Mornings fall under my father’s domain. Up absurdly early, before birds have rustled awake, the second the sun rises, he’s praying, working out or enjoying the quiet, making ginger chai and handling breakfast.
After Dad drinks his chai (out of the same blue-and-white floral-patterned teacup he’s had forever) and brings my mother hers, he sets the stage to make an omelet.
Dad’s omelet is not a French version, the kind built from constant attention on the lowest heat with a neatly rolled result. It isn’t a fat and fluffy diner omelet, with 101 variable fillings, either.
An Indian masala omelet is its own thing. Plenty of families make it, altering ingredient amounts to their tastes, but it generally has the same components: finely diced onion and tomato, dashes of red chili powder and turmeric, fresh cilantro, and shreds of searingly hot green chile studded evenly throughout. The omelet is cooked flat in the pan, a little browning welcome. Dad lays out his ingredients and uses a paring knife to carefully chop everything into tiny, identical cubes while the rest of us slowly stir awake.
In our family, this omelet is folded into a neat square and served between two pieces of buttered toast, anointed with a healthy helping of ketchup. My mother’s mother serves it with roti and her homemade yogurt. Lately, the family has been leaning toward sourdough as the toast of choice, though historically that role has been filled by plain, unglamorous bagged white bread.
The omelet has been Dad’s culinary niche for longer than I’ve been alive. It’s the one thing he can consistently make for himself, though he said he mastered it only after marrying my mother.
“I used to make it in college, but I wouldn’t be very particular about it,” he said. “I think because I was making it for others and I could feel their appreciation, then it became a matter of making it precise.”
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He credits this exactitude to his mother, whom he claims made the best omelet of anyone he knew. “She was very particular,” he recalls. With everything so finely chopped, “what happens is, when you have that bite, you get the flavor of that tomato and onion, everything, because it’s so well mixed.”
When I was little, my Dad would make me and my sister omelets, either plain or with a bit of tomato. Unintentionally, I ate them the exact same way he did as a kid. We would both take cold, salted butter, cut it into bits, and tuck it into the omelet sandwich where the butter melted slightly and mingled with ketchup in a delightful sweet-and-salty, hot-and-cold sensation.
Back then, my father didn’t make his omelet every day. The process takes the kind of time he didn’t have on weekdays when he had to shake two daughters up and get them moving the bus stop. Instead, the omelet was usually reserved for Saturday mornings, when everybody finally had time to breathe and relax instead of run. These days, the omelet is an everyday occasion for him and my mom; he preps hers and keeps it ready with a cover so it stays warm, and then gets hustling on his own.
The omelet grew from something Dad would make for just our family of four to something that is synonymous with him. When we got older, my parents started to invite relatives over for weekend brunches, a tradition they still maintain. During these parties, my overly extroverted Dad is in his element. Ever the party person, he loves to entertain the extended family as well as dozens of his pals. A long, leisurely brunch at home is an ideal stage. His meticulous attention to detail — chopping onions, tomato, cilantro and green chile and fork-whipping spices into the eggs — extends to the rest of the event. He pulls out fancier plates, cuts fruit into perfectly symmetrical shapes, and garnishes frozen Tater Tots with an extra sprinkle of red pepper, so they’re up to par with everything else, before sticking them in the toaster oven. He makes plenty of ginger chai for everyone, making sure to note individual sugar and milk preferences.
“I feel good. I’m rushing between two pans and I enjoy it,” he says. “I’m in my own zone and I’m chilling out, toasting bread on one end, making tea on the other, flipping an omelet here.”
When I came back to the East Coast after an eight-month stint on the other side, the first thing he did, after picking me up at the crack of dawn from the airport, was make me an omelet, so I could nap with something in my stomach before meeting more family later. It was the best homecoming I could have asked for.
I asked him later how he felt about having to make me and my sister breakfast for some 24 years: “It’s the best part of my day.”
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Unlike a traditional folded French omelet, this one, thin and delicate and flecked with herbs and vegetables, is crêpe-like. To eat, either tuck the omelet into a sandwich with plenty of butter, ketchup and toasted white sandwich bread, or serve unfolded with fresh paratha and yogurt.
Where to Buy: Indian green chiles and red chili powder are available at Indian grocery stores.
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons finely chopped tomato (about 1/2 medium tomato)
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion (about 1/4 small onion)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro
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1/4 Indian green chile pepper, seeded and cut into fine strips (or 1/4 jalapeño chile pepper, finely chopped)
1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon red chili powder
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon salted butter
Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl, then use a fork to whisk until well blended.
Add the tomato, red onion, cilantro, chile pepper, turmeric and chili powder, stirring to incorporate. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Melt half the butter in a small non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Pour in half the egg mixture; cook for about 1 to 2 minutes, until the omelet is almost cooked through and you can slide a spatula underneath. Flip as you would a pancake and cook for a few more seconds. Light browning is OK. Repeat with the remaining butter and egg mixture.
Nutrition | Calories: 140; Total Fat: 11 g; Saturated Fat: 5 g; Cholesterol: 230 mg; Sodium: 250 mg; Carbohydrates: 3 g; Dietary Fiber: 0 g; Sugars: 0 g; Protein: 6 g.