Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Breakfasts of Champions

I have a problem. My kid won't eat breakfast foods. It drives me crazy -- forget cereal, or toast (even with the lure of Nutella), or yogurt, or eggs, or waffles, or really anything representative of North American breakfast. No, she insists on savories for breakfast: leftover pizza, soup, mac and cheese, Chinese food, etc. Which is fine if I have that stuff around, but a world of frustration if I don't.


The thing is, as much as I complain about it, I can't really blame her. She comes by it honestly. I prefer savory food for breakfast, and so does my dad. It's like a family inheritance. And in the weeks after she was born, when it was almost impossible to tell time -- did the 4.30 am feeding count as "morning," or was it the 5.30 one, or the 6.30 one? -- I would go down to the kitchen and eat the curry and rice that my parents had fixed up the night before, and that I was probably too exhausted to have eaten. So she got it via me, quite literally.

But, as much as I might attribute it to biology, it's also quite definitely cultural. No pastries and bagels and sweetish things for Indians in the morning -- some of the best foods that one eats in India one eats for breakfast. In Bombay, my aunts would make me masala omelets (well-cooked omelets with tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and green chili), or akoori (what we called bhujia, scrambled eggs with spicy masala), or (my absolute favorite, and a Sindhi speciality) kokis, an enriched flatbread with aromatics. In the South, my cousins regularly run down the road to a stand for dosas and idlis (crepes and steamed buns, both made of a dal and rice flour batter), uttapam (a thick pancake of the same batter with onions and tomatoes and various other fillings), and vadas (deep fried rice and dal "donuts"), all of which were eaten dunked in spicy sambhar (a spicy dal) and slathered in coconut chutney. After breakfasts like that, Cheerios and milk seems far less exciting, which is highly inconvenient.

Uppama (Spicy Semolina)
Serves 3

This recipe calls for semolina (not semolina flour), which you can buy at your local organic or health food market; you can also use regular old Cream of Wheat (the longer cooking kind -- not instant). You could even use couscous in a pinch.

In a saucepan, heat 1 TB canola oil with 1 tsp brown mustard seeds and 1 TB chana dal or yellow split peas. When the mustard seeds start to pop, add to the pot 8-10 curry leaves, 1-2 chopped green chilis, and 1 tsp grated ginger. Stir around for a few seconds and then add 1/2 a finely chopped onion and a good pinch of salt. When the onion has softened and started to brown around the edges, add 1 c semolina and stir to toast for a minute or two. Add 2 c water and 1/2 tsp salt, and bring to a boil. Cover the pot, turn to low heat, and let simmer for 1 or 2 minutes; turn off the heat and let steam, covered, for 5 minutes or so. Add 1/4 c chopped cashew nuts and 1/4 c chopped cilantro leaves and mix well. Squeeze a bit of lime juice on top if you'd like. Serve hot.

Akoori
Serves 3

In a frying pan, heat 1 TB canola oil and 1/4 tsp cumin seeds over medium-high heat until fragrant. Sauté 1/2 chopped onion, 1/2 tsp minced garlic, and 1 chili, minced, until onions are golden. Add 1 large tomato, seeded and chopped finely (or the equivalent canned). Sauté until the tomatoes separate from the oil. Add 1/4 tsp tumeric and 1/4 tsp red chili powder (or to taste), and 1/4 tsp salt and continue to sauté for another minute. Add 6 beaten eggs, and stir until the eggs are well cooked, but not dry. Take off the heat and mix in 1/4 c cilantro, chopped. Serve with buttered toast.

Masala Omelet
Serves 1


Heat 1 tsp canola oil in a small non-stick frying pan. Add 2 beaten eggs, seasoned with salt and pepper. When the eggs begin to set on the bottom, sprinkle 1 TB minced onion, 1 TB finely diced tomatoes, up to 1 green chili (minced), and 1/2 TB minced cilantro over the top. When the bottom of the omelet is somewhat browned and starting to set on top (Indians eat their eggs well done), use a spatula to flip it over in the pan; cook until somewhat browned on the bottom.





Kokis

In the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment in place, put 2 c whole wheat atta (finely ground whole-wheat flour that you can buy in Indian stores or groceries with a decent ethnic foods section; alternately, the new "whole wheat white" flours you can get at your regular grocery store will be okay). Add 1/4 c canola oil, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 small red onion, minced, 2 green chilis, minced, 1/4 c cilantro leaves, chopped, and 1 tsp salt. Add a small amount of warm water (1/4 c or so) and mix until you get a soft dough. (Add a little more water if necessary, 1 TB at a time.) Switch to the dough hook and mix for 5 minutes or so. Remove dough to a bowl and cover with a tea towel; let rest for around 30 minutes.

Divide mixture into 5 balls; flatten with your hand. Take one of the pieces and dust on both sides with a little more flour, then roll out on a floured board until you have a 6-7" round. Heat a frying pan or griddle (cast iron is best) and brush with canola oil. When hot, put the rolled-out dough on the pan. With the edge of a metal spatula, press down on the koki. When the bottom starts to brown, brush the top with more canola oil and flip, pressing down on the other side. Keep flipping every 30 seconds or so, pressing down (this time with the flat side of the spatula), for 3 or 4 minutes or until cooked through and brown and crispy on the outside. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

Serve with masala omelet or plain yogurt or or (if you're being really Sindhi), yogurt and toasted papadums. This is also used as a picnic dish or a traveler's meal.

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