Food52 senior editor Arati Menon reminisces on the spiced vegetable omelette sandwiches she enjoyed on train rides as a child.
On Play Me a Recipe, your favorite cooks will walk you through their most treasured recipes, offering all the insider tips, stories, and tricks you won't get from a written recipe—and you'll be right alongside them, every step of the way. Feel free to pause, jump back, or navigate the steps via the podcast chapters.
If you're cooking along, here's the recipe we're making today. Go ahead and grab the ingredients below (Arati starts listing them at 0:52) before starting the episode.
Indian Railway Omelette Sandwich
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Lobby Time Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
Arati Menon (teaser): Mm. Mmhmm. This just hits the spot!
Arati: Hi! This is Play Me a Recipe and I’m Arati Menon. Welcome to my kitchen in Brooklyn. You've actually caught me on a particularly hungry morning. So I'm just going to go ahead and make myself a single Indian Railway Omelet Sandwich. Yep, just for me. Because, as they say, the early bird, well, you know the rest.
So the full recipe is linked in the show notes if you need to refer to it. But I'll be taking this recipe step by step, so you can actually cook right alongside me. And if you need to take a quick break to get yourself a refill of coffee, just hit pause! I'll be on the other end of it waiting for you.
So what we're about to make is an herby, spicy omelet that we're then going to fold between two slices of buttery toast.
Arati: You're going to need eggs, milk, onion, fresh green chile, cilantro, and a couple dried spices—turmeric, chili, black pepper—some oil for frying and, of course, toasted bread. If you don't have a toaster, don't stress, because the traditional way of making this is actually by frying the bread in the same pan as the omelet.
But first I want to tell you a little backstory about why I call this the “railway omelet”. So when we were kids, my parents were very keen that my sister and I really get to know our country, which is India, and traveled the length and breadth of it. So we'd go on these very long, three-day train journeys. And as kids, these were very exciting journeys to take because we'd meet all these new people, we'd make new friends that we’d probably never see again, but loved fiercely for the three days that we knew them. But most importantly, it was about the food—because there was lots of food. I mean, what else do you do for three days on a train? My mom, who is an excellent cook and a master planner and organizer, would plan out, make all these meals, pack them accordingly—she’d have everything organized. But as a kid, all I ever wanted was what I couldn't have. And in this case, it was that spicy, greasy omelet sandwich that they served up on every railway station at a town that we would stop at. So the train would pull up at these towns and I could get the smell of this spicy omelet, and that's all I wanted. Now my mom would say “no” on day one and day two. By day three, she was fed up. So you know, the answer would be yes, and my sister and I would jump off the train and pick a vendor and watch in rapt attention as he poured pools of egg into splattering oil. And when it was done, he’d very deftly fold it up and stuff it between two buttery toasts and pack it up just in time for us to jump back on the train. And when I wrote about this for Food52 I found that I wasn't the only one with these memories. Anyone who has spent time growing up in India and traveling long distances on its trains is likely to have eaten this omelet sandwich. Okay, now that you know all of that, let's get on with making it
Arati: The recipe is designed for two omelets, but I'm making just one. My husband is having a bit of a lazy morning, and he's sleeping in. So instead of four eggs in the recipe, I'm down to two; instead of half a peeled onion, I'm using a quarter. You get the picture. So let's start with the onion. Mine is already peeled. I have it right here. And what you want to do is dice it up really fine. Now with the dice. The thing to remember is that you want the onion to be small enough to not weigh down the omelet, but big enough that it competes for your attention when you take a bite. You know, and the inverse is the custardy egg. I'm using a white onion. In India, we tend to use red onion, but it really doesn't matter. You could use either. There we go. Next up, we're gonna dice the green chili. I'm very partial to a fresh green chili, even Indian or Thai chili. I tend to love spice, but if you want to dial it down or use a sweeter, gentler pepper—like I know jalapeño or even Anaheim— feel free to do so. You can also deseed the chili if you'd like. I don't! [Laughs]
And then we have a sprig of coriander, or cilantro. When I first moved to the U.S., I'd say coriander all the time and people would look at me strangely. I've started saying cilantro now, I think. I'm quite liberal with the cilantro. So you have about a tablespoon of cilantro, chopped. That's what I've got here. [While chopping] That's ready. Oh, another tip: if you want to store your cilantro for long, make sure to wash and dry it thoroughly when you bring it back from the market. Separate the leaves from the stem. Wrap the leaves up in a dry paper towel and store it in an airtight container. It'll last forever. Okay, there we have it. All our veggies are ready.
Arati: Next, I've got the eggs that I'm gonna crack and drop into my mixing bowl. Like I said, if you're making two sandwiches, you'll need four. I'm only making one [sandwich] for myself this morning, so that's two eggs there. Remember, with whisking this egg, you don't really need to create stiff peaks or anything. This egg is usually made in a hurry and, you know, so all you want to do is just give it a little bit of a mix so that it's a homogeneous yellow, but you don't need to fluff it up.
And that's it—no white strands, that's good. Now I'm going to do something very controversial. I'm gonna add a drop of milk—about a teaspoon of milk—which I've learned is a very controversial thing to do! But hey, I'm a creature of habit, so yeah, there you go.
Arati: Now I'm gonna add the spices here. I've got a pinch of ground turmeric, I've got a pinch of red chili powder—you can use red pepper flakes if you like—I've got the red chili powder and then you want to add a few grinds of pepper to taste again. With dry spices, feel free to dial down or skip the spice; but my advice is not to! [Laughs]
Arati: I'm gonna go ahead and get my pan warmed up for the eggs. I’ve got a 10-inch skillet. You don't wanna go too small because, contrary to what you might assume, you want the omelet to actually be thin, not fluffy. The heft of the omelet comes from the veggies. I'm using sunflower oil here, but you could use any vegetable oil or ghee if you prefer. While that warms up, we're gonna go ahead and mix the diced veggies into the egg. Let's see if the pan is warm enough. Looks like it.
I'm gonna pour the omelet mixture into the pan. [Pours egg mixture into pan] I'm gonna turn down the heat a little bit. You wanna cook the omelet for a couple minutes until the underside is golden, but not quite brown. So the ones that we'd get on the train, as I recall, are actually quite yellow. They don't let it brown, but I like to brown mine ever so slightly. So let that cook for a couple of minutes and then once you see it turn ever so slightly brown, you can flip it and cook the other side for another two minutes.
We're gonna take a look. Oh, perfect. Allow me to flip the omelet while you do the same with yours. Yeah, perfect. Now we're gonna let this sit for another couple minutes while the other side is cooking. Let's take a break. But in a couple minutes, the omelet will be ready to be taken off the heat.
Arati: And we're back. Today, I'm frying up an Indian Railway Omelet, which is to be sandwiched between two crispy toasts. You can find this recipe in the show notes. So right before the break, we had flipped our omelet and let it cook on its second side for a couple minutes, and I've just actually pulled it off the heat. This would be when, if you were making omelets for two, you'd repeat the previous two steps with the other half of the omelet mixture to make the second omelet. I actually often make this omelet sandwich for just myself because it's kind of a form of self-care for me; everyone has those recipes they make when, you know, spirits need lifting. It's usually dishes associated with your childhood, or special events, or your mom's kitchen, and this one of those for me.
So we flipped the omelet, cooked it, taking it off the heat, and this is when we go ahead and toast our bread. To toast the bread on the pan, you'll want to place your pan over medium-high heat. I’ve got that going, and drop in a pat of butter or a glug of olive oil. I actually like to toast my bread in the grease of the pan, the same pan that I cook my omelet in, adding just the smallest pat of butter. And you'll wanna cook the bread for a couple of minutes on each side or until it is golden brown. Remember, if you like your bread more evenly browned and crisp, you might actually prefer a toaster, which is totally fine. You can also dry toast the bread in a separate skillet. But where's the joy in that? I mean, my dad's mom, who is a terrific cook, had just one motto in her kitchen: “butter makes everything more fun.” I distinctly remember her saying that. Just gonna add a little more butter because, like my grandma said, makes it more fun. Do you hear the sizzle, the butter? It's a very pretty sound to hear, especially first thing in the morning. And, the toast is done.
Arati: Now comes the best part, which is actually assembling the sandwich—or the second best part—tasting is the best part. So I've got the omelet here, which I'm going to fold up into a quarter, so folded in half and then fold that in half again. We've got our crispy browned toast, which I let sit on the pan with the heat off so it stays warm. You plop the omelet in there. The sandwiches of my childhood were always made with white bread. And this is simply because the reach of brown bread in smaller towns in India, until very recently, was very limited. We'd also often have this sandwich with pav bread instead of white bread; and pav bread, if you have never had it, is a small loaf of bread and was introduced by the Portuguese in India. We kind of made it our own. It's a square, thick bun, and it's spongy, with a puffed up brown top. It's a street food staple in India, and often when I would have this sandwich on a street instead of a railway station, say on the streets of Bombay, even fairly recently, it would be served up in a pav. There was nothing tastier; especially on a crisp winter morning. Nothing quite like it.
What I love about this sandwich is that there's so much room to riff; because if you want to add more veggies to it—you know, you've got leftover peppers, or spinach, or kale even—go right ahead and plop it in. When I first wrote this story on the omelet for Food52, I wrote about the version that they serve at a restaurant in New York called Pondicheri. The Indian omelet they serve there is actually loaded with veggies, and very appropriately, they call it the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink omelet. So if you have some spinach and diced peppers and tomatoes, I mean, they're all fair game; grate some mature cheese into your omelet mixture, I often do.
Okay, so I've got my sandwich assembled and I don't think I can wait any longer. I'm going to take one giant bite of this. [Takes bite of sandwich] Mm, Mm hmm. Just hits the spot. Straight back to my childhood—on those marathon train journeys, and that one time when a train nearly left without me because ordering my omelet took way too long. But that, my friends, is a story for another day.
Arati: Thank you for making my Indian Railway Omelet Sandwich with me, and allowing me to relive all those wonderful childhood memories, be sure to rate and review us, especially so I can know how yours turned out. And if you have a personal travel memory of your own, share it with us. Remember, we'll be playing new recipes weekly. So if there's a Food52 recipe that you'd like to hear us, make, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for listening on this nostalgia filled morning.