Simple Sustenance: Chat and Chai — Nigella Seed Crackers
by Renu Chhabra
Remember the tea kettle — it is always up to its neck in hot water, yet it still sings! ~Author Unknown
Last Saturday, I was invited to a fundraiser over Chat and Chai. A room full of lovely women, some dressed in Indian attire, were there to raise money for this noble cause in southern India. Colorful sarees and scarves were the stars of the show. They were displayed elegantly on a table for silent auction, creating a very exotic ambiance. A few guests were somewhat familiar with the Indian culture; whereas, others were inquisitive to learn about it. From food to draping of a saree, it was an enriching experience for many.
After viewing a short film about the cause, it was time to indulge in some Indian-inspired food — curried deviled eggs, lentil salad, tea sandwiches, and a variety of sweets and snacks. The table was full of mouth-watering choices, making it difficult to resist the temptation. Finding my way through this delicious spread was one big challenge. And I knew I wasn’t the only one facing this dilemma. Finally, a warm cup of fragrant chai completed the feast.
On my way back I kept thinking about mathri or mathi, a savory Indian snack. This salty and flaky cracker is laced with herbs and spices. Carom or nigella seeds add a flavorful punch, and black peppercorns give it a spicy bite. Traditionally, it is deep fried. The size and thickness can vary — large discs or bite size. It is a perfect tea-time snack paired with a cup of sweetened chai.
I have fond memories of making mathri with my great grandma. Sitting at the kitchen table, she used to flatten the dough balls with the heel of her palm. She did not use measurements, rolling pins, or fancy cutters. Just a pinch of this and a handful of that was the way to go for her. Her best tools were her hands to measure, knead, and flatten the dough — quite amazing. At the same time, the wisdom and stories that she shared while making this snack made the experience even more special. These are the moments most of us remember for years to come — rustic and soulful. And they linger in my memories as well, even decades later.
Inspired by my memories, I decided to make mathri today with a few of my own twists. Keeping them healthy, I used whole wheat pastry flour instead of regular white flour. Another detour from the original method was to bake them instead of frying – -a guilt-free indulgence. And they turned out quite delicious!
Recipe2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
11/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nigella seeds
1/4 teaspoon carom seeds
Coarsely ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup canola oil
1 /2-3/4 cups water
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1. In a stand mixer with paddle attachment, add flour, baking powder, salt, nigella seeds, carom seeds, black pepper, and oil. Mix on low speed. Slowly add water to make firm dough.
2. If needed, bring the dough together with hands and knead to form a smooth ball. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes. You can also make the dough in a food processor or by hand.
3. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
4. Roll the dough to 1/8 -inch thickness.
5. Cut the rolled dough into desired shapes.
6. Transfer them to the baking sheets, and prick with a fork.
7. Bake at 325° F for 20-25 minutes or until bottom is golden brown.
8. Re-roll the leftover dough and cut into shapes.
9. Cool completely on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container.
10. Serve with a hot cup of chai.
Makes approximately 3-3 1/ 2 dozen small crackers.
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