We say that we have relationships with food and with cooking. A friend would say she has a complicated relationship with dairy; she loves ice cream and cheese, but almost never eats it, and yet she is always tempted. The brie lies there quietly, in the depths of her subconscious, and taunts her a little bit. Soy milk and ice cream alternatives are held out for her like the best of consolation prizes, but she admits they are no substitute. I am lucky in that I am not restricted by any large category, or even sub-category of food, but rather, am limited only by my own likes and dislikes.
For me, it is the egg. The versatile, beautiful egg, the flowing golden yolk and glossy white. My family has loved the egg yolk, the soft boil, the shimmering sunny-side up or poached and perfectly runny, whereas I have always stayed far away. They are mystified that I can eat “aromatic” cheeses but the smell of the egg yolk makes me run, as if from fire. I will eat the egg in omelet or scrambled form and disguised in other things—preferably baked, sweet things or hidden discreetly by cold potatoes and mayonnaise—but the Bengali egg curry has always eluded me.
This post is about an egg dish that I actually like, even love. It is the Bengali omelet, called mamlet. A mamlet and rice dinner (mamlet bhat or dim bhaja bhat), with or without dal, is among the simplest of comfort food meals: the “I don’t have time to cook meal,” the “it’s cold and late meal,” or “there’s not much in the fridge right now” meal. It is also deeply rewarding, savory and hot, with diced fried onion and a generous handful of cilantro and assertive green chilies. The rice should be steaming hot, served with butter or ghee and a little salt. We surprised ourselves last week; mamlet bhat was made on a cold and windy day, and we overate, gulping down far more rice than we should have, after which we were able to do little except watch television and go to bed with full tummies and satisfied smiles.
Cilantro and Onion Bengali Omelet or Mamlet Bhat
1 tbsp water
2 fresh green chilies, optional
¼ tsp nigella seeds
1/3 cup finely diced onion
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
Salt to taste
Olive oil and butter for frying
Dice onion, chop cilantro and mince green chilies. Set aside. Heat a non-stick skillet or omelet pan and add a little olive oil and butter. Sauté the onions about 5 minutes over medium-low heat with the nigella seeds, until onions are translucent. While the onions sauté, beat the eggs with a little water, add salt and the green chilies. When the egg mixture is fluffy and full of bubbles (do not let it sit), pour it into the skillet, making sure the onions are evenly distributed. Sprinkle the cilantro on top and turn the heat to medium/medium-high. Shake the pan and swirl the eggs as you would for an omelet. When the bottom has set and the entire omelet has loosened from the pan, fold in half and flip. Cook until omelet is golden brown. Serve with heaps of steaming rice.