A Kati Roll is a popular street food from one of my favorite cities on the planet: Calcutta, or Kolkata, as it is now called.
There is something about big, buzzing cities that really appeals to me. And Calcutta, one of India’s most crowded and oldest cities, has a million life stories in its narrow, old lanes, its lingering memories of the British colonization of India, and its communist politics that has always set it apart in the world’s largest democracy.
I’ve had a long association with the city. When I lived in Bombay, I worked as a correspondent for Calcutta’s biggest daily, The Telegraph. It was an exciting time, and one I’ve written about before in this Pav Bhaji post, although it was cut short when I moved here to the United States to go to grad school. I actually only visited Calcutta years later, and I found the city to be as wonderful as I had ever imagined it, or even more so. The traffic was overwhelming, the streets nearly as crowded as rush hour in Bombay, and the people friendly and welcoming.
And there was the food.
The cuisine of West Bengal, the state that’s home to Calcutta, is well known around India and perhaps the world, but Calcutta has its own specialties, like the Chinese food served at the many restaurants in India’s only Chinatown, and dozens of varieties of lipsmacking street food.
One such street food is the Kati Roll, or Kathi Roll.
The Kati Roll is said to have originated at a restaurant in Calcutta, and it is made of a flaky wrap stuffed with spicy kababs cooked on a skewer (a kati). There are many versions of it — vegetarian and not– cooked in restaurants, streets and homes across India, and in Bombay, the Frankie — a popular street food — bears a close resemblance to a Kati Roll. But today, I am putting my own vegan spin on this Calcutta classic with my Tofu Kati Roll.
For the filling, I baked the tofu until it was really chewy. Then I tossed it with some fresh green bell peppers, mushrooms, onions and tomatoes. A Kati Roll wrap is usually made with refined flour and coated with an egg wash to make it extra flaky. I used whole wheat flour and a tofu-chickpea-flour wash for the crispiness that worked like a charm.
Try it. You will be singing for Joy.
- For the wrap:
- 1 cup whole-wheat flour
- 1 tsp salt
- Water for kneading
- Oil spray
- ¼ cup firm tofu
- 1 tbsp besan or garbanzo bean flour
- ¼ cup non-dairy milk
- For the filling:
- 1 14-oz block of extra-firm tofu
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
- 2 tsp grated ginger
- 1 tsp minced or grated garlic
- 2 medium tomatoes, diced
- 1 large green bell pepper, diced
- 2 cups button mushrooms, quartered or halved
- 2 tsp coriander powder
- ¼ tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp chaat masala (available in Indian stores. This is what gives a lot of Indian food its unique flavor, but If you absolutely can't get it, use some lemon juice)
- Salt to taste
- Make the wrap:
- Blend the tofu, chickpea flour and nondairy milk into a smooth, thick paste. If needed, add some more milk. Set aside. This is your "egg" wash.
- Mix together the flour and salt and then add enough water to knead into a soft, pliable dough. Set aside for at least 30 minutes.
- Divide the dough into six pieces.
- Roll each piece into a smooth ball, flour the surface and your rolling pin, and roll into a circle about four inches in diameter.
- Spray lightly with oil, fold it once and then once more, and then roll out into as thin a circle as you possibly can. Mine end up about eight inches in diameter.
- Heat a griddle and place the wrap on it. When bubbles start to appear, brush on the "egg" wash with a pastry brush. Spray over it lightly with oil and flip the wrap. Let it cook until golden-brown spots appear on the underside. Remove and set aside, covered with a kitchen towel.
- Make the filling;
- Place the tofu in a microwave-safe dish and zap two minutes. Drain out accumulated water, flip the tofu brick over, and zap another two minutes. When the tofu is cool enough to handle, cut into six slices. Place the tofu slices in a baking pan sprayed with oil. Lightly spray the top of the tofu. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven about 45 minutes or until the tofu is really chewy. Cut into a small dice and set aside.
- Heat the oil. Add the cumin seeds and, when they sputter, add the onions and saute, stirring frequently, until the onions start to brown.
- Add the ginger and garlic and stir-fry for a few seconds.
- Add the tomatoes, coriander and cumin powder, paprika and turmeric. Let the mixture cook until the tomatoes lose most of their moisture and become a couple of shades darker.
- Add the bell pepper and mushrooms and tofu and mix thoroughly. Let it cook until the peppers are slightly tender but still have a bite and all the moisture in the mixture has evaporated. Add the chaat masala or lemon juice and salt to taste.
- Turn off heat.
- Place some filling in the center of the wrap, add some raw onions or spring onions and tomatoes for an authentic experience, and wrap the Kathi roll tightly. Place seam side down, cut into two or three, and serve warm.