When Chetna Makan was growing up in central India, one sandwich showed up more often than any other in her and her classmates’ lunchboxes: dahi toast, a grilled number filled with cabbage, bell pepper and more, bound in yogurt.
“Also, it’s so hot in India, it’s quite a cooling sandwich,” she said, adding that it gets its creaminess from yogurt (dahi) rather than “mayo, which is completely unhealthy. You can add vegetables, and it’s just crunchiness you can taste.”
Makan has written several cookbooks since making it to the semifinals of “The Great British Bake-Off” in 2014 and winning a holiday version of the show in 2016, and the most recent is “Chetna’s Healthy Indian Vegetarian” (Mitchell Beazley, 2020). Her father turned vegetarian a few decades ago, her husband comes from a vegetarian family, and so the couple and their two children might have chicken a couple times a week, but “mostly eat veg.”
“People think vegetarian is boring, the same old beans, the same old cauliflower,” she said. “But it’s much, much more.”
These sandwiches prove her point, and also show that flavorful vegetarian cooking doesn’t need much effort, either. You chop the cabbage and bell pepper, plus a chile and some cilantro, grate a carrot, and stir in thick yogurt, salt and pepper.
The crowning touch is in the skillet, where black mustard seeds sizzle in the small bit of butter you use to fry the sandwiches, adding another pop of flavor to the creaminess and crunch of my new favorite lunch.
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DAHI TOAST (GRILLED YOGURT SANDWICHES)
These sandwiches, a childhood staple in India, are simple to prepare yet make a stunningly delicious lunch, snack or party nibble. Serve with ketchup or Indian chile sauce, if you like. They don’t have to be eaten hot, but they are best the day they’re made.
1 cup finely chopped green cabbage
3/4 cup grated carrot (about 1 medium carrot)
1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1 small green chile (Thai, serrano or jalapeño), stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
3/4 cup (6 ounces) plain whole milk Greek-style yogurt
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 slices white sandwich bread
4 teaspoons butter (preferably salted)
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
Ketchup or Indian chile sauce, for serving (optional)
In a large bowl, toss together the cabbage, carrot, bell pepper, chile and cilantro. Stir in the yogurt, salt and pepper until thoroughly combined. Taste, and season with more salt, if needed.
Place 4 slices of bread on your work surface and divide the yogurt mixture evenly among them. Top the sandwiches with the remaining slices of bread.
Heat a medium frying pan or griddle over medium heat until hot. Add 1 teaspoon butter and 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds. Let them sizzle for a few seconds, then place two sandwiches in the pan (on the mustard seeds) and cook until golden and crispy on the bottom, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn them over, add another 1 teaspoon butter, and cook until golden on that side, 1 to 2 minutes.
Transfer the sandwiches (and any stray mustard seeds) to a plate and repeat with the remaining sandwiches. Serve them whole or cut into triangles, with ketchup or chile sauce, if desired.
Nutrition | Calories: 299; Total Fat: 8 g; Saturated Fat: 4 g; Cholesterol: 15 mg; Sodium: 616 mg; Carbohydrates: 31 g; Dietary Fiber: 3 g; Sugars: 6 g; Protein: 9 g.
Adapted from “Chetna’s Healthy Indian Vegetarian” by Chetna Makan (Mitchell Beazley, 2020).