Khakhra are one of my favourite Gujarati snack foods, but I’d be hard pressed to say what it is about them, exactly, that I find so special. On one hand, they’re almost exactly like a dried-out thepla, and yet, there’s something about them that takes their appeal so far beyond this rather plain-sounding fact.
A good khakra has both crunch and heft—not as friable as a papad, and yet not as toothsome as a roti. You often get the sensation that there are minuscule layers sandwiched together in each bite, but even that notion is just barely there. A khakhra inhabits a fascinating liminal area between a variety of more well-known tastes and textures.
These khakhra are made with a mixture of whole wheat flour, besan (technically gram flour, though you can use chickpea flour in a pinch), and ragi flour. The dough comes together easily and is extremely easy to work with, as long as you keep a couple of things in mind. For one thing, the besan and the ragi contain no gluten, so when you first start kneading the dough, it will seem to break apart easily and be unworkable. Persist for a couple of minutes, though, and as the gluten in the wheat flour gets activated, you’ll see the dough come together in a uniform and elastic ball.
The second thing worth mentioning is that making khakhra is time-consuming. Unlike cooking thepla or roti, the goal when cooking khakhra is to dry them out so that the finished bread is dry enough to break with a satisfying snap. This quantity of dough makes about eighteen khakhra, each of which has to be slowly and patiently cooked. I prefer to roll out all the khakhra ahead of time so that I can then attend to cooking them without any interruptions.
I season these with a mixture of ground coriander seed, cumin, chilli powder, turmeric, and kasuri methi. The methi adds a lovely herbal bitterness, the chilli just a spark of heat, and the cumin and coriander that lovely earthiness that so complements the moreishness of these crisp treats.
Makes approximately eighteen 6-inch khakhra
2 cups whole-wheat flour
½ cup besan flour
½ cup ragi flour
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander seed
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp kasuri methi
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Warm water for forming the dough.
Vegetable oil for brushing the khakhra as they cook
In a large bowl, mix together all the flours, spices, salt, and the two tablespoons of vegetable oil. Mix together by hand, taking care to distribute the oil evenly throughout the mixture.
Slowly add the warm water to the dough a couple of tablespoons at a time, mixing between additions, until you have a cohesive, but still quite dry, dough.
Transfer the dough to a clean countertop and begin to knead, still only adding water a tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together in a ball. The dough will initially seem unwilling to cohere, but resist the temptation to add too much water, which will make the dough too sticky and unworkable. Knead for five to seven minutes until you have an elastic, smooth dough. Cover with plastic film or with a moist towel and set aside for fifteen minutes to let the dough relax and hydrate.
Divide the dough into approximately eighteen balls, rolling each one between your palms to ensure that its surface is smooth and free of creases or cracks. While you’re rolling out the khakhra keep the balls under a moist towel to make sure they don’t dry out.
To form the khakhra, roll out the balls using a belan or a thin dowel-style rolling pin on a well-floured work surface until they are almost paper thin. Making sure that both your belan and counter are well-floured will help ensure that the khakhra don’t stick.
To cook the khakhra, place on a dry tava or cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. When you see fine bubbles begin to appear on the surface, flip over and brush with just a touch of vegetable oil—there should be just a few darkened spots on the surface of the khakhra. If you find that the khakhra are charring too much, turn down the heat.
Allow the khakhra to cook another thirty seconds or so before flipping it again and brushing the other side with oil. Continue cooking and flipping the khakhra, pressing down with either the flat side of your spatula, or a wad of paper towel or muslin to ensure that they cook evenly.
As you finish cooking the khakhra, lay them on a plate to allow them to cool before stacking them. Once cool they should be crisp and hard enough to crack in two without bending.
Store in an airtight container in a cool place where they will keep for several days.
You can eat khakhra on their own as a snack, topped with anything you’d put on a cracker, use them as a substitute for paapdi in chaat, or even as a crisp alternative to chapatti with dhal and sabzi.