What defines Houston’s restaurant scene? A better question might be: what doesn’t? The city, writes Francine Spiering in her new cookbook, Houston Cooks: Recipes From the City’s Favorite Restaurants and Chefs, is “a proud and colorful culinary tapestry, a conflation of gastronomical diversity and local and international food traditions.” Houston’s restaurants are seemingly infinite, covering countless cuisines, regional variations, and specialties. And while a comprehensive work on the city’s massive, sprawling, diverse cuisine would span volumes, Houston Cooks: samples well, profiling fine-dining restaurants, strip mall takeout joints, and everything in between.
Spiering has eaten her way across the biggest city in Texas in her role as editor of Edible Houston, and now she brings her expertise to this collection, published by Canadian press Figure 1. Forty restaurants from across the area are featured, each with a handful of signature recipes. Some recipes are specialties of the chef; others are time-honed Houston classics.
Some examples: Theodore Rex chef Justin Yu shares recipes for happy hour: a smoked Gulf fish spread and a Grape Expectations cocktail, garnished with a pickled grape. Mala Sichuan Bistro’s Cori Xiong gets spicy with Sichuan Peppercorn Rooster and Mala Pot-Roasted Tilapia. Ryan Savoie, of Saint Arnold Brewing Company, shares the beer garden’s Chicken-Fried Pickled Green Tomatoes and crawfish rolls. And chef Alex Padilla, of the Original Ninfa’s on Navigation, offers Octopus Tacos with Coleslaw and Chipotle Aioli, with a side of queso asado for good measure.
These are restaurant recipes, but many are doable for home cooks. Take, for example, this Carrot Roti with Cilantro Chutney from Pondicheri chef Anita Jaisinghani. It’s a perfect dish for early spring, with in-season vegetables paired with bright flavors. “Roti is quintessential unleavened Indian flatbreads, and every region has its own version,” she writes. Atta flour, which is available at Indian supermarkets, is the best flour to use. It can be replaced with whole-wheat pastry flour or any other fine-ground wheat flour (regular whole-wheat flour is too coarsely ground).
Jaisinghani recommends it as a breakfast, but I also found it to be a perfect vegetarian midweek dinner. Either way, you’re going to want to double the cilantro chutney in order to have plenty of leftovers. Serve it with roast chicken, tortillas, sautéed vegetables, scrambled eggs—you name it.
Carrot Roti With Cilantro Chutney
For the cilantro chutney:
2 large bunches cilantro, rinsed under cold running water
1 serrano pepper, stemmed, plus extra to taste
1/2 Granny Smith apple, unpeeled, cored, and sliced
1/2 cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
1 cup plain full-fat yogurt
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon salt, plus extra to taste
- Cut off and discard bottom 4 inches of cilantro stems. Shake cilantro to remove excess water and set aside.
- In a blender, blend serrano pepper, apple, peanuts, yogurt, lemon juice, and salt on low speed, slowly increasing speed to high, until mixture is completely smooth. Add cilantro, half a bunch at a time, and blend until smooth. Season with more salt and serrano. (Makes 2 cups.) Store chutney in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
For the carrot roti:
2 cups atta flour, plus extra for dusting
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, grated
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon clarified butter (ghee), plus extra for spreading
1 teaspoon ajwain (carom) seeds (see note)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Plain yogurt, to serve
Cilantro chutney (recipe above)
4 fried eggs, to serve (optional)
Note: Ajwain (or carom) is an aromatic spice popular for its digestive benefits (just one of its many benefits, in fact). The seeds are used whole (raw or roasted), ground into a paste, or soaked to make ajwain water.
- In a mixing bowl, combine flour, onion, carrot, cilantro, ghee, ajwain seeds, salt, and pepper. Add 1 cup water and knead until mixture turns to a soft dough. Add more water (1 tablespoon at a time) as you go, kneading until the dough naturally forms a supple ball. Knead oil into the dough until smooth and pliable. Shape into a ball, then let sit for 30 minutes to relax the gluten. Divide into 8 equal portions and shape each into a small ball.
- Preheat a frying pan over medium-high heat.
- Roll a portion of dough into a 6-inch circle. Place in the pan and cook for 2 minutes or until bubbles form on the cooked side. Flip roti and cook for another 2 minutes or until bubbles form. Spread ghee on the top side and transfer to a dish towel–lined plate. Wrap to keep roti warm and repeat cooking process with the remaining roti dough. Serve immediately with a dollop of yogurt, cilantro chutney, and a fried egg on the side.
Excerpted from Houston Cooks by Francine Spiering. Photographs by Chris Brown. Copyright 2019 by Francine Spiering, recipe copyright by Anita Jaisinghani of Pondicheri. Excerpted with permission from Figure 1 Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.