One of the first five or six cookbooks I ever got was An Invitation to Indian Cooking, by Madhur Jaffrey. (Two or three of the other books were gifts, at least one from my mother so I’d know how to cook, and one from a friend — The Starving Artist’s Cookbook so I could adapt and still cook on a budget. From the latter, I learned how to make the most awesome BBQ sauce from scratch. Hi, Margo.)
Anyhow, from the Jaffrey cookbook, I became a mean hand with cucumber raita and lentil dal. However, years later, I looked back at the printed recipe for the cucumber raita… discovering I’d transmuted it over the years. Still Indian, I believe, but now something more my own, I guess.
Recently, I followed a link (Bless the Internet) to the Silo in New Milford, Connecticut, which offers cooking classes. Hmm, I scratched my head. Taking a class in something could be amusing.
I wanted to find something that would stretch my skills and also be in a food category I like. I settled on Indian. (A fully-multicultural offering turned out to be geared to teens, of which category I haven’t been in ages…) A chef, Suvir Saran, was going to offer two classes this current weekend.
The first class, yesterday’s, was going to focus on using Americanized approaches to Indian techniques. Sounded interesting, but not enough of a real immersion, I thought. If I want fusion, i can figure that out on my own. So I signed up for today’s class. These would be pretty much more traditional menu items for Indians at home.
I am glad I did.
First off, I met a woman who’d come up from Virginia to attend this, dragging her sister down from Cape Cod. Even though I had never heard of chef Suvir Saran, she’d definitely had. He runs a restaurant in NYC named Devi. He has written two cookbooks, and is working on a couple more. He owns a farm with heritage goats and sheep and I may have missed other items, somewhere in New York state. He likes to criss-cross the country teaching people how to cook Indian food, and how healthy food is food you prepare yourself. Most Indian restaurant food in this country is heavy unlike back home, and not often-enough authentic.
There was a discussion about food while we ate what we created, centering around the fact that poor people in this country are fat, whereas in places like India and elsewhere, poor people are skinny. And in the current India, the younger generation is getting seduced by fats and processed foods. In our country, as he pointed out, people will buy the frozen cauliflour with cream sauce which is a lot cheaper than the fresh cauliflour in the produce section, and if they are poor, it is usually because this item is cheaper. He sees a disconnect here, since processed foods are very much more expensive in India than the fresh. (Of course, we welfare-subsidize many of the industries that bring us our processed “haven”.)
Okay, there are no photos in this post. I thought bringing a camera would be intrusive. However, I counted at least three cameras, one owned by Saran, who photographed all our presentations.
In the cooking classes sponsored by The Silo, people divy up to cook certain items. I and a cooking partner found ourselves preparing Tahiree, which is a rice pilaf with peas, potatoes (cauliflour) and whole garam masala. Whole in as that the spices that make up a garam masala were not ground up, with a few exceptions. I will say now that while dining on this, I did not ever bite into a big chunky thing I regretted. We also assisted in slicing/dicing for the stir fried mushrooms with onions and tomatoes dish, one of the best dishes ever. We got to watch this during the cooking stages. Once all the ingredients are assembled (sans tomatoes and cilantro) the base is cooked down until nearly all the water from the mushrooms is extruded and evaporated. Throw in the tomatoes and the tomato sauce, and do the same thing. A question was asked if the awesomely wonderful shitake mushrooms could be substituted for the regular white mushrooms in this dish. Saran thinks they would overpower it, and I can see he’d be right. Save your shitake for some other dish.
Saran says once you add an acidic component, cooking stops, even if the heat is still on — at this point it is an infusion of flavor rather than real cooking. This conflicts with the ceviche principle that acid cooks the fish in those ceviche dishes, without any heat at all. I didn’t get around to asking him about this, too much going on.
I’ll talk more about some of the individual items we learned to cook today in my next post. I am sincerely glad I did this, even with the pop of $85. I’ve even learned a few inadvertent things: people who cook their own food are invariably friendly, for one. That for sure is worth something!