Mama’s Punjabi Recipes:Rotiyan da Atta (Dough For Flatbread)

Recipe 1in

For a Punjabi, a meal without roti (flatbread), or some sort of bread, is like a day without sunshine! It’s practically impossible for most Punjabis to eat their daily meal without rotis, paranthas, naan, kulche, bathure or puris – all different types of flatbread (generally referred to as “rotiyan” or breads) made of wheat or white flour. Just as a person from South India, Nepal or Bengal must have white rice to finish off their meal, a Punjabi does not feel content until he or she can scoop up a dish with some roti.

So central to the day’s meals is roti that for there are corner tandoors (clay ovens) or dhabas (roadside food stalls) which make and sell rotis – some make them with the atta that you bring you – and the lines can be long. A few decades ago, the tandoors were pits dug into the ground and the tandoorwalas would sit under a thatched roof, even offering different curried dishes and daals which cooked on vent holes around the main opening.


To make roti, you have to start with good wheat flour. Growing up in Lyallpur, my nana’s (maternal grandfather) extended joint family of 20 would receive jute bags filled with wheat that was grown in our fields in Jhung. My mother and the other women would grind have them taken to the stone grinder in the bazaar and then store the flour in large pippas (tall tin cans with hinged tops). I still try to find flour that use rotis good wheat, not a blended grain, and does not become too stringy and sticky when the dough is formed.

Usually you make dough that can last for two or three days in the fridge. In the old days, we would make dough fresh each day as it would not keep in the hot weather and turn sour overnight. Good dough should stay a slightly dark creamy-colored the next day; but if the dough turns camel-color dark then the wheat is not good for rotis, which will also turn out dark.

In India, it is expected that the women of the household would know how to make rotis. But in America, I am amazed at how many Indian women – especially those who have been born and brought up here – do not have any idea how to make the atta dough, let alone make the rotis. And of those women who came from the Old Country, I am equally amazed at how many choose not to make rotis at home! They choose instead to buy them in frozen packets or order them by the dozens from some enterprising lady who runs a home kitchen.

Recipe 2in

The best way to make atta dough is kneading the flour with your hands in a wide brimmed bowl. As this is a relatively simple process, again I am surprised that even middle-aged Indian women in the US use a mixer to make the dough. It takes more time to clean the mixer than it takes to make the dough by hand! And also, hand kneading lets you estimate if the dough is too wet or dry.

So, this is not a recipe but a guide for those women who are interested in cooking fresh rotis at home. It is the first step in making a good Indian meal!! But the best guide is to get a demonstration and if some people want, I can do so. Just send a request to

 Ingredients :     
4 cups atta (unbleached wheat flour). Makes 12 rotis
2 cups tanda pani (cold water)

1. Choose a brand of atta that has good wheat content and is not too finely ground. There are many on the market and you can only tell which you prefer by trial and error.
2. At home, open the bag of flour and pour it into a large bucket or tin with a tight lid to keep moisture and insects out. This makes it easier to reach the atta and get it out when you are ready to cook. Also, the atta can stay for a long time.
3. When ready to cook, pour the flour in a wide mouthed bowl. Form a small crater and slowly pour the water in while kneading the dough with your hand till it becomes a nice, tender but firm ball, but make sure it is not thin or stingy to when pulled.
4. Dab the surface of the ball with a little water to keep it moist, cover the bowl and set aside for an hour. You can then place it in the fridge for longer duration. If the dough is too hard, the roti will also be hard.


Making atta for rotis seems like an easy task, and it is. But there are a few small steps that will make sure that the rotis come out soft but firm enough that you can scoop the curries and daals easily and yet are not hard, like you sometimes find in restaurants. First, make sure the water used for kneading the flour is cold: warm water will make the dough thinner. Also, too much water will make the dough hard to make into balls and roll out. And, if the dough is too hard, the rotis will come out hard too. Of course, if you are used to making paper thin rotis that can’t be torn off into scoops, no amount of tips will help you!!

mamas recipe inside3

Shakuntla Malhotra is a skilled cook of Punjabi dishes made in the old-fashioned style that she learnt as a young woman in her ancestral home in Lyallpur, India before it became part of Pakistan after the Partition in 1947. People have often admired her cooking for its simplicity and taste that comes with each mouthful. Even in her mid-eighties, she continues to cook daily and agreed to share some of her delectable Punjabi recipes.