When I was seventeen, the world began to change. One friday night in the fall, my friend Sam and I drove to Lexington, Kentucky. As night fell, we rolled along down the highway in his toyota corolla. Looking back, I can see us driving from above, in a long wide shot. Two headlights illuminate the road before us, while an eternity of darkness remains undisturbed. Talking Heads is playing on the car stereo. Dense forest gives way to manicured horse farms and then, finally, street lights return. The city is populated with small businesses and ethnic restaurants. There are people walking on the sidewalks. They wear interesting clothes. Some of them are non-white. In those days, the city seemed large and unknown. I thought its streets and alleyways must go on forever, like some ever-expanding metropolis. Consider my upbringing in a town of no more than 10,000, with no movie theatre and fresh seafood a rarity, and my naïveté begins to make a little more sense.
We were there to visit a friend studying at the University of Kentucky. By the time we arrived, the dinner hour was upon us. We were not so hungry as we were interested. The city was alive and fragrant, it emanated with it’s own perfume, a mix of hot blacktop, refuse, and cooking smells. A keen nose can always find what it’s looking for. Tucked in among a row of dilapidated shops was an indian restaurant. I can no longer remember its name. Its windows were obscured with a wall of garish beaded curtains. Without discussion, we stepped inside and asked for a menu. I knew nothing about indian food. It’s probably similar to chinese, I thought. The sole proprietor looked on, hands behind his back, his bushy eyebrows furrowed. As he took our order, his demeanor seemed almost clinical. This was serious business, it seemed. Not wanting to further illustrate my ignorance, I quickly pointed to two things on the menu. To go, please. The man took the menu and disappeared into the kitchen.
We took a seat in a vinyl booth and waited. The restaurant was empty. A moment later, the man stepped out of the kitchen and resumed his post behind the counter. He stood erect, his eyes gazing stolidly toward us. All the while, a rhythmic and brisk Indian pop song seemed to gyrate from a set of speakers tucked in the corners of the room. I worried that my shoulders might begin to bob up and down involuntarily. Was I already doing it? Before I could worry any longer, a bell sounded. The man disappeared again and returned this time with a brown paper bag. I paid him, took the bag and stepped back outside.
In the near-darkness, we took a seat on the pavement and ripped into the paper bag. The aroma of the contents was intoxicating and exotic, pungent and earthy, bright and acidic. We tore away bits of a blistered flatbread stuffed with lamb and seasoned with toasted cumin and chilies. We dipped it into a technicolor-green chutney of cilantro and mint. In a styrofoam cup was a wickedly hot curry of more lamb, this time slow-stewed and seasoned with tomatoes, ginger, and garlic. Don’t ask me how, but we managed to save some of it and stashed the leftovers in the car.
The rest of the evening is foggy. Underage drinking was in no small part to blame. Our friend’s dorm seemed like a funhouse, where each room held a new cast of eccentric and alien characters. They had nicknames and came from different countries. One of them was german, hulking and huge, and yelled out for mehr Bier! One of them, so drunk from a handle of vodka, crawled gleefully down the hallway toward the prospect of a hot slice of pizza. Others simply watched the show, just as we did. Our night in the big city ended just the way it began. In the car, we split the rest of the leftovers. Hours had passed and though the curry was cold by now, the flavors seemed to warm us all over again.
Ten years have passed. College came and went. I married. I got a job. I continued to cook. And then one weekend, about a month ago, the memory returned to me. I didn’t dare recreate the dish exactly. How could I? This recipe is more an interpretation of the meal as it exists in my memory and less a replica of what we actually ate that evening.
It begins with a white-wheat crust, allowed to ferment over night. I knew I wanted a moderate amount of whole wheat flour, because I think it imparts a warm, earthy, and comforting flavor to breads. Meanwhile, I made a homemade sausage from ground pork, fennel, orange zest, raisins, black peppercorns, and garlic. The sausage is pressed into the rounds of dough and charred in a screaming-hot pan. It’s served with a chutney made from cilantro, mint, jalapenos, ginger, and lemon. I can’t tell you how incredibly delicious this is. You must make it.
Pork and Raisin Chapati with Mint Chutney
(makes 6-8 large rounds)
For the dough:
300 grams white flour
200 grams wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1 2/3 cups room temperature water
In a large bowl with a lid, mix all the ingredients together. Be sure to mix the dough until there are no dry bits of flour left. Cover with a lid and let the dough sit for about 12 to 18 hours. An hour before you are ready to use it, pour the dough onto a heavily floured countertop. With a bench scraper, divide the dough into six equal-sized pieces. Working with one piece at a time, fold over each of the four corners of the dough round as if you were closing a package. Then, flip the dough and pull it toward you with the side of your palm as it anchors itself to the work surface. This will help to create tension in the dough. Do this with the remaining pieces. Flour the tops and let the dough sit, covered with plastic wrap, for one hour.
For the sausage:
1 pound ground pork sausage (85/15)
1/2 cup raisins
2 teaspoons orange zest
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
3 teaspoons whole fennel seeds, crushed
2 teaspoons whole peppercorns, crushed
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
In a large bowl, mix all ingredients well. Before you add the sausage to the rounds of dough, it must be cooked slightly. The dough cooks so quickly that the sausage is not allowed enough time to char. In a large pan on medium heat, cook the sausage until no pink remains. As it cooks, use a spoon to break it into small pieces.
For the mint chutney:
1 cup fresh mint, gently packed
1 cup fresh cilantro, gently packed
2 large jalapenos, chopped fine with seeds and ribs removed
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
juice of half a lemon
a good pinch of salt(I used black salt, which is pretty spectacular)
Add all ingredients to a food processor and give it a whirl until the chutney is smooth. If necessary, add a few drops of water. Don’t get carried away. You can store this chutney in the fridge for about 3 days.
Putting it all together:
Once the chutney is made, you’re ready to make the chapati. Before you begin working with the dough, put a very large non-stick pan on medium-high heat. Start by adding a little flour to one round of dough. Gently stretch the outer edges of the dough. Then, press your fingers into the middle of the dough and begin to stretch it out. This can be done by placing the round of dough over the tops of your hands and letting gravity do most of the work, as you slowly spin the dough. Once the dough is roughly the size of the pan, place it down flat inside it.
Immediately, wet the dough with a few drops of water. This will help the sausage to adhere. Using your hands gently press the sausage mixture into the dough so that it sticks. Once the bottom side of the dough begins to char and blister, turn it over. Let it cook until the sausage becomes slightly crispy and the crust is pleasantly bronzed.
I won’t tell you exactly how to eat it, but you might spoon some of the chutney over it. Or, you could slice the chapati into smaller pieces and dip it into the chutney.