I spent much of 2014 getting nibbled on by a heart surgeon.
Tall, curly hair that fell onto his Michael Caine-ish glasses and a waddle that could give Donald Duck a run for his money. I’m not even joking.
He was charming, which I found to be a novelty because I haven’t been around too many charming doctors. Unless you count those who come up with uncomfortable puns depending on whatever illness you’ve gone to them with. Maybe learning how to pun is part of the Gross Anatomy syllabus, who knows.
Our first date was in China Town where he watched me gorge on golden fried prawns and siu mai. On our second date he watched me down three gimlets and a plate of tandoori chicken. On our third date he explained an extremely complicated heart procedure — that he was apparently quite good at performing — over cherry ice-cream. By the fourth date he knew my dating history and I knew that his first cousin’s brother-in-law’s best friend had a questionable mole on his right cheek.
On the day he wanted our families to meet, Rana brought his mother, Asha, his brother and grandmother over for tea at my parents’ apartment. My brother, Rio was home from college and he was sent out to get sausage rolls from the neighborhood bakery. We’d serve them with All-Indian chai and Bengali sweets. We stood by the door, smiled wide and said our hellos. I was nauseous for the most part.
I think all parents go to the same school where they are taught techniques on how to narrate embarrassing stories of their children to complete strangers. And my mother is obviously not an exception. She started with the funniest stories in her repertoire. Stories that we have laughed over numerous times at various family gatherings. Stories that we keep close to our hearts, however embarrassing and cringe-worthy they may be, and whip out at the slightest persuasion.
The conversation rose a few notches and I brought out a tray piled with plates of rolls, sweets, and matching cups of Darjeeling’s finest. Asha’s eyes fixed on the rolls. We didn’t know she was on a veggie-based diet that did not allow her to eat meat. For a moment she looked confused when I set the tray of food down in front of her. I announced that it was a spiced lamb sausage roll from a bakery that we love. Then she looked up at me as if I had suggested that I sit on her lap wearing a gold bikini.
I should have taken that moment as a sign of times to come. But at the time, I was in love and I’m sure you know how it is, when you’re flitting between laughing at his chopstick-using skills and wearing his underwear.
Rana looked at me nonchalantly and said, “Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that.” Then he proceeded to suggest that his mother only eat the sweets put in front of her. Classic Indian man who’s never had the privilege of being an awkward host of a tea party in his life. I decided not to hold it against him. I was, after all, accomplished as a dinner party host — enough for the both of us, I reasoned.
“If you’re allowed to eat eggs, I can make you an omelette,” I offered.
“Sure,” It sounded more caustic than she meant it to be, I’m sure.
I rushed to the kitchen hell bent on making the best omelette on the face of this miserable earth.
In a previous life, when I was much much younger, I had daydreamed about working in a professional kitchen just to find out if I had what it takes. Obviously, the head chef would test my omelette making skills. He would look at me doubtfully and with a smirk on his lips. His doubt would turn into wonder as he’d watch me jerk the omelette into 2 folds. And then after tasting the fluffy yellow cloud, he would know that I was going to be his prodigy. He obviously wouldn’t say that out loud. Instead, he would put me through hell, give me doses of tough love and push me to the edge of my mental and physical caliber till I emerge well-seasoned and extensively praised by critics.
I rapidly put a pan on high heat, broke 2 eggs in a glass bowl, added a pinch of salt and beat them up, while I waited for the pan to smoke. As soon as the air above the pan started to shimmer, I popped a generous pat of butter in the pan and swirled it a bit. The eggs went in before the butter had completely melted. The edges stiffened and the center bubbled up happily. I reduced the heat a bit and busied myself with chopping green chilies and mint.
Soon enough, I slipped a slightly overcooked, a slightly leathery looking, a slightly burnt at the edges omelette onto a plate and proceeded to crack some white pepper on it. It was slightly more polished than what a bachelor might survive on. I silently cursed myself for not being able to make a fluffy egg cloud that would have announced my culinary greatness.
I carried the plate out to the living room and handed it to her. The conversation continued and everyone sipped their teas, as she lifted the plate and whiffed the air above the omelette. Her face didn’t budge. She started eating.
At this point, everyone had stuffed themselves with meat rolls and sweets. Asha had left everything untouched, even the sweets. I imagine she was hungry because the pace at which she had started to eat quickened after the first bite. Soon the omelette was gone. And in her vinegar voice, she thanked me for a “nice” omelet. She didn’t smile. But she didn’t have to. She didn’t think anyone needed special skills to whip up an omelette. To her, I knew, it was just an omelette.
You don’t need to hear from me, how omelette has donned every role in the culinary world — from a chef’s test to camouflage for a badly made dish. They’ve been stuffed, wrapped around, chopped, sliced, curried and subjected to poetry. And all for good reason.
Omelette is probably the only item in the food world that is never out-of-place no matter where you may place it.
You could be making one at 1 a.m. in the morning on getting home after a trans-Atlantic flight, famished and struggling to keep your eyes open. Or you could be serving one with an extra gooey middle, on top of stir-fried beef and Bulgar wheat. It will just sit there and go with its surroundings.
Lately, after all the caramel-induced revelry, work has kept all of us busy. I’m going to be making a work trip to Darjeeling soon. That doesn’t mean I won’t be eating well (pork momos and handmade liquor-filled chocolates, here I come!). I am also planning a trip to China. Or maybe Malaysia. No China. Weeellll…Malaysia doesn’t actually sound that bad. Oh well, whatever. I’m not committed to that plan too much yet, so I’ll leave it up to you.
But I have been committing to eggs. On Monday, I came back home from work, ignored the roti-sabzi cook had made for me and proceeded to whip a whopping amount of four eggs into submission.
You know how they say “You are what you eat”? Chances are that you are also what you put into your omelette.
In the last few cases however, I haven’t been putting anything in it. Rather on top of it. A hot and herbed tomato sauce that can be made in a flash. It is just as much a part of the omelette as it would have been if I had tumbled the tomatoes into the egg batter. It is both a lifter and a topper.
If you are what you put in (or on top of your omelette), then I only want to herby, slurpy and hot. I want to be a lifter and a topper.
I’ll leave you with a beautiful piece of animation from Madeline Sharafian that is unmistakably all of us after a bad day.
4-egg Omelette with Tomato Sauce
The recipe uses 4 eggs. If you’re brave or hungry enough, you might be able to polish it off on your own in one sitting. I definitely have, multiple times. If not, then share.
There’s hot sauce in their with the tomatoes. I love Tabasco, but Gochujang orSriracha will work well. The amount mentioned is 1 tablespoon, but it’s subjective really. I can take a super-hot sauce (blame it on my Indian origins), so I use more than a tablespoon. You can do the same after throwing some caution to the wind. The heat is balanced out beautifully by the tanginess of the tomatoes and the unctuousness of the eggs.
– Half an onion, or a small onion, finely chopped
– 2 cloves of garlic, minced
– 2 teaspoons of white granulated sugar
– 4 medium-sized tomatoes, chopped in 1/2 inch cubes
– 1 teaspoon of dried thyme (You can use fresh thyme leaves just as easily, the notes for the sauce will be more grassy than smoky. Which is OK. Don’t freak out.)
– 1 tablespoon of hot sauce of your choice (see note above)
– 1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce
– 1 tablespoon of butter for the eggs
– 4 eggs
– Salt and white pepper, to taste
– Freshly chopped mint or coriander
Heat oil in a pan. Add the onions and garlic and saute on medium-high heat till the onions go translucent. Add the sugar and fry till the onions are brown.
Add in the tomatoes, thyme, hot sauce and soy sauce. Stir well. Cover and cook on medium-low heat for 5–7 minutes, till the tomatoes are soft and oozing.
Add salt, to taste. Remove from heat and keep aside.
Beat the 4 eggs in a bowl and add a pinch of salt, to taste.
Heat a cast iron skillet or non-stick frying pan till the surface starts smoking a bit. Add butter and swirl it around.
Reduce the heat to medium-high and pour in the eggs before the butter has fully melted.
Let the egg sizzle for a 10–15 seconds. Lower the heat to medium and cook till the sides start to stiffen and come easily away from the edges of the pan when prodded. Flip the omelette when the center is just set but still gooey (if you have great flipping skills), or just fold it in half (as in the picture above).
Slide it off on a serving plate. Spoon the tomato sauce all over it. Garnish with mint or coriander leaves. Season with freshly cracked white pepper and serve.