February 05, 2016
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?