Chat and Chai — Nigella Seed Crackers
Remember the tea kettle – it is always up to its neck in hot water, yet it still sings! ~Author Unknown
Last Saturday, I was invited to a fundraiser over Chat and Chai. A room full of lovely women, some dressed in Indian attire were there to raise money for this noble cause in southern India. Colorful sarees and scarves were star of the show. They were displayed elegantly on a table for silent auction, creating a very exotic ambiance. A few guests were somewhat familiar with the Indian culture; whereas, others were inquisitive to learn about it. From food to draping of a saree, it was an enriching experience for many.
After viewing a short film about the cause, it was time to indulge in some Indian inspired food–curried deviled eggs, lentil salad, tea sandwiches, and a variety of sweets and snacks. Table was full of mouth-watering choices making it difficult to resist the temptation. Finding my way through this delicious spread was one big challenge. And I knew I wasn’t the only one facing this dilemma. Finally, a warm cup of fragrant chai completed the feast.
On my way back I kept thinking about mathri or mathi, a savory indian snack. This salty and flaky cracker is laced with herbs and spices. Carom or nigella seeds add a flavorful punch, and black peppercorns give it a spicy bite. Traditionally, it is deep fried. The size and thickness can vary–large discs or bite size. It is a perfect tea-time snack paired with a cup of sweetened chai.
I have fond memories of making mathri with my great grandma. Sitting at the kitchen table, she used to flatten the dough balls with the heel of her palm. She did not use measurements, rolling pins, or fancy cutters. Just a pinch of this and a handful of that was the way to go for her. Her best tools were her hands– to measure, knead, and flatten the dough. At the same time, the wisdom and the stories that she shared while making this snack made the experience even more special. These are the moments most of us remember for years to come– rustic and soulful. And they linger in my memories as well even decades later.
Inspired by my memories, I decided to make mathri today with a few of my own twists. Keeping them healthy, I used whole wheat pastry flour instead of regular white flour. Another detour from the original method was to bake them instead of frying–a guilt free indulgence. And they turned out quite delicious!
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
11/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nigella seeds
1/4 teaspoon carom seeds
coarsely ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 -3/4 cup water
In a stand mixer with paddle attachment, add flour, baking powder, salt, nigella seeds, carom seeds, black pepper, and oil. Mix on low speed. Slowly add water to make firm dough. If needed, bring the dough together with hands and knead to form a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes. You could make the dough in a food processor or by hand.
Roll the dough on a floured surface to 1/8 -inch thickness. Cut in desired shapes. Bake at 325 degrees F for 20-25 minutes or until bottom is golden brown.
Cool completely on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container.
Serve with a hot cup of chai.
Makes approximately 3-3 1/ 2 dozen small crackers.
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