Perhaps one of the biggest perks of going for a long drive is to stop at a roadside dhaba and eat food with questionable fats added to it. By questionable, I mean the presence of vanaspati, that is, hydrogenated vegetable fat, also known as Dalda, which is popular as a cheaper substitute for ghee, widely used in restaurants of all scale around this country. However, nothing is perhaps comparable to the happiness one obtains, sitting on a narrow bench and consuming mounds of mysterious-looking gravies, swimming in fat, with thick tandoori rotis or naans. In fact, that would be the perfect bait for many to go out of the city for a quick spin.
Back in the 80s, Egg Tadka was sold in small eateries which would primarily serve 'fast food'. Punjabi restaurants were few and far between, and, for some reason, Tadka would be referred to as Punjabi, though the tadka consumed in Bengal is a far cry from what Punjab probably refers to as the same. Now no one really knows how the Tadka made its way to the heart of the city, but it was definitely quite popular as street food by the late 80s. One of the reasons for this may be the fact that with the rise of Punjabi restaurants in the city, the Tadka got a good deal of attention thanks to its relative cheapness and ability to serve many with little.
In the late 80s, Cafe Corner in Maniktala would serve up, apart from an excellent chicken chaap, the egg tadka. One would have to stand in a rather large cue, waiting for his/her turn to bark out instructions to the cashier, who would take the money, then ask the person to go to the respective counter to get their food packed. The most popular counter would be the Tadka counter, where options available would include plain tadka, butter tadka, egg tadka, chicken tadka, egg chicken tadka, keema tadka, and special tadka, which would feature egg, keema and butter together. At the age of nine, I had considered the last option to be one of the most decadent things ever created on this planet, and I still hang on to the belief firmly. Two eggs would be cracked and roughly beaten with a spoon in an aluminium cup, then dropped unceremoniously in a fiery hot pan full of almost smoking dalda. The man would constantly make new batches of tadka and would not rush, even if the order was a large one. The key to making a good tadka would be to make in small batches, he would say while whipping up a new batch.
"Adding the egg to virtually any recipe is a very Kolkata thing," said Asif Ahmed of Sanjha Chulha, one of the most prominent restaurant chains serving Dhaba-style food in Kolkata. "You see how the potato and egg were added to the Awadhi biryani, or an egg added to the chicken bharta, or an egg added to the basic mutton curry made it the mutton Dak Bungalow. Similarly, the egg tadka is something that's most often ordered by virtually every community who dines in our restaurants. See, it's simple - the egg is accepted by most people as a great protein addition to any dish, and when you are out at a restaurant, you want something different from what you get at home, so the egg tadka is ordered to share and eat with hot rotis."
Ideally, a good tadka should be silky, with strands of egg running throughout the entire bowl, rather than concentrating here and there. The key is to stir and scramble as one goes. The other factor is the decided smell of smoke and a bit of char, a result of the incredibly high heat in which it should ideally be cooked. This step is important, and when making the recipe at home, we tend to use a heavy-bottomed kadhai that is heated till it's really hot. The last thing to remember would be to arrange everything together before starting to cook the tadka. The actual procedural time of making boiled lentils into a silky tadka is very little, so preparing by chopping and keeping everything handy is the key.
One secret, yet vital ingredient that goes into making a good tadka is the addition of a generous spoonful of chicken/mutton curry gravy, which goes a long way to flavour the egg tadka. This is actually what makes a great tadka - at most dhabas, if it is an open kitchen, you would see someone add a very generous spoonful of the curry gravy to the pan while tossing the lentils. It really helps bring everything together and adds a really nice hit of umami that rounds off the dish. If you don't have curry gravy handy, a quick hack is to use the barest pinch of MSG while finishing the dish.
Also Read: 9 Indian Egg Recipes You Can Try At Home
How To Make Egg Tadka | Egg Tadka Recipe
For the Lentils
- 200 gm. whole (green) mung beans (soaked overnight or for a minimum of 8 hours)
- 50 gm. chana dal or rajma (soaked overnight, or for a minimum of 8 hours)
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1-inch ginger, cut into slices
- 3-4 garlic pods, peeled but left whole
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon chilli powder
- 2 teaspoon salt
For the Tadka
- 3 eggs
- 100 gm. finely chopped onion
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped green chillies
- 100 gm. finely chopped tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon coriander
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
- 1 teaspoon black pepper powder
- Half teaspoon amchur or raw mango powder (optional)
- 1 teaspoon kasoori methi
- Salt to taste
- 6 tablespoon refined oil or ghee
- 1 tablespoon ghee (to finish)
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped coriander leaves
- Put all the ingredients for the lentils in a pressure cooker with 3 cups of water, and pressure cook till the lentils are soft, simmering for about 8-10 minutes in a pressure cooker after it reaches full pressure, or about 8 whistles, whichever method works for you. Let the cooker cool down and open up on its own, then, using a potato masher or something similar, mash some of the lentils to ensure you have a slightly chunky, slightly pasty texture.
- Put a kadhai or a pan that can tolerate high heat over medium-high to high heat till its really hot, then add half of the oil. Beat the eggs with a pinch of salt and put it in the pan, scrambling vigorously till the eggs are mostly set, but not dry. At this point, remove and reserve.
- Add the rest of the oil to the pan, reduce heat to medium, and add the ginger and garlic first. Let the ginger and garlic cook for about 30-40 seconds, until they get fragrant (not burnt), then add the onion, and cook till the onions are translucent about 2 minutes. Then, add the tomatoes, and cook till the tomatoes are slightly soft, a further 1-2 minutes.
- Mix all the dry spice powders with 3 tablespoons of water. Add this to the frying ingredients. Let the spices cook till oil separates from it.
- At this point, you can chuck in a tablespoon or two of chicken curry gravy, but if you don't, a pinch of MSG works too, or you can skip it. Then, add the mashed lentils, turn the heat to high, then stir and cook till the lentils have dried up a little, about 2-3 minutes.
- Add the eggs, stir it in vigorously so that the egg is distributed well, then add the kasoori methi. Mix that in, cook for another couple of minutes till the kasoori methi is fragrant, then check for seasoning, add salt if required.
- Finish with a handful of chopped coriander leaves and a generous dollop of butter on top. Serve with phulkas or roti.
About Poorna BanerjeePoorna Banerjee is a food writer, restaurant critic and social media strategist and runs a blog Presented by P for the last ten years where she writes about the food she eats and cooks, the places she visits, and the things she finds of interest. She is deeply interested in culinary anthropology, and food history and loves books, music, travelling, and a glass of wine, in that order.