February 05, 2016

South Indian cooking class



A few weeks ago we took a South Indian cooking class at Spice Route, a restaurant we like located not far from Seattle, in Bellevue.  The class was described as including a tomato chutney, a sambar-lentil soup, and dosa. And a full meal. We sometimes cook Indian food at home, and enjoy eating in Indian restaurants, but have never had a close-up look at the food preparation via a class. I'm especially attracted to the unique flavors of South Indian cooking so this seemed like a good opportunity to enhance our knowledge and skills.



The class began with each of us briefly explaining why we became vegan — or for the one non-vegan — why she was taking the class. (Her family roots were in South India but she grew up in the Pacific Northwest and knew little about how to cook the traditional foods of her heritage.) Then the instructor began describing the cuisine(s) of South India, and the diverse, heavily vegan/vegetarian population living in the region. He talked about the ingredients and spices he was using, some of which you can see in the above photo. Someone asked if we should be taking notes or if we would be receiving information and recipe sheets, and we were told we didn't need to take notes as the recipes and such would be emailed to us. I prefer to have handouts at the beginning of class so I can add my own notes, which is what we usually encounter in cooking classes we've taken.



As the teacher spoke, he prepared the tomato chutney. I wish I could tell you what was in it but alas, we never received any post-class information.



He also cooked the sambar. Watching him cook, I realized I was missing a key ingredient in my spice collection — hing. He added quite a bit of hing to the food. He also seemed to be adding a large amount of salt, which he said was necessary to develop the flavor. Salt, like sugar, has addictive qualities, and the more you use, the more you want. Since I tend to limit my salt intake, the food in the class, delicious as it was, tasted very salty to me, and I was extremely thirsty after eating it. I don't like having to get past the salt taste to be able to experience the flavors of my food.



When I first read the class description, and saw dosa on the list, I was pretty excited, but once at the actual class, I realized it was a bit misleading. I LOVE masala dosa, and have always wanted to know how to make my own. I've read about making them but I thought a first-hand lesson would be helpful. Our teacher told us less than I already knew about the subject, and we got to watch someone cook dosa on the grill, not learn how to make them. Eating masala dosa is pretty great, but it's not the same as learning to make them.

On my plate you can see the foods cooked in class, along with idli, a wonderful thick, spongy pancake made from rice and Urad Daal, and a couple of bonus chutneys — the beige one is coconut chutney.  Like dosa batter, idli requires fermentation, and our teacher told us it was too hard for us to make it in class. I guess that means I'll have to teach myself.



In the above photo, you can see a cook making dosa on the grill.



The demonstration was great, the food was delicious, and I was stuffed, but I'm still a little miffed that we weren't given recipes and ingredient lists. I understand that traditional cooks don't measure ingredients, but even approximate amounts and recipe techniques and steps would would be helpful. I have no idea how to make any of the things we theoretically 'learned' to make in class. I guess it's back to my cookbooks, the Internet and blogs to find out what I want to know about South Indian cooking! The cookbooks I currently have are Dakshin Vegetarian Cuisine From South India by Chandra Padmanabhan, and a really oldie but goodie called The Yogi Cookbook by Yogi Vithaldas. Do you have a favorite Indian cookbook?

14 comments:

  1. What a fun evening! I can practically smell the spices and feel the heat from here. I'm bummed about the lack of recipes too, though... How else are you supposed to share the results with your hungry readers, after all? ;)

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    1. The evening was definitely fun — especially the part where we ate the delicious food, b ut yes, I feel sad that I don't have a written record.

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  2. Sounds like the cooking class was a bit of bust, seems like it was more of a demo than an actual class. Maybe it's their first time "teaching"? Have you checked out Vegan Richa's Indian cookbook? It's very good, I've only made a couple of things so far. She has a blog too.

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    1. They teach lots of classes, and some of the students had been to a few others. The class was good, but the lack of follow through is disappointing. Richa lives in Seattle, and yes, I'm familiar with her colorful blog! Haven't seen the cookbook but I'm sure it's really nice.

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  3. Sorry this wasn't up to snuff. More like a demo than a cooking class but I would have expected recipes, too. We have a few Indian cookbooks and the one we go to most often is 660 Curries. I should pull some of the others out. My latest one is Vegetarian Indian by Madhur Jaffrey. Very pretty but I haven't made anything from it yet

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    1. I have "World Vegetarian" by Madhur Jaffrey — we were once lucky enough to hear her speak! I don't have any of her Indian cookbooks, though. I also have "Lord Krishna's Cuisine" and "Flavors of India." I'll look for 660 curries.

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  4. What a bummer! I can see why you were disappointed. Who offers to teach how to make a dish, only to say in class that it's too hard to teach?

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    1. I may have misunderstood the class curriculum, thinking we were going to learn to make dosas. It takes several days to ferment the batter but I thought we'd have a more in depth discussion of what was involved and how to do it. We did get to eat them, which has its own rewards. :)

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  5. Hello Andrea! I am big fan of South Indian Food. I ate many south Indian dishes last month when I was in India. I also cook many Indian dishes here also.

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    1. I love the flavors of South Indian cuisine but I've never had the good fortune of experiencing it in India. Thanks for your comment!

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  6. It all looks good in any case, and sounds like now that you've mastered tortillas, fermented idli should be doable.
    I'm a big fan of Indian food, though i don't eat it often, and make it myself even less often. I do have hing, though! Although i'm never sure what to add it to, it's usually an afterthought for me.

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    1. It WAS good — more than good. I agree that idli and dosa should be doable, and some day I'll do it. Tortillas, though, are easy and fast to make while dosas require soaking, blending, fermenting ... It's all a matter of attitude correction. I'm working on it.

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  7. How strange not to give out the ingredients or recipes. I wonder what the thinking behind that was? It does look like a good meal, and hopefully the inspiration for more dosa experiments!

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    1. Yes, I agree that it seems strange. I wonder if all the classes are like this at Spice Route. I guess I'll have to use my cookbooks.

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