We recently spent ten days at the Villa de Zoysa, a yoga retreat set on the coast of southwestern Sri Lanka. Arriving bleary-eyed at 8 am after a red eye flight that was promptly followed by a two hour car ride, we stumbled out of the car onto the beautiful grounds of the property and were instantly transported away by its magic.
Nearly a century old and built by the current owner, Devinda de Zoysa’s grandfather, the villa itself is a stunning piece of architecture. With its white walls, dark wood furniture and fittings, soaring ceilings and wide verandahs, all of which are surrounded by lush tropical greenery and an amazing variety of fruit trees, it’s a space that almost belongs in another time.
We gathered twice a day in the beautiful dining room, where we shared breakfasts and dinners at an impossibly long table made from jack wood. Recipes from Devinda’s grandmother are still de jour here: food that’s sattvic (nourishing for body and soul), delicious and freshly prepared by the attentive staff. One of the breakfast staples were coconut rotis, something I’d never tasted before and—like the other guests— quickly became attached to. They are slightly crispy, with a nice firm texture and a subtle sweetness from the freshly grated coconut and I enjoyed mine spread with some butter—though the others paired theirs with the fresh coconut sambol made especially for the rotis. I can also imagine these would taste amazing with any nut butter or chocolate spread.
Note: The recipe calls for ragi (Kurakkan) flour, a staple of Sri Lanka and certain parts of India. Ragi is a millet, more rustic and flavourful than wheat, with a reddish colour and higher protein and mineral content than rice or corn, and it’s now available at Indian supermarkets. If you can find fresh or frozen grated coconut, use that; if you can’t get hold of any, supermarket-bought desiccated coconut works fine as well, sprinkled with a little hot water and allowed to sit whilst you start the dough.
Villa de Zoysa’s Coconut Rotis
Makes about 10 rotis
1 cup wholegrain wheat flour (atta)
1 cup ragi flour
1/2 cup grated coconut or desiccated coconut flakes
1/2—3/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
2 tablespoons melted coconut oil, plus more for frying
1 cup warm water + 3 tablespoons hot water
If you're using dessicated coconut, place it in a small bowl and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons hot water. Stir to mix and set aside.
To make the dough, combine the two flours in a mixing bowl with the salt. Add 2 tablespoons melted coconut oil and drizzle in the cup of warm warm, a little at a time, and kneading everything together. Once you've added half the water, add in the coconut and the water, until the dough comes together in a soft, smooth ball. If it gets too sticky, add in a bit of flour; if its too dry, drizzle in water to moisten. Knead well for a few minutes.
Heat a pan or griddle on a medium flame. Place a sheet of baking paper on your worktop and roll the ball of dough onto it, to a thickness of 4—5 mm. Using a bowl or lid that’s about 10 cm in diameter, cut out individual rotis from the sheet, as you would cookies. Once the pan is well heated, brush it with some coconut oil and place the rotis on it. Cook for about 3—4 minutes on each side, turning once until cooked through with a few brown patches. Gather the remaining dough together, form back into a ball, roll and continue to make it all into rotis.
You can also divide the dough into 10 golf-ball-sized portions and either roll out each of these on the baking sheet until they're about 4—5 mm thick or press each out using your fingers.
Serve hot, with coconut sambol, butter or any side of your choice.
Text & Images: Vatsala Murthy