Once upon a time, I worked for a certain now-defunct investment bank. And for some reason, they assigned this lowly intern to one of those glass offices with a floor-to-ceiling window overlooking Times Square. The senior vice presidents crammed into their cubicles on my floor were not too happy about this. I was not so happy about this either, primarily because my glass office was about 15 degrees cooler than the rest of the over-airconditioned floor. I shivered in my suit jacket on “casual” Fridays in July in New York.
Anyway, you are probably wondering why I am telling you about this office at this company that doesn’t even exist anymore. I’m burying the lede here; you will have to wait. My officemate was another intern, one notch above my own lowly status, because he was on his way to finishing a Ph.D., whereas I was still working on my bachelor’s. He was an international student from India. So he didn’t like the cold much either.
One day, about half way through the summer, that officemate of mine let me in on a little secret. We snuck out at lunch time, and instead of heading up to the high gloss upper floor cafeteria and paying through the nose for the salad bar, we ran out into the hoard of tourists on Seventh Avenue. We jogged down a bunch of blocks in the sweltering sticky heat of midday summer in Manhattan, and ducked into The Kati Roll Company.
The place was jam packed and full of intoxicatingly pungent spice aromas. I would wait in the deliciously disorganized line to order up a hot, greasy flatbread overstuffed with spicy salty potatoes. It was like a burrito had gone to India and become even more wonderful than I had imagined possible–the perfect antidote to our chilly, sterile office.
The last secret about this perfect kati roll? Neither I nor my Indian officemate had ever seen a kati roll when we were actually in India. Apparently, they are a Bengali specialty. A specialty I think we should all learn to make. Endlessly flexible, perfectly portable, and absolutely satisfying. Here’s the version from my kitchen. Let it transport you to India for a moment, and it can be your very own lunchtime escape.
Chapati Indian Flat Bread
2 cups whole wheat atta flour, also called chapati flour (see note)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup water, microwaved for 30-60 seconds until hot but not boiling
1 tsp canola oil
Chickpea potato curry, recipe below
Indian carrot slaw, recipe
1. Stir flour and salt together in a medium bowl. Add oil. Add hot water gradually, stirring as you add it, just until a ball of dough forms. Knead for 2-3 minutes until smooth and elastic. The dough should not stick to your hands, nor should there be any visible dry patches of flour.
2. Cover with plastic wrap and set it aside for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the filling according to the recipe below.
3. After the curry is finished, form the dough into balls slightly larger than a golf ball. Lightly dust the ball with a bit of extra flour to prevent sticking. Roll out each ball into a very thin circle (less than 1/16″ thick).
4. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. (It is not necessary to grease the skillet). Cook the bread 2 minutes on each side, flipping it when brown spots and large bubbles begin to form on the bread.
5. Fill the chapatis with a generous scoop of chickpea potato curry and a sprinkle of the carrot slaw. Wrap it up like a burrito, and eat it hot!
NOTES: Indian atta flour can be bought at any Indian grocer, and I have also seen it at Whole Foods. If you cannot find it, you may substitute white whole wheat or whole wheat bread flour. (I haven’t tested the substitution, but I have read that it works.) Alternatively, buy ready-made Indian flatbreads from the freezer section of your Indian grocer, or you could even substitute a burrito wrap for a more fusiony dining experience.
Aloo Chole: Chickpea Potato Cabbage Curry
1 lb waxy potatoes, scrubbed and chopped
1 tbsp canola oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
1 chili pepper, seeded and minced (optional)
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp cumin seed
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
1 15 oz can chickpeas
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
1 small head cabbage (or 1/2 large head), sliced into very thin strips
1. Put the potatoes in a medium saucepan. Cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 10-15 minutes until tender. Drain and set aside.
2. Heat oil in the bottom of the pot on Medium heat. Fry the onion for 5 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic, ginger, chili pepper, mustard seed, and cumin seed. Fry 1-2 more minutes.
3. Add tomato, chili powder, garam masala, turmeric, and salt. Cook for 3 minutes, until tomato juices are sizzling and starting to evaporate. Add cabbage, fry for 5 minutes, until slightly reduced. Add chickpeas and potatoes. Simmer for 15 minutes. Smash some of the potatoes against on side of pot.
Indian Carrot Slaw
2 small or 1 large onion, diced
3 carrots, shredded
generous pinch salt
2 tsp lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Combine onions and carrot with salt and lemon juice. Set aside for 10 minutes. (This resting time takes some of the bite out of the onion.) Stir in cilantro.