Table for One

3 Indian-ish Toasts for Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

Priya Krishna on why bread is the perfect food for one.

by:
April 26, 2019
Photo by Ty Mecham; Anna Billingskog (Food Stylist); Brooke Deonarine (Prop Stylist)

Table for One is a column by Senior Editor Eric Kim, who loves cooking for himself—and only himself—and seeks to celebrate the beauty of solitude in its many forms.


Cookbook author Priya Krishna and I share a handful of similar experiences:

  1. Our parents moved to the United States in the 1980s, during a wave of Indian and South Korean immigration.
  2. We grew up in the suburbs surrounded by "99 percent white people," but cushioned by an enormous family of aunts, uncles, and cousins.
  3. Only recently have we begun to realize just how cool our moms are.

"Remember when Sheryl Sandberg first started urging people to lean in, and people treated this like a brand-new idea?" Priya writes in the introduction to her just-released book, Indian-ish (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019). "Far before that was happening, my mom was blazing the trail in our family for how to be a successful mom and working woman, all while pursuing many side hustles and being an awesome, creative force in the kitchen."

What I love most about Indian-ish is that it doesn't seek to be an explainer for Indian cuisine as a whole and its many regional specialties, but rather pinpoints one specific aspect of the American immigrant experience. As she tells it, the book "gives you a good idea of how many Indian immigrants in the United States eat today."

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“As for the toast, that will be made with my own "Indian-ish" mix of avocado, melted cheese and a hearty garnish of chhonk (yep, I even have the asefetida) on top. Finally, there will be a little daikon kachumber on the side for crunch, freshness and to cut the fat. Nothing like going to bed Friday night knowing there's going to be a new morning treat to tuck into the next day. Here's to uplifting a staid singleton main stay snack of tea and toast to spicy, new heights! : )”
— Whiteantlers
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What this concession makes room for is a celebration of the kind of food we come to cook when we're far from home and forced to make do with what we have around us.

For Priya and her family in Dallas, Texas back in the '80s, that meant substituting feta for paneer because Indian groceries like Patel Brothers were just getting started. This is arguably the way L.A. galbi came to be in the days before H-Mart, when Korean immigrants in Los Angeles had to adapt with a cut of beef that was more readily available to them at their local supermarkets. As writer Irene Yoo says, "More than any other food, L.A. galbi is a Korean dish that is uniquely Korean-American."

So, too, are the recipes in Priya's book uniquely Indian-American.

"Some of my favorite restaurants in the country are ones that are born out of immigrants coming to a new country," Priya told Roads & Kingdoms earlier this week, "not finding all the ingredients they’re looking for, and discovering new ingredients—the wonderful marriages that are born out of that. I wanted the book to speak to the beautiful tension that exists between the first generation and the second generation, and how my mom used food as a way to bridge her home culture with this new culture that she found."

Photo by Mackenzie Kelley; Judy Kim (Stylist)

It's an exciting time to be a second-generation immigrant in food. As Priya confesses, "I have finally been able to come to terms with my roots. ... At some point, that deep shame and desire to hide who I was morphed into something resembling confidence." So to celebrate Indian-ish and its staggering confidence, I thought I'd collect three of the toasts in the "Breads" chapter (with the philosophy in mind that toast is the perfect meal for one).

I wanted the book to speak to the beautiful tension that exists between the first generation and the second generation, and how my mom used food as a way to bridge her home culture with this new culture that she found.
Priya Krishna

"Toast is actually a very commonly found item in India," Priya tells me. "Among my family that lives there, it's the most popular breakfast. So when we were growing up, our house was never without that sliced bread stuffed in a plastic bag and sealed with a twist tie. It went with everything, from sabzi to dal. We could top it with endless ingredients, from bhujia (chickpea flour–based savory sprinkles) to butter and chaat masala. It felt right to have a section devoted to all the wonderful toast combinations we've come up with through the years!"


Breakfast Toast

"Allow me to introduce you to the genius add-on of Indian cuisine’s pungent, MSG-like spice blend, chaat masala," Priya writes, "which turns an ordinary breakfast into an umami-filled salt-and-spice bomb that tastes like the most craveable nut mix in toast form." I'm grateful to her for introducing me to the wondrous magic of chaat masala, which makes breakfast just a little more savory.


Lunch Toast

"Nothing makes me happier than making my two tomato-cheese toasts, enjoying them with a glass of milk, and having lunch done and eaten in 20 minutes without a single dish to clean," Priya tells me. "It's very freeing." (Again, chaat masala saves the day—as does a cold glass of milk, which "cuts through all the salt and keeps you refreshed between bites.")


Dinner Toast

"FYI: Many Indians use the word 'toast' to describe both toasts and pressed sandwiches," Priya disclaims in the recipe's headnote. Even more than the sandwich, I want to point out the accompanying aloo gobhi recipe—which completely changed my mind about what an aloo gobhi could be. This one is an Indian-American home cook's take on the classic, calling for a sheet pan of roasted potatoes and cauliflower (versus stewed), cumin seeds that have been toasted to a "medium shade of brown" (which lends unprecedented savoriness), asafetida ("optional, but really great"), and a quick spritz of lime at the end to bring it all together.

What's your "Indian-ish" story? Tell us in the comments below.

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Eric Kim is the Senior Editor and 'Table for One' columnist at Food52. Formerly the Digital Manager of FoodNetwork.com, he writes about food, travel, and culture and lives in a tiny shoebox in Manhattan with his dog.

8 Comments

sf-dre May 2, 2019
I'm going to try this with peanut butter since I have it in the pantry and make roasted aloo gobhi. With grilled chicken?
 
Author Comment
Eric K. May 3, 2019
Sounds divine.
 
yyw April 28, 2019
Aha, that is a clever way to eat nut-butter or avocado. I give up nut- butter bec it is so hard to digest. Though, Why not make your own chaat masala? I just did and now need to run out to get a loaf and try. If it works, I can imagine much more variety in my diet, including nuts, cream cheese bagel, fruits esp. banana, thank goodness.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. April 28, 2019
That's a great idea.
 
Annada R. April 26, 2019
Hi Eric,

Chaat masala is a wonder spice. Sprinkle it on ANYTHING & you'll get a kick of your life. My morning breakfast these days, thanks to my husband, is toast spread with cream cheese topped with avocado slices ending with a liberal sprinkle of chaat masala. Avocado & chaat masala is a match made in heaven.

And here's one of my Indian-ish recipes, :) chutney + pesto = chesto
https://food52.com/recipes/37173-basil-chesto-chutney-pesto
 
Author Comment
Eric K. April 27, 2019
Cream cheese, avo, and chaat?? Love it.
 
Whiteantlers April 26, 2019
I pre-ordered this cookbook and it arrived a few days ago. Haven't used it for anything other than enjoyable reading so far. With the weekend coming up, though, I'll make a pot of masala chai to replace my usual one of loose black tea. As for the toast, that will be made with my own "Indian-ish" mix of avocado, melted cheese and a hearty garnish of chhonk (yep, I even have the asefetida) on top. Finally, there will be a little daikon kachumber on the side for crunch, freshness and to cut the fat. Nothing like going to bed Friday night knowing there's going to be a new morning treat to tuck into the next day.

Here's to uplifting a staid singleton main stay snack of tea and toast to spicy, new heights!
: )
 
Author Comment
Eric K. April 27, 2019
Oh damn, your chhonk avo toast sounds incredible.