Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Cooking Class

“I cracked the coconut earlier today and removed the meat,” said Santhoshi, the young Indian woman who was to teach our cooking class. Michelle and I were the first two pupils in her first class and she was sweating she was so nervous.
“Really?” Said I. “How'd you do that?” I asked. She indicated a large mortar and pestle sitting on her counter. 

Right then I knew that recreating the Indian meal that she had tailored specifically with my dietary guidelines in mind and was now going to spend the evening teaching me how to make was going to be impossible for me to execute. MY mortar and pestle is the right size to crack a walnut and my first thought was to use a chop saw. How do you get the meat separated from the hull? I have no clue. Maybe it just falls off or maybe you need a pry bar for that.

Santhoshi and Michelle cooking korma
The class continued. Santhoshi also had prepared a paneer dish that had marinated all day. Turns out it wasn't something she usually fed her family because it came from another part of the country. She felt, though, that all Americans expected it with their Indian meals. 

On to korma, the mouth-watering focal point of our Indian dinner. Lots of chopping is involved - it's full of veggies. I estimate the end product, which smelled beyond terrific, takes basically two-and-a-half hours to create - that does not factor in the time it takes to crack the aforementioned coconut or cut and marinate the paneer referenced above.

She also made Jeera - a savory, cumin-flavored rice - plus a sweet milk dessert called payasam. This dish included saffron, that deliciously expensive thread from the crocus flower. I've had a jar of saffron threads for longer than I've lived in South Carolina, but never found occasion to use it. That was about to change.

In our class environment the meal took a bit longer to prepare, largely because I kept butting in and asking irrelevant questions but also because we laughed a lot. Cooking classes can be fun!

Two hours into our class, I realized that neither of the students were helping do any of the work. That probably slowed us down a bit, too. I should have at least offered to chop the onions. I do that all the time at my house. Now it was time to fry the paneer.  I helped by stirring it. It was approaching 8:30 and I usually eat hours before that. Michelle and I began sneaking bits of extra coconut. I never realized how totally yummy raw coconut can be.

The Korma - I call it "heaven in a pot!"
The paneer smelled divine. Santhoshi had made a lot of it - an entire skillet plus some skewers that she put in the oven. We tried it. Then, the two students ATE the entire skillet of fried paneer. Wow! I didn't even think I liked the stuff. What was in that marinade?

Now comes the highlight of the evening. Time to try the meal. Our instructor plated the food with some naan (because naan is the world's best flatbread) and gave us a hearty serving of flavorful rice, about a half cup of korma and some of the oven-baked paneer. I began by sampling the korma and it was just sooooo tasty.  

Santhoshi had left the dining area to get her husband a plate of food (and that's a whole different story, believe me) and I asked Michelle to sneak us each another scoop of the korma. She complied. I ate that. My Lord, that stuff was downright divine! Then, as I was gobbling up the rice and cheese, our teacher left again. This time MICHELLE added more korma to our plates. It was seriously good. We could not get enough of it! I wanted to take home a giant doggy bag and eat nothing but korma for the rest of the month. 

When Santhoshi reappeared, she served us each another heaping cup of korma. Remember - we had already eaten a skillet of cheese and nibbled on coconuts and eaten THREE SERVINGS OF THE STUFF! 

We both ate it all. Every luscious bite. Neither of us were hungry at all now. In fact, by the time we'd finished, I was Thanksgiving full - but it was the best Indian meal I've ever had in my entire life.

I received the recipes in my email but who are we kidding here? Our sweet teacher even invited me to take a road trip to the Indian store to buy the more exotic ingredients. I optimistically bought a coconut from Harris Teeter that's already been scored for easy opening.

I need more instruction, that's what I need! I am thinking I will just enroll in the same Wednesday night class until I feel like I really can do it on my own. (That's code for never.)

Seriously, if you live in my area, take this class! At the end of it, you will eat the best Indian food of your life and that's totally worth the wait. Totally.  And if you learn how to make vegetarian korma, invite me for supper. Often.

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