Gujaratis are naturally suspicious of food cooked outside of the home, and will usually carry a stash of these when they travel, alongside a small but lethal tub of garlic and chile chutney. Unlike the daily chapati, which was designed to be a backdrop to more flavorful things, thepla is naturally very tasty because it’s made from chickpea flour and sesame seeds. It’s best eaten with a little mango chutney, yogurt, and a simple dry curry or subji, like the okra and potatoes here.
NOTE: Ajwain seeds are also known as “bishop’s weed” or “carom seeds.” They are small but mighty and taste somewhere between star anise, oregano, and thyme. If you can’t find them, it’s not a problem to leave them out.
Makes 8 (enough for 4 people)
1 cup whole-wheat flour (plus extra to dust)
1/3 cup chickpea flour
1½ teaspoons sesame seeds
¼ teaspoon ajwain seeds
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
1/3 teaspoon ground red chile
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup warm water
Put both flours into a bowl along with the sesame seeds, ajwain, turmeric, ground red chile, and salt. Mix thoroughly, then add a tablespoon of oil and rub through with your fingers until the flour resembles fine breadcrumbs. Make a well in the center and, little by little, add the water (I use half boiled water, half cold tap water). Mix together, then knead for around 5 minutes to form a soft and pliable dough.
Get your rolling station ready. You will need a floured board or clean surface, ideally at the side of the stove, a rolling pin, and a bowl of flour in which to dip the balls of dough.
Next, set a good-sized pan over medium to high heat. Divide your dough into 8 balls. Take one, coat generously with flour, and roll out to a circle around 6 inches in diameter, coating it with a little flour as you need it to stop it from sticking. Put it face side down on the hot pan.
Wait for the edges to turn white and for the bread to start to bubble (which will take 30 to 45 seconds), then turn over and cook for the same amount of time. Drizzle ¼ teaspoon of oil over the bread and spread with the back of a spoon. Turn over again, dab it down with the flat side of the spatula, then sprinkle another ¼ teaspoon of oil over the bread and turn over again. Check that all the dough is cooked (any uncooked spots will look dark and doughy) and put on to a plate. Repeat.
Eat on the back seat of the car with as many family members as will fit. Or at home, with yogurt and pickle.