Calcutta street to California home – Kathi rolls unwrapped
After eating Kathi rolls at Kasa, I was inspired to make this quintessential Calcutta street food at home. When you take on such a formidable challenge, you know you are not going to win. There is nothing I can do in my California kitchen that will replicate the experience of eating outdoors at one of Calcutta’s busiest streets. Neither can I hope to replicate the rich interplay between textures and flavors that the street vendors have mastered. When my father’s generation talks about eating out during their college days, they often reminisce about these mouthwatering rolls!
So what can I hope to achieve? I can definitely beat Kasa. I can make mine with healthy, fresh, organic ingredients, mindful of the calories and the nutritional balance. I can bring my experience with modern techniques to traditional Indian cuisine to create something healthy while preserving the authenticity of tastes and flavors.
There are several key aspects to a perfect roll – the paratha, the kabab and the chutney. These ingredients need to come together in a timely manner. The container that wraps the kababs, paratha, should be chewy and flaky. The filling itself, kabab, should be charred and juicy. The condiment, chutney, should create a taste explosion in your mouth.
- 2 packed cups coriander leaves and stems, cleaned and chopped coarsely
- 2 packed cups of mint leaves, cleaned and chopped coarsely
- 1-3 green chillies (thai, jalapeno)
- 1 inch piece of ginger, skinned and chopped coarsely. You may be able to find mango ginger at your Indian grocery store – they are shaped like raw turmeric and smell of ginger and mango.
- 1 tomato chopped (Optional; if omitting, add a pinch of sugar)
- Juice of 1 lemon (or substitute with amchoor, mango powder)
Blend together with a little water until smooth. The consistency should not be too thin otherwise it will make your roll wet. Adjust salt, sugar, lemon and green chillies to taste. Store in refrigerator in a clean, well sealed jar. Can be prepared up to 4 days ahead. This will make 2-3 cups of chutney – plan on using up no more than 3/4 cup for the kathi rolls.
The rolls are served hot. A cool salad balances the play of temperatures. A sprouted mung salad would have been absolutely perfect accompaniment but since I didn’t plan this out 3 days ahead, I substituted with a chickpea salad.
- 1 can of chickpeas, drained
- 1 persian cucumber, cut into small cubes to match the size of chickpeas
- Juice from 1/2 lemon
- 1 finely chopped deseeded green chilli (optional)
- A pinch of cayenne pepper
- A pinch of freshly ground peppercorn
- A pinch of roasted and crushed cumin seeds – you can make them 1/4 cup at a time and store in sealed container for up to a month
- Salt to taste
Toss all ingredients together and set aside for up to 1/2 hour.
Chicken Breast Kababs (serves 3):
- 1 lb Chicken breast
- 2 Tbsp salt
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp fennel/anise seeds
- 2 Bay leaves
- 2 inch piece of ginger, cut up in slices
- 2 cloves of garlic, lightly squashed
I always brine chicken breasts for a juicy result. The flavors added to brine deeply penetrate the meat. In 4 cups of boiling water, add salt, sugar and spices and let boil for 1-2 minutes. Cool down completely, add the breasts and keep in refrigerator to brine (4-24 hours). An hour before cooking, take out the chicken pieces, remove any external fat globs, cut into 1 inch pieces, pat dry and add 1 Tbsp of ginger-garlic paste, 1 Tbsp vegetable oil and 1 Tbsp of paprika.
Anise seeds bring a certain sweetness to the meat and aid digestion but variations are infinite. For a more aromatic flavor, you can replace the anise seeds with cinnamon (1 inch piece), green cardamom (3 pods crushed), black pepper (6-7) and cloves (3-4). For a refreshing taste, replace the anise seeds with lemon zest (from 1 lemon) or a beaten keffir lime leaf or crushed lemongrass stalk. For a wilder but non-traditional Indian flavor, try crushed juniper berries (4 berries) and a sprig of rosemary.
When ready to eat, put the kababs under a heated broiler (or on a hot grill) and broil/grill. Once ready, keep warm in the oven. Leftover kababs can be added to salads or made into sandwiches.
Freshly pickled onions (serves 3):
Cut a medium size red onion finely, cover with cold water in a bowl for 10 min, and drain. Add a pinch of salt and a dash of red-wine vinegar. Prepare up to an hour ahead.
Making Paratha (serves 3):
Traditionally made with regular flour for the chewy texture, I am substituting with part whole wheat – for the flavor, as well as heart healthiness. This also makes it easier to stretch and roll. Replacing entirely with whole wheat will take out the chewiness entirely and will make the wrap crumblier.
- 1/2 cup whole wheat white or pastry flour
- 1/2 cup regular flour
- 1 Tbsp vegetable oil or any other preferred neutral oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp nigella seeds or crushed coriander seeds (or omit all together)
Knead with sufficient water into a pliable dough and set aside until ready to use. The dough should be kept at room temperature for 1-2 hours.
When ready to use, divide equally in three parts and shape each in a round ball. Using a rolling pin, flatten each ball into a thin circular tortilla using a little flour. This tortilla should be about 8-10 inches in diameter – slightly smaller than your cooking surface. Set aside.
Set aside 2 Tbs of vegetable oil (or clarified butter) in a small container and a silicone brush. Heat a pan (omlette pan, crepe pan, iron griddle) on medium-high until hot and add a tortilla. Brush the top surface lightly with oil, flip, and apply oil to the other surface. The tortilla will begin to puff up in sections. Cook each surface until brown spots appear (about 1 min on each side). Keep aside wrapped in a clean towel in warm oven. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.
Parathas should be made last and not kept aside any longer than strictly necessary. The rolls should be assembled like a burrito. On each paratha, add 3-4 pieces of chicken kababs, 1-2 Tbsp of pickled onions, a smear of the chutney. Fold and serve with the salad and a dollop of chutney on the side.
Calories per serving: This is a very well balanced meal – 120 from chicken kabab (mostly protein), 120 from the chickpea salad (complex carbs, protein and fiber), 250 from the paratha (complex and simple carbs and vegetable fat).