are soft and available in the quantities I need, when I need them.

Since I Shared this experince via my blog post and twitter, I received useful tips from friends who are experts at this. One my friends gave me this tip. Cook the chappati on the griddle for 30 seconds. Then flip it over and cook it directly on an open flame. This will make the chappati puff up and make it softer and give it a layered feel. When I have some time, I will post a video on how to do this.

The people who lost out on the process are the local grocery store that sells readymade chappatis. They will do fine without my patronage. Macy's (that sells the Kichen Aid Artisan Mixer) lost out because I am reluctant to buy anything that has not been reviewed by people who share the same problems as I do.

I even contributed to the discussion by suggesting a solution for one of the problems. The dough becomes dry when you keep it overnight in a fridge. The solution is to wrap the remaining dough in a Glad Cling Warp so that the dough retains moist.
Glad Cling Plastic Wrap, 200-Foot Rolls, Case of 12 (2400 Feet) 
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