How to make the perfect masala omelette – recipe | Food
I had a revelation in Sparkbrook last summer. That revelation came flecked with green chilli and wrapped in a roti, and it was that, good as French omelettes might be, the Indian subcontinent arguably does them better. The masala omelette, or desi omelette, as it’s sometimes known, is a classic: a quick, filling breakfast for millions around the world, whether enjoyed at home in Lahore, by the roadside in Mumbai or in a cafe in Birmingham with a hot cup of chai on the side.
Though omelettes have been known in France, and Britain, since the Middle Ages, it seems probable that the idea originally came from Persia, and early European recipes called for them to be fried on both sides, just like a desi omelette. You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs but after that, anything goes.
The creamy texture I like best in a French omelette is, in my opinion, achieved by beating the eggs lightly, so they’re well combined but without incorporating a lot of air into the mixture. Fans of the desi omelette, however, seem to prize a certain airiness of texture, with the Times of India instructing readers to “beat the eggs till frothy (the more you beat the egg the fluffier it will come out to be)”. To this end, some recipes also add milk, whose steam will help create little air bubbles in the end result, though I think it dilutes the richness of the eggs, so I’m willing to sacrifice a little fluff in the service of flavour.
I also, because the idea intrigues me, try a vegan take on the masala omelette from The Girl with a Spoon blog by a self-described “super foodie” called Madhura from Gurgaon, just south-west of Delhi. Instead of eggs, she makes a pancake-like batter with chickpea and rice flour, then proceeds as normal. The idea is a good one: because of the other ingredients in a masala omelette, the lack of egg is less noticeable than it would be in a plainer dish – though I think our cups must be different sizes, because I have to add a lot more liquid than is called for, and end up with a vast, thick pancake that’s hard to flip, while the one in the picture is thin and golden, almost like a dosa. So, vegans, you might need to play around a bit with the base, but I reckon the results are worth it.
You could leave the eggs be, and let the fillings do the talking, as in Asma Khan’s recipe, but in for a penny, in for a pound, and I miss the warmth that dried spices bring to proceedings: Mowgli’s Nisha Katona uses ground cumin and coriander, Meera Sodha and Maunika Gowardhan use turmeric and chilli powder, Tina, the Keralan cook behind the Kaipunyam blog, garam masala and Madhura turmeric and asafoetida, which is often included in vegan recipes to replicate the slightly sulphurous flavour of eggs. Up to you, but I like the earthiness of cumin, and am rather taken by cook, food stylist and photographer Shayma Owaise Saadat’s suggestion of roughly crushed whole seeds, which will also add texture, as well as turmeric for its bright colour and subtle bitterness.
Onions of some sort are a must for me; Katona uses red ones, which are probably closest to the pink onions common in the subcontinent, and Gowardhan, Tina and Madhura yellow ones, but I favour Sodha’s spring onions, because an omelette cooks so quickly that, unless you soften the chopped onion first, as Katona suggests, you’ll end up with crunchy, semi-raw onion (which I know others are fine with; I’m just not, especially first thing in the morning). The sharp, fresh flavour of spring onions also works well with the sweetness of the chopped tomatoes I like in Gowardhan and Madhura’s recipes, though, as with the peppers and other veg some call for, they’re very much optional.
I wouldn’t, however, leave out the green chillies; you could swap them for Katona’s red if you crave heat, but I enjoy the herbaceous flavour of the green sort. They, and the chopped coriander that she, Sodha and Gowardhan also put in, give the whole thing a delicious freshness. Those who are less keen on coriander’s flavour should at least consider a Keralan-style masala omelette with curry leaves instead. (Tina also flavours hers with grated coconut, which gives it a lovely, chewy texture – I’m going to keep my basic recipe simpler, but do give it a try if you have some knocking around.)
If you’re new to the masala omelette game, forget everything you know about French-style omelettes; you need plenty of oil and a medium heat, because this omelette is going to be on there for longer than a soft, runny one, and you don’t want to burn it. Leave the omelette until it’s cooked through and beginning to colour on the bottom before flipping it to brown the other side. (To make it a bit more substantial, you could add a big handful of grated cheese, as Katona does, and finish it under the grill rather than turning it over.)
Though, of course, it will be delicious on its own, the masala omelette is even better paired with bread; at Mowgli, they roll it into a chapati with chutney, Gowardhan likes it stuffed into bread with a spritz of lemon juice and dunked in sweet chilli sauce and ketchup, while Sodha recommends putting it between two slices of buttered toast and finishing it off with ketchup and a Bollywood soundtrack. Possibly the most fun you can have in the kitchen in under 10 minutes.
Perfect masala omelette
Prep 5 min Cook 5 min Makes 1
¼ tsp cumin seeds 2 eggs ¼ tsp turmeric 1 good pinch of salt 1 spring onionwhite and green parts, thinly sliced 1 large tomatodiced 1 medium green chillifinely chopped (seeds removed if you don’t want too much heat) 10g (about 2¾ tbsp) roughly chopped fresh coriander 1 tbsp neutral oil
Put a medium (22cm-diameter or so) frying pan (or wasif you have one) on a medium-high heat, add the cumin and fry until aromatic.
Tip into a mortar and roughly crush.
Beat the eggs in a jug until frothy, then whisk in the cumin, turmeric and salt …
… followed by all the other ingredients bar the oil.
Put the oil in the same pan over a medium heat and, once hot, give the eggs a final whisk and pour into the pan, swirling to coat the base.
Cook until just set on top and beginning to turn golden underneath, loosening the sides as they begin to dry out.
Carefully flip the omelette as you would a pancake, or turn over with a spatula, then cook until the other side is lightly golden, too.
Slide on to a plate and eat, preferably with bread and sauces.
The masala omelette must have a thousand regional and family variations – please share your own favourites below, for maximum global enjoyment of this simple, nutritious and ridiculously delicious quick breakfast, lunch or supper dish.