It’s funny how things about you change through life. At this point I’m an owl and drag myself out of bed in the morning. As a child I was an early bird, also the studious sort (read: nerd, I wear the badge proudly). There was many a morning before some test where I was springing out of bed at 5.00 am to study (not because I wasn’t prepared but because I wanted to revise it for the nth time. Read: uber-nerd!) I’d sit in the kitchen so as not to disturb my sister who I shared a room with. I’d open the kitchen window, look out into the dark, quiet street with the street lamp some distance away and then open my books on the kitchen table. There was a wonderful peace to that time of day that allowed me to get a lot done. There was a main road and a market nearby which must have been in full swing by then, but the new day didn’t touch my little space yet. That wasn’t until the mullah at a nearby mosque took up the clarion call of the morning prayer at dawn. Though I’m not a Muslim, the musicality of that prayer has always been soothing to me, uttered peacefully as it is. I’d goad myself to be done with my work before then because I knew my mom would be in the kitchen before it was done and me and my books would need to clear out to get ready for school.
Mom always insisted on a cooked breakfast in our tummies before we went about our day. So pretty soon in the morning, there would be lovely aromas drifting out of the kitchen. After her customary cup of tea (fully required to be awake and coherent by all members of my family except me), she’d finish up the breakfast she’d prepped the earlier night. On rare days that she was under the weather or running late, it would be buttered toast or corn flakes.
Breakfast in India is mostly savoury, not sweet. In my family, it was almost never sweet. In fact, the college coffee shop was a shock to my system when I first came to the United States. It is something I still haven’t adjusted to. Bagels are my only option and often, they aren’t much of one. Often I’d put on my school uniform to come out and find the smell of onion and chilli wafting in the air. One of my favourite morning breakfasts was and still is Pavacha chivda (torn bread with potatoes and onions). This makes a damn fine supper too though.
This is best made with older bread. This is a good way to use bread that has hardened a bit because you didn’t use it in a day or two. When I was a child in Bombay the choices in bread were white, brown and milk (sweet bread mostly for younger kids). It’s best made from anything other than sliced bread as that can be too soft to stand up to the cooking process. But I remember my mom using some sliced ‘Wibs’ white bread and fortifying it with fresh ‘broon’ (hard rusky bread) she bought from the early morning pavwalla (bread baker/seller) who made his rounds on a bicycle every morning. Here in San Francisco, I use a sourdough boule, preferably at least a day or two old, though with sourdough I find even one a few hours old works. I use a boule simply because it makes the right quantity for me. Use any shape you have. The recipe demands a few healthy twists of lemon at the end and I find that using sourdough eliminates the need for that. Anything too mealy will not work, so whole grain bread with coarse grains in it may not be the best thing here. I once made this from Della Fattoria’s Rosemary and Meyer Lemon Bread and it tasted fantastic. (I did this out of desperation as the bread was a week old. It is not a use I would recommend of this absolutely delicious artisan bread).
My mom’s Pavacha Chivda
Pav is bread in Marathi (my mother tongue). Chivda means a mixture of ingredients. Makes 4-5 servings.
Sourdough boule – 1 (or other hearty bread of your choice)
Red Onion – 1 ½ medium, finely diced.
Waxy Potatoes – 2-3 medium sized
Tomato – 1
Serrano or Thai Chillies – 4-5, finely chopped (or less, according to your taste)
Cumin – 1 ½ tsp
Mustard Seeds – 1 ½ tsp
Haldi (turmeric powder) – 1 tsp
Asafoetida – A pinch
Kadipatta (curry leaves) – 3-4
Oil – one turn of the pan
Salt to taste (or about 1 tbsp)
Cilantro – 4 tbsp, finely chopped
Fresh Coconut – 4 tbsp grated
– Take the sourdough bread and tear into smallish pieces (small enough to fit in a pinch between your forefinger and thumb.
– Heat the oil in a pan or dutch oven. When it is hot, temper it with mustard seeds, cumin, curry leaves, turmeric powder and chillies. Fry for a minute.
– Add the onion. Fry this until the onion is translucent.
– Add the tomato. Fry together until the oil separates.
– While the onion is frying, cut the potatoes. They can be sliced or cubed. They will take time accordingly to cook up.
– Add to the separated oil and tomato mixture and fry until the potatoes are completely cooked.
– Add salt to taste and mix.
-Add the torn pieces of bread and mix completely until the bread has taken on a lovely lemon yellow colour. If you leave it on low heat a little longer, some of the bread will caramelize and crunch up nicely.
Take off the heat and serve piping hot into a bowl. Squeeze a bit of lemon or lime over the dish and garnish with cilantro and grated coconut, if available.