The San Juan Daily Star
Rolex (an egg wrap, not a watch) is the breakfast to change your mornings
By Yewande Komolafe
I once believed that weekend mornings were a time for elaborate culinary rituals.
After a quick jaunt to the farmers market for fruits and herbs, I would prepare biscuits or scones from scratch, while jazz or Afrobeat filled the air. Now, with a 4- and 1-year-old shaking me from sleep seven days a week, weekend breakfasts often begin the night before when I pull something from the small stand-alone freezer I keep in the laundry room.
It’s in that holy grail of an appliance that I store an assortment of doughs, vacuum-sealed meats, beans, sauces and breakfast staples I made or bought, like a whole shelf of chapati from Patel Brothers in Edison, New Jersey. Each month, with the kids napping in the car, I drive across the river from Brooklyn to stock up on dozens from the in-house bakery. If I take a few out of the freezer on Friday night, we’ll have rolled eggs on Saturday morning.
Say “rolled eggs” two or three times, and you’ll hear what you’ll be making: eggs, accented by ingredients you have on hand, rolled into a chapati. But say “rolled eggs” fast enough, and the -ed ending drops away, becoming “roll eggs.” Say it faster, a few more times, and you may hear “rolex,” both a luxury watch brand and the name of a popular Ugandan street food.
A rolex can be as elaborate or as superficial as you need it to be.
“There is freedom to experiment,” said Sophie Musoki, the Ugandan food writer and photographer who produces the podcast “Our Food Stories.”
“Fry the egg with onion, cabbage and, if you want, tomatoes,” she said. The tomatoes can be cooked or raw, “so there’s an element of freshness and acidity. A standard rolex doesn’t require much.”
But further research into the rolex, beyond its history, heightened my curiosity about the chapati itself, the four-ingredient flatbread that anchors the rolled snack. In its original form, it’s unleavened and made from whole-wheat flour, but as its reach stretched beyond India and across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and East Africa, myriad versions emerged, playing on how it’s cooked and even the ingredients used.
In all my years as a restaurant and test kitchen cook, I’d never made one. I considered them the domain of other cooks. However, this past month, I made chapatis from scratch, with guidance from recipe developer Kiano Moju. An owner of Jikoni Studios, Moju shared videos she took of her Maasai grandmother, Agnes Kiano Kasaine, kneading, then rolling and cooking off chapatis in the soft lighting of her kitchen on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya.
My version, adapted from Moju and Kasaine’s recipe, turned out thin, flaky and full of delicately bound layers, fresh off the pan. In about an hour, I had replenished my freezer’s supply. With some diced tomato, onions, shredded cabbage, chile and, of course, eggs, I watched my rolex come together and felt a wave of nostalgia for weekends I once knew. Then, it was time to put them into the small hands of my two young daughters, and to witness their world of small delights.
Rolex (Vegetable Omelet and Chapati Roll)
A popular snack on the streets of Kampala, Uganda, the rolex is a vegetable omelet rolled up in a chapati, its name a cheeky reference to the watch brand. A rolex can be as elaborate or as simple as you need it to be. Ingredients always include a chapati (homemade or store-bought) and eggs studded with vegetables and cooked in a skillet. At its most basic, a rolex will have diced onions, shredded green cabbage and often green peppers. Tomatoes can be added in cooked or raw for a pop of acid. Minced chiles will add a bit of heat, and fresh chopped cilantro is a lovely garnish. These are all optional, of course. In Kampala, the rolex is often made with the ingredients the maker has on hand.
Yield: 2 servings
Total time: 25 minutes
4 large eggs
Salt and black pepper
2 (10-inch) chapatis, homemade or store-bought
2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as grapeseed
1/4 cup minced yellow onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh tomato
1 serrano, seeded and minced
1/4 cup thinly sliced green cabbage
1. Crack 2 eggs into a small bowl, season with a pinch each of salt and pepper and whisk together to combine.
2. Heat a small nonstick skillet over medium. Heat a chapati on both sides for up to 1 minute. Slide onto a plate and cover with another plate or clean kitchen towel to keep warm. Repeat with the second chapati. Stack on the warmed chapati and cover.
3. Over medium, heat 1 tablespoon oil in the skillet and add half the onion. Cook until just beginning to soften, about 1 minute. Add half of the tomatoes, half the serrano and half of the cabbage. Cook, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes are soft but not breaking down and the cabbage wilts, about 2 minutes. Season with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Add the cracked eggs and swirl the pan to distribute evenly over the surface. Shake the pan gently, tilting it slightly with one hand, while lifting the edges of the omelet with a spatula in your other hand. (This lets the eggs run underneath during the first few minutes of cooking.) Once the eggs are set on the bottom, flip, using the spatula, so that the other side cooks, about 1 minute.
4. Move a chapati to a plate and top with the eggs. Starting with the edge closest to you, roll the chapati over the eggs, tightly into a log.
5. Crack the remaining 2 eggs, season and whisk. Repeat Steps 3 and 4 with the other chapati. Serve both immediately while still warm.
An Indian staple, the chapati is also found in the cuisines of Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, East Africa and beyond. Across the Indian diaspora, this four-ingredient flatbread can vary in its cooking technique, texture and the types of fat and flour used. Adapted from recipe developer Kiano Moju and her grandmother, Agnes Kiano Kasaine, this flaky Kenyan version, sometimes nicknamed “chapos,” uses all-purpose flour instead of atta, a whole-wheat flour, and stretches portions of the dough thin enough to see your hands through. Generous spoonfuls of oil are rubbed over the sheets, which are then rolled over themselves to create delicate layers. You’ll find this dough benefits greatly from periods of rest, which relax the gluten, making it easier to stretch and roll. Moju describes the chapati making process as “communal.” So gather your ingredients and line up a few helpers.
Yield: 8 chapatis
Total time: 2 hours
4 cups/520 grams all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons/13 grams coarse kosher salt (such as Morton)
2 tablespoons neutral oil (such as grapeseed, sunflower or canola oil), plus 1 cup for brushing and frying
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Make a well in the center and add in 2 tablespoons oil and 1 cup water. Using your hands, mix the dry and wet ingredients into a shaggy dough. Add more water 1 tablespoon at a time, combining until the dough comes together into a slightly sticky, uneven ball (you’ll use a total of 6 tablespoons additional water). Transfer the dough to a very lightly floured work surface and knead into a smooth ball, about 8 minutes. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rest. The dough will relax and should spring back when poked lightly, about 30 minutes. Brush a small sheet pan or large plate with a generous amount of oil, and set aside.
2. Place the dough on the work surface and cut into 8 even pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and place on the oiled sheet pan. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel. Let rest for 10 minutes.
3. Place a dough ball on a lightly floured work surface and dust the top with some flour. Using a rolling pin, pat the dough down, then roll into a 4-inch-round piece. Pick up the dough and place it on the back of one hand. Use the other hand to stretch the dough by gently tugging along the edge of the round. Turn the dough an inch in a clockwise direction after every pull to keep the round shape and evenly stretch the piece of dough until it is thin enough to see your hand through it. Don’t worry if the piece rips: Pinch the tear back together and try to stretch carefully. Place the stretched dough sheet on your lightly floured work surface (you should be able to see the work surface through the dough) and use the rolling pin to roll over the outer 1/2-inch edge so it’s as thin as the rest of the sheet. The sheet should have a 13- to 16-inch diameter.
4. Generously brush the surface of the sheet with oil and lightly sprinkle with flour. Starting with the edge closest to you, roll the edge of the sheet over itself, into a log. You should end up with a long rope. Lift the rope and squeeze along its length to press out any air bubbles and stretch it until it’s almost double in length, about 22 to 28 inches.
5. Starting at one end, roll the rope into a snail-like spiral and tuck the last 1 1/2 inches of the rope underneath. Place the spiral back on the tray, cover, and repeat the process with the remaining dough balls.
6. Place a spiral on a floured surface, and sprinkle flour over the top. Roll into a 9- to 10- inch round, turning about an inch clockwise after each roll to maintain its round shape. Move the round aside, making sure the surface is well floured to avoid sticking. Roll out the remaining spirals and stack them, flouring the top of the stack before placing another round on top.
7. Heat a 10- to 12-inch skillet (nonstick, steel or a seasoned cast-iron) over medium. Brush the pan with oil, place a round in the pan and cook until the surface looks dull and the dough begins to puff, about 1 minute. Brush the surface of the dough round lightly with oil and flip to cook the other side for 1 minute. Brush again with oil and flip to brown the original side, and cook for 1 minute. Brush lightly with oil and flip again to brown the second side, and cook for 1 minute. The total cook time should be about 4 minutes, and both sides should be golden brown in spots. Move the cooked chapati to a plate, cover with a kitchen towel or another plate to keep warm. Brush your pan with oil and repeat the cooking process until all the dough rounds are cooked off.
8. Enjoy the chapati immediately while still warm. Store any leftovers at room temperature, wrapped or sealed in an airtight bag for up to 24 hours or frozen for up to 1 month. To reheat, defrost and warm up in a skillet over medium-low heat.