Friday, 21 February 2014

desi omelette; the perfect weekend brunch

weekend brunch
an omelette is a blank canvas for breakfast, lunch or dinner. at its simplest and most frugal, a briefly whisked mixture of egg seasoned with salt and pepper is poured into a well-buttered hot pan, nudged with a spatula to make soft gentle curds and then left to set until just cooked. the centre should remain tender. it can be made substantial for lunch or dinner by way of fillings. almost every country has its version, from the crêpe like french one to thick italian frittata's akin to crust-less quiche or the intensely herbaceous baked iranian kuku. a desi omelette is the sub-continental version.

eggs and i used to have a complicated relationship. when i was younger i disliked yolks (especially soft-boiled or sunny sideup). mama on the other hand saw them as essential nutrition and insisted that both m and i have one for breakfast. i can remember the dread of a soft boiled egg as it if it were yesterday. mama would bring them to the table in their shells, nested in an egg cup with buttered toast on the side. i would sit and watch the egg warily hoping that the need to get to school on time would do away with breakfast. that of course was wishful thinking as mama would make sure that i would eat before leaving. i loved all manner of omelettes, pancakes and baked goods though since the yolks in these were camouflaged. 

desi omelette and khagina (spiced scrambled eggs) were a steadfast favourite. we would eat them for weekend brunch and during my teenage years i made a habit of having one with hot roti at least once a week for dinner. r, our then office boy-cum-cook used to make these with alarming efficiency, sometimes adding a few slices of adam's cheddar cheese. he used oil well beyond the measure required to lubricate the pan, over which we had a number of disagreements. it was only years later when i read elizabeth david’s recipe for omelette with fine herbs that i realised how futile my arguments with r had been; ‘as everybody knows, there is only one infallible recipe for the perfect omelette: your own.’

desi omelette with afghani naan
despite its ubiquity, a desi omelette always recalls specific memories. there were summer trips to nathia gali when we stayed at green’s hotel. mama would twist daisy stems to make crowns for my friend r, her sister s and myself. often the clouds would sit low in the valley obscuring vision and leaving dew-like dampness when you walked through them. we would start the day on omelette and paratha along with milky sweet tea. then there were the trips to lahore for my cousins’ weddings. we would stay at n phoopo’s house where breakfast was served in instalments depending on when guests would wake up. the omelette would be accompanied with milk bread from rahat bakery that had been toasted in a frying pan with a little oil. i did not like the slightly sweet and oily texture and would seek out naan from the night before. desi omelette is also a reminder of sehri, the pre-dawn meal during ramazan. in our nazimuddin road house we had a cook called sufi whose omelette making skills were far from satisfactory. i dreaded the sehri’s where he had to resort to making eggs.

here in london i make desi omelette for o and myself on weekends when i miss the company and comfort of my parents’ home. like baba, i have a love for fresh green chillies. the bright heat of these against the soft protein of the egg always reminds me of him. a few weeks ago o and i discovered afghani naans very similar to the ones that i grew up eating. i bought some for weekend brunch. we toasted them after dampening them with a spritz of water. this is a technique mama taught me to revive and crisp day old naan. they were perfect with the omelette below.

{m’s desi omelette*}

three tablespoons sunflower oil 
a small tomato
half of a small onion
four eggs**
a green chilli
one tablespoon cumin seeds
half a teaspoon salt
quarter teaspoon turmeric
quarter teaspoon red chilli flakes
five coriander stalks
a few slices of cheddar cheese (optional)

*the french who are well known for their omelettes serve them ‘baveuse’, that is when they are still slightly runny in the middle. pakistani’s generally prefer their eggs well done. my omelette lies between the two as i think frying for too long toughens the egg but that a runny constitution does not suit desi omelette. this recipe works best with a nine inch frying pan (non-stick or well worn skillet).

**please use the best and freshest quality eggs you can get. this is simply because they are the chief ingredient.

halve the tomato and de-seed it. then chop into a fine dice. finely dice the onion as well.

slit the chilli length-wise and then chop into fine rings. remove the roots from the coriander and chop finely. set aside.

heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. then add the chopped tomato and onion. let this fry gently until soft. the masala should reduce and is done when any moisture from the it has evaporated. this will take around ten minutes.

in the meantime whisk the eggs until well combined. then add the spices along with the chilli and whisk to disperse evenly. keep the chopped coriander handy as you will need to add it in quick succession to the pan.

turn up the heat and allow the pan to get very hot. pour in the egg mixture, sprinkle over the coriander and stir the contents of the pan briefly so that the masala swirls through the egg mixture. turn the heat down to medium-low and use a spatula to nudge the still uncooked egg mix making sure that it is evenly distributed.

when the surface looks almost dry, fold the omelette in half, plate it up and serve it with hot naan.


  1. Such a lovely piece of writing; so nostalgic and evocative and I love your vibrant pictures too.

    1. thank you kathryn. it has been almost a decade since i have been in london and the longer i am here the more nostalgic i get. it has been what gets me into the kitchen the most. last week i made kashmiri 'pink' tea and haleem. both labour intensive and both of which i really did not relish much when i lived at home. my mama found is amusing that moving to london has made me want to eat and better still make these things. very few people actually make these at home.

      p.s. i shared your blog with my friend of mine in the middle east who is gluten free. she loves it! xx

  2. This sounds really nice. gonna make this for tea tonight. Thanks. Simon