Mom’s Indo-french toast

I love eggs.

The Eggnoggins

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, this may not be news to you. I hope you aren’t tired of hearing it though because this certainly won’t be the last time I play this tune. Eggs are my favourite food. After potatoes, of course, but before everything else. I could eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, possibly fold in a delicate egg salad sandwich at tea too. Then I could begin all over the next morning and let this course of affairs continue all month. I’d venture to say the month after too, but that probably wouldn’t be possible as I may have overdosed on egg by then. Age has taught me that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Stupid growing up. So over-rated. It has to ruin everything.

Peter Pan-esque rant aside, eggs honestly are my preferred way to get my protein fix. I was hooked with my first omelette, moving through the entire gamut of boiled, fried, scrambled, basically any way to have eggs. I was the official weekend omelette-for-dinner maker of the house in my teens. This was the one thing my mom left me alone in the kitchen to work with. The tines of a fork whipped through the sunny yolk as it mixed in with the  silver egg white while the fork tinged a rhythm against the steel bowl. Fold in a few basic ingredients and there was a lovely omelette ready in no time. Few suppers were as divine and simple as this.

Eggs were an any-time meal in our house, they weren’t reserved just for breakfast. I grew up believing this to be true for everyone everywhere. However, when I was in grad school, far away from my own family, I realized that this wasn’t necessarily the case. Room-mates looked confused when I mentioned rustling up eggy somethings for dinner. I came to realize that even the way I knew eggs weren’t the way everyone else knew them. Omelettes had fillings put into them after they were cooked. Fried eggs weren’t necessarily cooked to completely set the yolk, the way I love them. Turns out the way I’d learned the way of the egg from my mum wasn’t the way of the world. The biggest surprise for me though, was French toast.

I had been in grad school a month before I felt confident enough to offer to cook a friend brunch on a Saturday morning. We had been studying for a test since the early hours and were in no mood to brave the Texas heat to step outside for a bite. Checking the stocks, all I could find was some sliced bread, milk and eggs which only meant one thing to me, french toast. When I told my friend of my conclusions, she was fairly excited about the idea. “Oh yes please! You have some maple syrup, maybe? I really need a sugar fix!”, she said, much to my consternation. I cautiously repeated that I was making french toast. She nodded vigorously and said, “Yup, nothing like it. Can I have mine a little crisp please?”

There I stood, with eggs in one hand and a carton of milk in the other, thoroughly confused. French toast…with maple syrup? Sugar? I got a familiar feeling of desynchronization, not for the first time since I’d entered the American continent; I might have been speaking English but for all concerned it might have been Konkani (or another language people outside of India aren’t even aware exists). I cautiously explained that there was nothing sweet about the toast I had in mind. Perplexed, my friend pointed to the Internet and showed me pictures of french toast, dusted with sugar, drizzled with syrup. I couldn’t reconcile to my beloved toasts being sweet whereas she couldn’t stand the idea of them being anything else. What we had for brunch that day was basic scrambled eggs on toast.

The solution to this conundrum lies in the fact that the definition of french toast changes depending on where you are. It may not even be a French creation, this slice of bread dipped in egg and fried. In retrospect, chilli powder and turmeric in something called French toast should have been a dead giveaway for me that there was nothing French about this toast. In India, it is this spicy bit of eggy toast heaven. In America, it is sweet. In England, this eggy bread is often savoury. Apparently, this toast is entirely and totally open to interpretation. The only constant is that there will be sliced bread and it will be soaked and coated in egg. Armed with this knowledge, I set out to create my own variations.

Eggs and bread are made to go together but in this cohesive integration, they are superb. The crisp coating gives way to a soft bread. Any flavouring you add becomes restrained in the egg mixture, which is fine by me. If you want your flavour to be very prominent, add a little more than you’d think would be enough. I tried the classic (to me) version I learned from my mom, eggs beaten with chilli powder, turmeric, salt and pepper. Then I went about creating
– a nutmeg and tarragon version (fabulous!)
– a soy, oyster sauce, ginger and sesame seed version (awesome!)
– a coriander, garlic, cumin powder and chilli version (pretty good)
– a rosemary and garlic version (overpowered by rosemary)
– a shallot, pepper and hunan chilli sauce version, sprinkled with cheese (yum!)
– a thyme, lemon zest and Worcestershire sauce version (what was I thinking?!)

Yes, all my versions were savoury. I love jam and bread but the idea of basically egg fried bread with sugar makes me a bit queasy. Yes, I’m the same person who loves bread pudding. I can’t explain it. I’m weird that way.


French toast (comme les Indiens)

Makes 7-8 toasts (or 14-16 pieces)

Eggs – 4, large
Milk – 4 tbsps
White bread – 4 slices, cut diagonally into triangle halves
Red Chilli powder – 2 tsps
Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
Cilantro – 1/2 tsp, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
A combination of olive oil and butter for frying

– Break the eggs into a shallow bowl and beat well. Add the milk and beat to incorporate.
– Add the chilli powder, cilantro, turmeric powder, salt and pepper and beat once again to mix.
– Heat the butter and oil in a skillet at medium high.
– Dunk the triangles one-by-one into the egg mixture on each side and allow the egg to soak in. Lift quickly and gently place into the hot oil.
– Fry on each side until browned (a little or a lot depending on how you like it).
– Drain on paper towels.

Serve with ketchup, brown sauce, chilli sauce or simply crunch away by itself.

Cook’s notes:-
The version I present above is the one which was introduced to me as French toast by my mom. Despite liking several of my variations, this is the one I love the most, that basic version that reminds me of home. Egg toast (we can’t blatantly call all these variations French, can we?) lends itself to anything and everything that you like to eat. Throw in bits of ham, toss in bobs of chilli, cheese or whatever else you want. The egg binds everything to the bread and it all just works.

Make your versions sweet if you want, just not when I’m coming over for brunch. Of course, you don’t have to pedantically cut triangles because I do. Use cookie cutters for funny shapes like my friend Cristina does for her daughter. Your kids will love it. I think white bread works best because you start with a blank canvas to colour as you choose. The soft kind is better. Crusty bread ruins the experience. The savoury versions make for a much more adult variety. Serve it with chutneys or sauces, or a sweet potato mash (mashed with a smidge of cream, pepper, chilli and a dash of salt). No matter what, I encourage you to play with your food. You get the best results if you do!

27 comments

  1. Samee

    Thanks soooo much for sharing…
    The version you were brought up with is very similar to the same i had growing up… and i am always so disappointed when I order french toast and get something else…

      • Sharmila

        You’re welcome! You probably grew up with the savoury salt and pepper version right? My mom made that too but we really liked this one so this became the favoured version.

  2. Sudha

    I love eggs too, and can eat them cooked any time, any way, any where! My mom made the sweet version which we did call French Toast, made with sugar mixed into the egg-milk mixture, as well as the savory one, which in my family was always referred to as Bombay Toast. One of the ingredients that was in the recipe, in addition to cilantro, salt and pepper, was chopped onions, and sometimes, chopped tomatoes. Mm..mm..good! And what about eggs poached in a tomato based curry…

  3. Vanessa

    Like your college friend, I grew up eating french toast with syrup and powdered sugar. I once made this sweet french toast for an Australian friend, who’d never had it before, and she said, “only Americans would fry bread and cover it in sugar.” And I will always love that sweet style, but I’m excited to try your recipe. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Meghana Samant

    Well said about the eggs. Love them too. Such a healthy option to a working woman’s daily dilemma about what to serve for a meal. Good lean protein for all the athletes in my family. Sumit drinks milk and egg whites for breakfast every morning. Even my 8 yr old knows how to make scrambled eggs all by herself. She surprised daddy and I with breakfast in bed: Scrambled eggs with cheese and fresh cracked pepper… muaahhh!!!

    Here’s my version of French toast Canadienne: Use sour dough bread and then serve with creme fraiche, real maple syrup (Canadian ofcourse) and apple butter. You can add a dusting of powdered sugar and a sprig of mint for effect.

  5. 52hikes

    My mom used to make savory French Toast but I never ate them. I grew up avoiding anything my mom cooked (you would too if you tasted her cooking) and never liked the taste, texture or smell of eggs. The only French Toast I’ve had are sweet ones and that too just recently.

    Still, I loved this post, especially the writing and photography. Who knows, I might even start eating them some day. :)

  6. Sharmila

    Love all the stories I got to read from you guys. Eggs really are an amazing thing.

  7. Sugarenia

    THAT!

    I cannot imagine my french toast with anything sweet. It goes against the nature.

    We usually have them at home with simple salt and pepper. They’re called “moukia” in my grandma’s mother tongue.

  8. Sharmila

    Friedl – It’s pretty good!
    Sugarenia – I agree. Was exactly what I felt. Moukla, what a wonderful sounding word. What is your grandma’s mother tongue?
    Kristen – Thanks!

    • Sugarenia

      Well we’re Greek, but her family initially came from Turkey long ago, so her way of speaking is somewhere between greek and turkish :)

  9. Manisha

    I so hear you on the eggs. And potatoes. Although potatoes rank a little higher than eggs for me! My daughter loves French toast (the American way) but I can never bring myself to make it. And, honestly, that’s pretty much how I feel about sugary breakfast foods. So I cheated and got her hooked onto the desi omelette – if it’s open, it must be a frittata was what I was told once – and she will have it for breakfast, lunch or dinner!

    And, a very happy birthday to you!

    • Sharmila

      At the supermarket. Normally Safeway or Trader Joe’s. The bottle you see in this one is from Bristol Farms though. Strauss organic. I love milk bottles!

      • Priti

        Thanks, I will go to Bristol farms now, just for these bottles. :)
        I have learnt to be uber careful with buying milk, becoz lately I have seen condensed milk as an ingredient a lot.

        — priti :)

  10. Karen

    The photos are gorgeous, and make me hungry. I found this and thought about your french toast mention. Chili Blackberry syrup! http://bit.ly/9bxY8t from 101cookbooks. Looks yummy!

    I

  11. Matt

    I love the idea of a savory French toast, especially one infused with Indian spices. I’ve just recently been trying to cook Indian recipes. Mostly things from Suvir Saran’s books, but I’ve also recently purchased a Madhur Jaffrey book whose recipes I’ve flagged with countless post-its.