Stick with Kati Rolls

Kati rolls are a special sort of food that exists beyond spoken language. It needs no translation, even if this is the first time you’ve heard such a word. One glance and all the mysteries are revealed. The kati roll is fluent in delicious, which is the most compelling form of communication on everyone’s lips.

What are kati rolls?

Soft flatbread, lightly crisped on the outside, wraps around an aromatic and highly spiced filling; the epitome of indispensable street food. Kati rolls are strikingly similar to fajitas in construction or open-ended burritos when finished. Originally, skewer-roasted kebabs were at the heart of it all, beginning life not unlike our modern day hot dog. Thus, the name comes from the Bengali word kathi, which means “stick,” in reference to the bamboo sticks used for cooking the protein. The bread is merely the vehicle, but simultaneously an essential part of the whole build.

The most “complicated” part of making kathi rolls to preparing the chapati (AKA roti.) I say this in quotes because it’s an incredibly simple flatbread made from minimal, common pantry staples that’s well within everyone’s grasp.

Even if you struggle with bread baking, this is a great way to ease into the art, since there’s no yeast involved and you truly can’t over-knead it. Gently charred by pan-frying on the stove top , you don’t need to preheat your oven, either. The biggest struggle can be carving out the time on a busy weeknight, to which I say: Don’t sweat the details.

Traditionally, the flatbread of choice for making kati rolls has been paratha. Infused with buttery, flaky layers throughout, that particular unleavened dough does take a bit more finesse. I’d rather save such intensive labor and overall decadence for a stand-alone snack, ideally with a side of chutney or curry sauce for dipping.

What are good alternatives to homemade chapati?

While all flatbread are not created equal, you can absolutely make mouthwatering kathi rolls using a wide range of ready-made solutions with great success. For best results, brush them with oil and lightly griddle them on both sides before rolling to make them more flexible. A few options include:

It’s what’s on the inside that counts

Beef, lamb, and goat kebabs no longer need apply for this starring role. In fact, the most popular fillings are now largely vegetarian. Typically focused on cubes of fresh paneer that are masala-marinated and tossed with sauteed peppers, it’s a simple, adaptable combination that never gets old. Step up that umami quotient with Sugimoto shiitake for an even better experience.

Koshin shiitake mushrooms are perfectly suited for this application, bearing wide, long caps that are ideal for slicing into meaty strips. Instantly boost the overall flavor profile while incorporating a more satisfying, toothsome bite with that one effortless addition.

Are kati rolls healthy?

Keeping it vegan, cheese is out and tofu is in. Swapping the two lowers the fat, increases the protein, and removes cholesterol entirely. Factor in those high-fiber veggies and you’ve got a real superfood snack on hand!

Kati rolls are the ultimate meal prep hack

Designed to be eaten on the go, kati rolls are ideal for make-ahead meals, packed lunches, and traveling snacks. After assembling the rolls, wrap them individually in foil and freeze for up to 6 months. Whenever you’re ready to eat, either simply let them thaw out and enjoy at room temperature, or stick them in a toaster over or air fryer for a few minutes until warm and crispy. Keep chutney or hot sauce separate to apply as desired.

You don’t even need a recipe to make a kati roll. It could be made completely from leftovers, restaurant takeout, or prepared foods from the grocery store. Kati rolls are whatever you want them to be, whether they’re made 100% from scratch or with zero cooking involved. The only way you can go wrong is if you don’t start rolling in the first place.

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On the Lamb

In English, Rogan Josh sounds like it could be a proper legal name. It’s fitting for a dish with such distinct character and personality. They’re the person that everyone talks about candidly, in any company, with open admiration. Have you met my friend here, Rogan Josh, before? If you haven’t, I’d love to formally introduce you.

What is Rogan Josh/Roghan Ghosht?

Known today as a staple of Kashmiri Indian cuisine, the dish originated in Persia. The words themselves can be translated to “butter” and “stew,” although that strikes me as a curious way of burying the lede. Sure, ghee is applied generously for tempering the spices and sauteing the vegetables, but it’s far from the main character of this story. Meat is at the heart of this highly aromatic stew, typically in the form of lamb (mutton) or goat. Braised in a crimson red bath of chilies, low and slow, sometimes for hours before serving, I wonder if the “butter” here refers instead to how it becomes so tender that it practically melts in your mouth?

Plant-based meat has the clear advantage here. Seitan, AKA wheat meat, can cook in a fraction of the time while soaking in that intensely spicy broth like a high-protein sponge. Working in concert with equal parts Sugimoto Shiitake mushrooms, you get the hearty umami flavor and chewy caps for a perfect hearty bite. Donko shiitake have the ideal texture for this kind of application, both blending in seamlessly enhance to unique the rich palate of spices and standing out as the drumbeat moving the parade forward. Even the water used to soak and rehydrate the mushrooms gets put to good use, maximizing every drop of savory potential.

What Can Be Used Instead of Seitan?

If gluten is a concern, fear not. There are plenty of other plant-based proteins that would be excellent alternatives, such as:

  • Soy curls or chunks
  • Chopped tempeh
  • Cubed extra- or super-firm tofu
  • Vegan beef chunks or strips
  • Cooked chickpeas

Typically, the creamy component in this curry comes from plain yogurt, but I wanted something that would further bolster the lamb-like impact here. A big part of what makes game meat so distinctive is a unique grassy flavor, since they’re free to graze on wild grasses, of course. While that’s usually a negative aspect that cooks try to downplay, I’m bringing it back in to imitate that tasting experience. Hemp seeds have a similar earthy aspect, like a fresh bale of hay, which works in our favor this time around. Blended to a smooth consistency alongside tart, unsweetened yogurt, we get the best of all worlds.

What Does Rogan Josh Taste Like?

It’s hard to accurately describe the full volume flavor of the finished tomato curry sauce, but it’s one you’ll never forget. For the heat-seekers and hot sauce fanatics, this song is going out to you. Tune is melodious, haunting at first, like something familiar but long forgotten. Slowly the intensity grows, rising to a crescendo until you’re on the dance floor, electrified by the sensation. In other words, keep a tall glass of non-dairy milk nearby to douse the flames, or consider scaling back on the kashmiri chili powder in the first place.

What Can You Serve with Rogan Josh?

It would be a crime to let any of that luscious sauce go to waste. While it’s a complete dish that’s fully capable of standing alone on the dinner table, it’s even better with a side to soak up every last drop. My favorite options include:

To combat the fiery heat, some refreshing contrasting flavors help, such as:

  • Cucumber salad
  • Raita or plain, unsweetened yogurt
  • Mango lassi

Despite starting with melted coconut milk instead of clarified dairy, there’s no denying the downright decadent and impossibly buttery results. Simply having a well-stocked spice rack is more than half the battle in all good cooking. Knowing how and when to apply the umami power of shiitake mushrooms takes care of the rest.

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Love Triangles

Samosa will always have a place close to my heart. As a baby vegan, before I knew how to cook anything more complicated than plain pasta, frozen foods were my saving grace. One of my favorites was a frozen samosa wrap, an American-Indian mashup of a beloved potato pastry. Gently spiced, golden mashed potatoes gleamed from within a whole wheat tortilla, dotted with tender green peas for an ideal toothsome bite. They could be eaten toasted, microwaved, or simply thawed, which suited my haphazard meal planning perfectly. Though not the most authentic introduction, it opened my eyes to the rich world of flavors unlocked by Indian cuisine.

From that time on, samosas were always my safe food when eating out. When friends or family wanted their tikka masala or tandori, I knew I could count on the humble spud to fill buttery fried pastries, and in turn, my stomach. Little did I know that the original samosas, introduced to the Indian subcontinent around the 13th century by traders from Central Asia, had nothing to do with the starchy staple. In fact, the original samosa was stuffed primarily with sauteed onions, ground meat, peas, spices, and herbs. Sometimes pistachios, almonds, or chickpeas might enter the picture as a nod to their middle eastern inspiration, but there was not a single potato to be found.

Wondering what I might have been missing all those years, I was curious to get a taste of this protein-packed variant. It would be easy enough to take a traditional recipe and swap in a hyper-realistic vegan beef substitute, but I prefer to start from scratch. Naturally, I’m building the flavor foundation with Sugimoto shiitake, minced finely to approximate the rich, savory flavor and chewy texture of minced meat. Crumbled tempeh carries that flavor with an equally umami, fermented base.

Building those layers of nuanced, harmonious, and craveable flavors starts with tempering spices according to Indian tradition, but certainly doesn’t end there. Japanese ingredients like soy sauce and shiitake create a truly irresistible taste sensation. Folded into flaky pastry triangles, there’s no better snack, starter, or entree around.

How can you make quick and easy samosa?

If you’re daunted by pastry dough, don’t worry. There are plenty of quick-fix solutions for that outer wrapping, such as:

  • Phyllo dough
  • Puff pastry
  • Pie dough
  • Spring roll wrappers
  • Burrito-sized flour tortillas

Alternately, you don’t need to create a crispy outer layer to contain all that meaty goodness in the first place. Other uses for the filling sans pastry are:

  • Bun samosa (sandwiched between fluffy hamburger or slider buns)
  • Pizza topping
  • Chip dip
  • Bolognese sauce

Want to make a healthier samosa?

Though they’re traditionally deep-fried, I like to pan-fry or shallow fry mine. You can easily cut down on the added oil and fat even further.

  • Air fry at 370 degrees for 15 minutes, flipping after 10 minutes, until crispy and browned on both sides.
  • Bake in a conventional oven preheated to 400 degrees for 20 – 30 minutes, flipping halfway through, until golden brown.

How can you serve samosa?

Like any properly constructed hand pie, samosa are designed to be eaten out of hand. Though brilliantly flavorful as is, it never hurts to add a simple dipping sauce, especially as a cooling temperature contrast to the hot pastry. My favorite options include:

If you’d like to create a well-rounded plated meal with samosa as the centerpiece, that’s a snap, too! Just add one or more sides:

  • Leafy green salad
  • Chopped cucumbers and tomatoes
  • Rasam (spicy tomato soup)
  • Lentil dal
  • Basmati rice

While the younger me might be horrified at the distinct lack of potato content, the older and wiser me knows better. Amplified by the natural umami of Sugimoto shiitake mushrooms, this is my new go-to comfort food. Being homemade gives it the edge over store-bought frozen options, no doubt, but the concept itself transcends such a simplistic view. Once you taste bite through that flaky, crisp pastry and tear into that decadently moist, meaty beefless filling, sparkling with a vibrant palate of bright spices, you’ll understand why it’s the staple food that changed Indian cuisine as we know it today.

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On the Chopping Block

In this interconnected world separated by only wires and electrical impulses, it’s hard to imagine that any great invention could still fly under the radar, largely undetected by the masses. Yet, the chopped cheese sandwich exists exactly in this grey space. Wildly popular in its native New York bodegas, the rest of the world remains ignorant of such simple pleasures. I’m certainly not the first, nor last, to tout such an ingenious combination of bread, meat, and cheese, which is another point of controversy in itself. Also known as the shortened title of “chop cheese,” this fully loaded hoagie is just as heavy in cultural significance.

No one can pinpoint the exact origin of the chopped cheese sandwich, though it’s indisputably born and raised in the outer boroughs of NYC. Records date it back to about the 70s, but it’s quite possible such a creation existed before anyone thought to write such an experience down for historic preservation. Only after Anthony Bourdain made a fateful visit in late 2014 with his camera crew did the rest of the nation start taking notice.

Overnight, “upscale” versions appeared on New American menus, commanding steep price tags, well above actual market value. It was a slap in the face to all who cherished the concept, twisting it into a symbol of gentrification without any credit going to its true origins. To this end, I will never claim to make the best, most authentic, or most original rendering- But I can promise a darned tasty meal.

Born of scrappy persistence, the point of a chopped cheese sandwich is to take the bits and bobs, odds and ends, and maximize their flavor potential. That’s exactly why I save Sugimoto shiitake stems. A bit tougher than their supple caps, they need more finessing to enhance their textural impact, but still possess volumes of bold, rich flavor. Who could dream of throwing away such savory diamonds in the rough? They just need a bit more polishing to reach perfection.

In fact, I would never start with whole, fresh shiitake for such a dish. Did you know that these incredible mushrooms have two kinds of aroma? The first comes before eating, as the smell wafts from the cooked dish before you dig in. The second arrives with every subsequent bite, bumping up the flavor from start to finish. Only a long, slow soak can unlock the full potential for both of these stages, combining to create a fusion of umami intensity, far beyond range of your average meatless protein. Sugimoto is the only brand I’ve tried that truly captures this complete experience.

Back to the meat of the matter. Give me your rough, your affordable, your leftover proteins! Traditionally made from chopped hamburgers, this is where the sandwich gets its name. Anything goes here, whether you prefer something veggie-heavy, bean-based, or super beefy. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be fully formed patties. Finely minced homemade seitan, as seen here, was my favorite version yet, and I can’t wait to try it with everything in my arsenal, from rehydrated soy curls to tempeh. The magic is in the combination of juicy protein, melted yellow cheese, and crisp fresh vegetables piled high on a soft hoagie roll.

It would be easy enough to use prepared vegan queso or sliced cheese here, but I went the DIY route to make sure you’ll get that perfect, gloriously gooey bite every single time. Just whisk, heat, and pour. No nuts, no nonsense, and you can make it in minutes with basic pantry staples.

Speaking of awesome sauces, let’s not glance over the second layer of shiitake wallop. Hidden like a landmine right beneath the sliced tomatoes and shredded lettuce, a pinch of dried Sugimoto shiitake powder explodes with another round of bold flavor in the mixture of ketchup and mayonnaise. Such an unassuming spread is usually an afterthought, but leveraged properly, completes the flavor profile with a final round of richness.

It’s not fussy, definitely not fancy, and absolutely guaranteed to be messy, specifically designed to hit all the pleasure sensors in the brain with one giant wallop of umami. That’s the essence of what makes a chopped cheese sandwich so great.

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Best of the Worcestershire

It’s hard to pronounce, tough to describe, and even harder to find without animal products. Worcestershire sauce is a flavor enhancer that instantly boosts a wide range of dishes, but is still largely misunderstood.

Making a splash on the culinary scene in the mid-1800’s, this mysterious fermented condiment was invented in Worcestershire, England and debuted by the Lea & Perrins company. Still the leading brand on the market, few worthy competitors have stepped up to the plate. This leaves a gaping hole in the grocery aisle, especially for vegans and those with food sensitivities. That’s because the original formula uses anchovies as the not-so-secret ingredient. While plant-based alternatives do exist, they can still be elusive in mainstream markets.

It’s time we take Worcestershire back. For that distinctive, addictive umami flavor, nothing compares to the power of dried Sugimoto shiitake powder. Despite its earthy origin, this potent food booster doesn’t taste like mushrooms, so you don’t need to worry about your sauce tasting off-key. Enhancing the natural flavors already present rather than adding its own distinctive essence, it’s like magical fairy dust that you really should be using in all of your favorite recipes.

The full power of that umami dynamo is unlocked over time, which makes it especially well-suited for this sauce. Aged and lightly fermented, the savory qualities become even more robust over the course of a few weeks. Though you could very happily enjoy this sauce after just a day or two, your patience will be rewarded in a world of rich umami later on.

How can you you use your homemade awesome sauce? Some of the most classic examples include:

Commercial Worcestershire sauce tends to be much sweeter and more flat, whereas this homemade version is carefully balanced, tangy and tart, punchy and deeply nuanced. Once you give it a try, you’ll never want to go without it again. Luckily, it keeps almost indefinitely in the fridge, stored in an airtight glass bottle. Double or triple the recipe to stay stocked up at all times.

With the right pantry staples on hand, it’s easier, cheaper, and tastier to just do it yourself.

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Don’t Go Bacon My Heart

How can you make bacon that tastes even richer than pork? I’m not talking about other meats, but plants that are naturally imbued with deeply savory flavors. Concentrated umami brings out a bold world of intensely earthy, almost gamey notes that put animal products to shame. What I’m talking about, of course, are dried Sugimoto shiitake mushrooms.

All it takes is an overnight soak for these substantial caps to spring back to life. Transforming this humble fungus into America’s favorite breakfast food is as simple as switching out plain water for a boldly seasoned brine. Smoky, gently peppered, and subtly sweet, simple pantry staples transform mundane ingredients into something truly sublime.

Once plump and fully rehydrated, the larger, flatter Koshin variety have the perfect texture, primed for slow roasting in the oven. Gradually toasting in the low heat, the edges caramelize and become extra crispy, while the thicker centers retain a hearty, substantial, super chewy bite. It’s the best of all worlds, in both the plant and animal kingdoms.

Stock up on shiitake bacon, double down or even triple the batch, because there’s simply no dish that wouldn’t benefit from this umami bomb topper. Keep them in short strips, roughly chop them into bacon bits, or grind them into a fine powder to use as a savory sprinkle. Just a few of my favorite ways to use shiitake bacon include:

There’s nothing wrong with just munching on a handful of bacon as a snack, instead of potato chips or crackers. Unlike conventional options, there’s no cholesterol, very little fat, plenty of fiber, and zero cruelty.

For bacon-lovers and animal-lovers, this is the best recipe yet.

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