Give us this day our stale bread
- What can one do with stale bread, apart from making french toast or bread pudding
- Here’s a modern take on the Seyal double roti of Sindhi cuisine
After a decade of writing this column, I will—for the first time—attempt a recipe that is a literal interpretation of its title. That is good and well because my family consumes a fair amount of bread.
My mother is often anxious when we realize we do not have chapatis for the day. “Shall I send you chapatis?" she asks. Our answer is always the same, no.
That’s because we have Nitash Lalkaka. Nitash is our neighbourhood baker par excellence. He has a WhatsApp group that keeps growing because, as his fame spreads, more people want to be added. He has to only announce “baking rosemary, potato wholewheat bread today, 120 loaves" or whatever and he is mobbed online. Within minutes, he usually says, “Orders closed."
A few years ago, I spent a semester teaching at the University of California in Berkeley, a hipster town with all manner of hand-crafted food, including uncountable varieties of exquisite artisanal bread. Nitash’s bread is up there with the best, and anyone who tastes it agrees.
But Nitash’s bread is usually coarser or slices thicker than commercial bread, so it is not ideal for sandwiches, which I often make for the nine-year-old, who prefers them with ham and nothing else. I sometimes wonder why I bother with the bread because the slices frequently return home, the ham yanked out and devoured.
In the event, we have to buy commercial bread—wholewheat or multigrain—every week to make sandwiches and fill in the gaps between Nitash’s baking days, which are infrequent because his main line of work is cakes. Baking appears to be his passion, so we get bread when he feels like it.
Sometimes, the supermarket loaf is already bought when Nitash decides it’s going to a bread-baking day. The result is that it is not uncommon to see our kitchen flooded with bread. Since Nitash’s bread is devoid of preservatives, we split it in packets and freeze it.
Despite our best efforts, too much bread attracts fungus or goes stale, and that upsets me.
Last week, my wife told me of the “seyal double", short for seyal double roti. As far as I can tell, seyal is an Urdu or Sindhi word for “semi-fluid", alluding to something made with little water. Double roti, as you might know, is the word for Western bread in Hindi—and Sindhi.
I was intrigued by the seyal double, at the heart of which is old or stale bread, because I soon found there was also a seyal phulka, made of yesterday’s chapatis. To me, this line of cooking embodied thrift, a quality that comes naturally to India’s Sindhis, most of whom are from refugee families who made the long trek eastward when India was bloodily partitioned in 1947.
Both my in-laws are from refugee families. They were children when undivided India was torn apart, but memories of large houses, horse carriages and wealth in Karachi or elsewhere in Sindh—they come from Sukkur and Shikarpur in modern-day Pakistan—linger on.
My father-in-law’s mother, when she was alive, appeared unable to set aside her past. Every time we met, she would somehow steer the conversation to all that was lost all those decades ago in the mists of the last century.
Like many Sindhis, my wife’s family tells you that “we came with nothing". My mother-in-law remembers living in an office in the teeming backstreets of old Bombay’s “native town". My father-in-law tells me how Sindhis sold bags of sugar at cost price—the money came from selling the empty bags.
The seyal double appears to be a by-product of such thrift. The idea of not wasting leftovers is an idea prevalent in many Indian culinary cultures: The Konars of Tamil Nadu eat offal and roast mutton bones, the Tangkhul Nagas of Manipur spice up pork intestine, to use only two examples.
The seyal double, as I said, was particularly interesting to me because of our bread consumption. It stands out with its use of fresh ingredients, but I must admit the idea of just bread and vegetables seemed a little boring. So, I added chicken, and that gave the seyal double body and bounce, according to me of course. I suspect fish, pork or sausages might work just as well. I also suspect the Sindhis may not approve. Ah, well.
METHI CHICKEN SEYAL DOUBLE
Boneless chicken, from a leg and thigh
4 slices stale bread, each torn into four
1 bunch methi (fenugreek), chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 large tomatoes, puréed
1 red and one green chilli, chopped
1 bunch coriander, chopped
2 tbsp fresh garlic and ginger, pounded
2 tbsp thick tamarind water
2 mugs hot water
2 tsp olive oil
Salt to taste
Heat oil in a non-stick wok. Sauté the chillies for 30 seconds. Add ginger and garlic and sauté for another 30 seconds. Add onion and sauté until it starts to brown. Add chicken and toss for 2 minutes. Add methi and coriander, mixing well. Cover and cook on low flame for 5 minutes. Add tomato purée, salt and tamarind water. Stir and add hot water. Make sure there is enough water for the bread to absorb. Stir in the bread. Cover and cook for 8-10 minutes. Serve hot.
Our Daily Bread is a column on easy, inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures.
Twitter - @samar11
FIRST PUBLISHED08.11.2019 | 03:54 PM IST