Thursday, February 28, 2013

Indian Cooking In Thailand

I loved the Indian Cooking class I took earlier this week and learned quite a bit about spices, cooking techniques and Indian food. 

Similar to Thai cooking, making Indian food requires a lot of preparation. There are a lot of ingredients in each recipe and everything needs to be cut, chopped, pounded, ground, etc. - onions, garlic, ginger, meat, fruits and vegetables. Many times, even the spices need to be prepped - ground, roasted, sauteed or fried. If you are not especially skilled in the kitchen, it can take forever just to prep the ingredients. In my opinion, it isn't worth the effort when Indian food is easily found and not expensive. In addition, the spices used in Indian food are extremely pungent and the odors fill the house and are absorbed into everything. Before we began the class, Susan, our instructor, had us put our handbags in another room and then she closed off the kitchen to the rest of the house.

This was Susan's "desk". 
We used a variety of spices. Some I was familiar with (cumin, garam masala, turmeric  cardamom, coriander) and some I was not (fenugreek leaf and seed, charoli). Obviously, Susan makes Indian food quite frequently as she had these industrial-sized containers of spices!
Susan had prepped quite a bit for us which saved us a lot of time and we were able to begin cooking almost immediately. I took a series of Thai cooking classes last year and the students did everything from beginning to end - even washing the vegetables and herbs. While it was nice to see the recipes come together in those classes, prepping for 3 or 4 dishes and then doing the actual cooking really made for a long day.

Susan showed us all of the spices we would be using in our recipes that day and we were able to sniff or taste if we wanted. Many of the spices were used in a few forms - seeds, leaves or ground into a powder. Susan first demonstrated to us how to make Daal. She used yellow lentils and added water, ginger, turmeric, salt, and cumin seeds before cooking in a pressure cooker. 

There were 8 of us taking the class so we split up into pairs and began to work on our first dish, chicken curry. My partner, Liane, and I opted to remove the skin from our chicken legs. I cannot stand to touch raw poultry - so slimy and yucky. Liane felt the same way so we just gritted our teeth and skinned. 

We sauteed the chicken in the curry sauce that Susan made in advance until it was golden brown.  
Then we added water, salted to taste and cooked some more.
In the photo below, you can see how nicely the sauce reduced. We stirred in chopped fresh coriander, added a little more salt and voila! 
The next recipe we were making was Palak Paneer (Spinach and Cottage Cheese). I don't know exactly what I was expected but it sure wasn't what we made.

Susan began by sauteing chili peppers (she cut them in half) and some herbs and spices (cinnamon, ginger, cardamom) in a little bit of oil. 
Susan added a TON of fresh spinach to the wok and sauteed until it wilted. The kitchen in the photo below was located right outside the house and it is where the maid cooks for the family. There was a complete kitchen inside as well. The outdoor kitchen had a two burner gas stove and this is where Liane and I cooked and where Susan demonstrated for us. 
 After the spinach cooked, we processed it in the blender until it looked like this...
We gathered the rest of our ingredients -the paneer cheese and the sauce (already made by Susan). The sauce was a simple mixture of tomatoes, onion and a little garlic. 
 First we heated up our spinach mixture.
We stirred in the paneer cheese. Paneer cheese is an Indian cheese - its texture was similar to tofu and it was very bland tasting. Susan said it is very easy to make but easier to buy! 
 And finished off with a splash of cream, a pinch of garam masala and salt to taste.
The last recipe we made was roti. Roti is a Indian bread eaten in South Asia that is made from stone-ground whole wheat flour (atta flour). Roti originated and is eaten in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh  Nepal (where Susan is from) and Sri Lanka. Indian roti bread is an unleavened bread while Indian naan bread is a bread leavened with yeast. The Indian roti is very different than the rotis I have eaten here in Thailand. The Thai rotis are crepe-like, filled with sweet ingredients and eaten for dessert.

The roti was very simple to make - a mixture of atta flour, water, salt and ghee (clarified butter used in India). The dough was kneaded for a few minutes and chilled. We actually made the dough earlier in the class and let it chill while we made the other dishes.
 We rolled the dough into a log and cut sections off to roll. 
 The dough was rolled into a circle, about 5-6" diameter. 
The roti was then cooked on top of the stove in a dry pan. After it was cooked, it was removed from the pan and placed directly on the open flame of the gas stove burner. This final step gave it a little char as well as "puffing" the roti up. 
I made another roti using a different method that Susan had shown us. I preferred the look of the round roti - this one looked like something out of "SpongeBob Square Pants." 
The Daal was finished as well and Susan served it over rice with peas, fried scallions and roasted cashews.
One of the women in the class arranged a plate with all of the items that we made and took the photo below. So pretty! And delicious.
Our class. Susan is in the white dress in the front row. 

Susan is going to try and organize a field trip for us to go downtown to the spice market and then to Little India for lunch. Everyone who took the class lives in Nichada and most of us have kids at ISB so I was a little surprised that I knew only one woman in the class. As small as Nichada feels (sometimes it is like living in a very small fishbowl), I guess it really isn't.  

I don't see myself cooking a whole lot of Indian food - I wasn't too crazy about the taste and I can't imagine the kids enjoying anything other than the chicken curry and roti. The spices and the dishes are so very different from those that we are used to cooking with and eating - even living in Thailand (so it isn't just a "western" thing). I think it would take a lot of tasting and eating a variety of dishes in order to get used to the Indian flavors and scents. 

Obviously, I will be scratching "Indian Food Cook" off my list of future career/job possibilities. I guess that, even if I don't find a new career path, it is worth it to take these classes and at least figure out what I DON'T want to do! 

Have a great Friday!

1 comment:

dhiraj said...

Mind blowing blog...Its very worth reading this blog, i liked it... thanks for sharing & looking forward for more 'India Food Recipes'