Before chat rooms and MySpace, there were pen friends. Did you have one? I had several between the ages of nine and fourteen, who I wrote to diligently every month. We exchanged news and factoids on our country, school, what we read and where are lives were. Then life and school got hectic, took priority and I had no time to keep in touch. Neither did they, and the inevitable parting of ways took place without us even knowing it. Every once so often, I found myself missing that like-minded interaction with fun individuals I knew only through their words. I missed that, until a few more years passed. Then there was Twitter.
Among all the social media prevalent today, Twitter is the one that I find most creatively inspiring. It facilitates connections so easily that finding someone interesting and inspiring requires only that you start. This was where I connected with Manisha. Not only is she an interesting follow on twitter, but her blog never ceases to inspire me. When my half-Kashmiri husband had a sudden yearning for Haak, it was her blog that led me to salvation. I despair using collard greens, what one would traditionally use here. I embraced, and enjoyed, her dandelion greens version with a sigh of relief. Her travel photos on India go a long way in assuaging that homesick feeling I still get sometimes.
As I was threading my way through a recent travel photos of hers, I found, much to a delight all out of proportion, a recipe for a Desi Omelet, basically the Indian version of an omelet. A spiced up, pimped out omelet with a sweet kick, much as we are want to do with most of the food we adopt. It is especially precious for me, the food that turns me into a precocious ten year old in a snap. An omelet sandwich was my most requested packed lunch item when I was at school. (A hard-boiled egg and tomato sandwich was a close second.) I looked forward to that spicy chilli and onion filled omelet, nestled simply between two buttered, untoasted slices of white bread. Manna from my mother’s kitchen, but the way I felt about it, heaven couldn’t have done better.
As I moved on to junior college, my omelet obsession was further informed by my friend, Sherie. At sixteen, she had a passion for cooking and an expertise with it that was rarely seen in girls our age. She had already been cooking for several years. She could also play a mean game of Scrabble and was one of the few people who challenged my game. I warmed up to her instantly. The fact that she loved to feed her friends as much as they’d let her only made her more wonderful.
She went on to study medicine and I went to architecture school but our friendship remained. Many a time have I turned up on her door step, weary from a long day of wrestling with mean professors and mysterious design philosophy. When she asked me if I wanted a snack, I’d always ask for her version of an omelet. I know this bored her, just wasn’t exciting after having made hundreds of them, but she’d put her anatomy texts aside and make me one anyway. Sherie grew up part of the small, wonderful community of Parsis in Bombay, who have a wonderful cuisine of their own and her omelet was inspired by that cooking. It involved caramelized onions, ginger and garlic paste and salt. Where my mother pan-fried her version, Sherie beat the eggs and mix-ins together and dropped them into a karahi with enough oil to make my mother faint. The result was the fluffiest, most delectable omelet imaginable, good enough to eat without any accompaniments.
My cousin Parag is also a famous lover of the omelet. As a rule, my grandma didn’t let us cook in her house, but one night when we’d gotten in from a late night out, he snuck in and made me my number one post-midnight snack. Rooting through the fridge, he found Schezwan sauce from his father’s catering kitchens and armed with that and an onion, he made a wonderfully simple omelet with fantastic depth and heat. The garlic, ginger and tomato in that sauce mellowed away in that egg, leaving rich flavour in an unloaded omelet. Fabulous with leaflets of coriander sprinkled over.
Exposure to different cultures and growing as a cook have added all manner of omelets to my repertoire, but without a doubt, close approximations of these are the ones that satisfy me the most. The biggest difference to omelet the way we make it is that we beat the egg and add all mix-ins to it in the bowl instead of adding toppings in the pan. I still have a preference for this. The only ingredient I add in the pan is cheese, if I’m using any. Gruyere is my cheese of choice when I do. It is hard to give quantities of what I put into the egg since it’s really a ratio of egg to mix-in, liquid to solid, so I’m estimating with those. All I can tell you is that the mixture should be more liquid than solid.
My mama’s omelet
Large eggs – 2
Onion – about 2 tbsp, finely chopped
Green chilli – 1/2 finely chopped or sliced (more if you can take the heat)
Coriander – 2 tbsps, finely chopped
Turmeric – 1/4 tsp
Milk – about a teaspoon
Tomato (optional) – 1 tbsp 9deseeded and finely chopped)
Canola, or neutral oil for frying
Salt to taste
- Break the eggs in a bowl and beat with a fork to mix the whites and yolk. Add milk and whisk further until slightly frothy. Add the salt.
- Add in the turmeric, coriander, onion and tomato if using. Mix everything up well.
- Pour into the heated pan and swirl the pan to spread the egg mixture out.
- Cook one side till egg sets then flip over to cook the other side until just set.
Large eggs – 2
Caramelised onion slivers – about 2 tbsps
Ginger-garlic paste – 1 tbsp
Red chilli powder – 1 tsp
Dhania-jeera powder – 1/2 tsp
Canola, or other neutral oil for frying
Salt to taste
- Break the eggs in a bowl and beat well. Add all the mix-ins and beat further.
- When the oil starts to shimmer, pour in the egg mixture. Fry for about three minutes.
The Schezwan sauce that I’m talking about here is the kind found in Indian-Chinese food. I have Parag’s recipe for it which I’ll post with his permission, but until then here’s a recipe. You can also mix three parts Sriracha to one part ketchup and have a fairly decent replacement sauce.
Large eggs -2
Onion – 1/4, finely chopped.
Schezwan sauce – 2 to 3 tablespoons.
Neutral oil like Canola (or butter) – 1 tbsp
Salt to taste
- Heat oil in a shallow pan.
- Break the eggs into a bowl and beat to mix.
- Add salt, onion and schezwan sauce and mix further.
- Pour into heated pan and cook for a couple of minutes on both sides.
Serve with chapatis or slices of bread.