There was a time when I would slobber thinking of cured beef of any kind in a sandwich, but how things change. I like to think I have evolved due to ethical reasons, but I also think it has a lot to do with changing tastebuds and flavour appreciation.
My journey to eating more veggies is definitely surprising me more than I thought. The fact that I crave vegetables now makes me think that anyone can change the way they eat – once you expose your consciousness to new experiences, its funny how your mind opens up to things it never knew possible.
Recently on a cinema trip, as I picked a veggie option sandwich, I was actually thrown by how much I savoured every bite, I realised that non-meat sandwiches are much more satisfying. Texture, layers of varied flavour and an ability to retain moisture makes most vegetarian sandwiches a much better experience that a dried-out meat slice surrounded with wilted lettuce. When I think back to sandwiches growing up, in a meat-eating culture, my favourite was the street food burger sandwich, bun kebab. Found on the heaving roadsides of Karachi, cooked amidst car fumes and belligerent traffic, you’d spot a massive cast iron griddle over an old cooking oil can firepit, a lone man surrounded by burger buns and patties, who would religiously start cooking up this Karachi favourite from 9am every day. Potato and lentil patty, lashings of piquant tamarind and fresh coriander chutneys, salad, all in the middle of a brioche bun – this really was the dream sandwich to me.
When I think of dishes that I craved growing up, it is funny that they were always the ones where a vegetable was the star of the dish, bhagar-e-baingan (aubergine and peanut curry), tamatar ka cutt (tomato and curry leaf warm chutney), aalo ki bhujia (spicy potato fry) and palak paneer (cheese and spinach stir fry). Could it be possible that I loved vegetables more than I knew and that the meat eating was done by expectation? Maybe. But what I do know now is that though I do no like labelling myself, or restricting myself eating anything, I definitely define myself as a “default vegetarian”.
Sumayya’s spicy potato and lentil patty bun kebabs sandwiches
I’d crave these vegetarian kebabs-in-a-bun on hot afternoons – they define the explosive flavour of Pakistani street snacks, bringing together spiced tamarind and green chutney toppings. It came hot in a greasy brown paper bag, begging to be devoured and then washed down with Pakola – a ubiquitous, green, saccharin-sweet fizzy soft drink.
Preparation 30 minutes + 30 minutes soaking
Cooking 50 minutes
For the burgers
60g/2oz/¼ cup chana daal
3 Maris Piper potatoes
3 egg whites, beaten to soft peaks
4 tbsp ghee
6–8 tbsp vegetable oil
4–6 burger buns
6 tsp tamarind sauce (store bought)
6 tsp coriander chutney made with handful coriander leaves, mint leaves and one green chilli with a splash of water and salt
6 tbsp tomato ketchup or chilli sauce
1–2 tomatoes, cut into round slices
½ cucumber, cut into thin round slices
For the spices
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp chaat masala (store bought)
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp sea salt, or to taste
Soak the chana daal in a bowl of water for 2 hours, then drain and boil in enough water to cover them for 30 minutes, or until soft. Drain and set aside. Meanwhile, peel the potatoes and boil in a large saucepan until soft.
To make the patties, mash the potatoes, spices, salt and cooked daal together in a large bowl using a fork.
Using a tablespoon, scoop out 2 tablespoons of the spiced mash and form into 10cm/4-inch round burger-style patties. Put the beaten egg white into a shallow bowl. Heat 1 tablespoon each of ghee and oil (this should be enough to cook one patty) in a non-stick frying pan over a medium-low heat. Dip each patty into the beaten egg white and fry for about 2–3 minutes on each side until light brown. Place each cooked patty on a plate and cover with another plate to keep warm.
Once all the patties are cooked and ready to serve, cut the burger buns in half. Heat about ½ teaspoon each of the ghee and vegetable oil in a flat griddle pan or frying pan and fry all 4 sides of each bun until caramelised and crispy, about 2 minutes on each side.
Repeat until all the buns are fried.
To assemble the bun kebab, place a patty on the bottom fried bun, top with tamarind sauce, green chutney, tomato ketchup or chilli sauce, and a slice of tomato and cucumber.