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Learning to cook Indian, in India

INDIA | Wednesday, 14 February 2007 | Views [5894] | Comments [5]

I really enjoy Indian food but had never considered cooking it at home; after all if I wanted to eat it, it always seemed easier to walk out to an Indian restaurant or pick up the phone and order a take away, than go to the trouble of making it myself. Unlike say cooking Italian where the food is simple and familiar, Indian recipes always seemed so daunting, with their endless lists of ingredients which are usually a pinch of this or a gram of that, including many things I'd never heard of and all of which have to combined together in just the right way. Even if I was able to amass all these spices, it seemed such an effort - best to leave it to the experts.

When I arrived in Udaipur in Rajasthan, I found that quite a few places offered Indian Cookery lessons, so I it seemed a good opportunity to discover the mysteries of making a good curry, is it really that difficult and if so how can the local take away knock one together in twenty minutes? So I signed up for two three-hour lessons at two separate schools, as they both offered slightly different dishes.

My first class (1) was with Shakti, a chef who taught from behind a workbench with a gas stove and a chopping board. Helpfully he had mirrors arranged on the walls so that you could see what he was doing and what was cooking without having to stand up. As there were only three of us in the class we all had a go at donning the apron and having a go. Also provided was a printout with idiot-proof instructions to making the dishes. What was good about this school was that Shakti had an assistant who could prepare things while the lesson was going on, so there were no delays getting ingredients ready. The School had been running for seven years and when they first started all the pupils had to make the dishes from scratch; this meant that some classes lasted up to eight hours while the pupils had their turn boiling up their potatoes or whatever

Firstly we were introduced to the ‘Spice Box’ a large round metal tin with seven smaller tins inside that held the basic spices, which most dishes contain. Some of them are familiar, like Red Chilli Powder, while others like Fenugreek Seeds are not. Apparently they can all be bought in Indian delis around the world.

The base ingredients of most dishes are also quite simple, mashed onions and garlic and some of the basic spices cooked together in cooking oil make up most of the ‘gravy’ in Indian dishes; just adding tomato paste to this makes the base for tomato dishes. From there adding vegetables, meat or Indian cheese (Paneer) allows you to make many of the dishes Westerners are familiar with. We also learnt to make Korma, which uses the base spices and ingredients plus cream, ground seeds and coconut powder.

Other straightforward dishes that can be learnt in a three-hour lesson are Vegetable Cutlets, Biryani Rice and rotis (chapattis). Rotis are incredibly simple to make, just flour and water mixed into a dough and rolled out, then heated in a dry saucepan.

On the second day I went to another school (2) where the lessons were given by  Shree, a woman who had also been teaching for seven years and who claimed to be the first person in Udaipur to start cooking lessons. She had a kitchen classroom worthy of any TV chef, with a large cooking bench and spices and ingredients arrayed on the shelves around her. Unfortunately, a very much simpler recipe handout was only given to us at the end of the lesson, so we spent a lot of the time making notes. Also Shree did everything herself, so a lot of time as taken up with her preparing ingredients.

This lesson was more of a cookery demonstration than a lesson, the four us in the class didn’t get to do much apart from make our own Samosas. Again these are fairly simple, rolled out dough is folded into triangles and filled with a potato/spice mix and then fried (although they can be baked). Getting the edges to stick is the tricky part.

Again we had the introduction to the Spice Box, which slightly different from the day before, I guess you learn what you use the most as you do more cooking. We also learnt some old favourites like Dal, which again is the basic spice, onion/garlic mix plus lentils, plus another paneer (cheese) dish.

Of course at the end of the lessons you get to eat all this tasty food for lunch.

If you are interested in Cookery and are travelling in India I would recommend heading to Udaipur and trying a basic class. If you are really interested, both the schools I attended offered longer courses and speciality courses, such as for South Indian dishes. Surprisingly, for one of the world’s great cuisines I found it very difficult to find out information on Cookery Classes in India and Udaipur is the only city I’ve been to that has a choice of schools. I guess Indians take it all for granted. Also most Westerners believe that if you want Indian food at home, it’s a lot easier to pick up the phone and order that take away, than trying to make it yourself. Dare to be different.

 1 Indian Spice Box, 38 Lal Ghat, Udaipur,Ragastahan. Ph: 0091 294 2424713

 2 Sushma’s Cooking Classes, 35 Lal Ghat, Udaipur, Ragasthan. Ph: 0091 294 2420163

Tags: Food & eating

Comments

1

Hi Will, that's a good summation of our mornings cooking with Shakti! I still have it as a highlight of my India trip so far and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone with an interest in cooking. Good to meet you guys and good luck with the cooking!

  Marc Earnshaw Feb 22, 2007 6:53 PM

2

I recently found an interesting looking vegetable described as Indian Kerala in a supermarket but nobody knew how it should be cooked - or if indeed it should be cooked. Does anyone know? Thanks for your help

  Sunny Apr 7, 2007 6:53 PM

3

Will,

This article came up on a google search for info about cooking indian at home. It sounds like you had a wonderful experience. I will bookmark this info, so that when I eventually make it to India, I can take these classes. Thanks so much!!

  Jen Jun 9, 2007 5:18 AM

4

Hi

Glad to hear you actually tried to learn the secret art. I have been trying (in vain) to cook up a good Restaurant curry for years. I haven't the means to travel to Indian for the privilege either (unfortunately). Do you have the recipe handout online anywhere? I may be able to have a go myself.

  Tim, UK Aug 14, 2009 8:56 PM

5

Here the best recipes of preparation of dishes
of the Indian cookery are published!
Indian recipes. Indian cookery recipes.
http://indian--cookery.blogspot.com/

How to Make Vegetarian Indian food!
Vegetarian indian recipes. Indian vegetarian food
http://vegetarian-indian-cookery.blogspot.com/

  -Emily- Oct 9, 2009 6:56 PM

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