Part 5 – The Cooking
As the cutting of the vegetables came to an end, the guest’s attention turned towards the melting ghee and peanut oils. Enthusiasm grew amongst all. It was time for frying, steaming, mixing and smelling the aroma around the kitchen ! All most none of them had any idea on what the end product would look like. For many, this was their first attempt in cooking Indian cuisine. What were we planning to make?
Moghul-style Cumin-flavoured Rice (Jeera Pulao)
Punjabi-style Tomatoes, Peas and Home-made Curd Cheese (Matar Panir)
Gujarati Fenugreek-scented Pumpkin Curry
Mixed Vegetables in Creamy Gujarati-style Karhi Sauce
North Indian Puffed Fried Breads (Poories)
Hot, Sweet, Spicy & Sour Eggplant Pickles
Fresh herb-laced Garden Salad
Saffron Semolina Halava Pudding with Flaked Almonds & Cardamom
We would cook most of our stuff from ghee. People stood frozen when they saw the amount of ghee placed in the giant wok. “All that ?! Oh My God ! We better watch our weight…is it healthy?“, many cried out. “Nothing to worry! It’s good for you!,” yelled back Kurma prabhu with fullest confidence. Our much anticipated poories would be born from that ocean of oil. Sorry, ghee.
Everyone’s favourite. Another dairy product. Cheese. To be more specific, paneer. Chef Kurma emptied milk and then yogurt into a big vessel for the making of paneer. He said this was the best way and better than using rennet. He then proceeded to explain the origins of rennet, which surprisingly many of the guests weren’t aware of. Rennet is a complex set of enzyme produced in the mammalian stomach to digest mother’s milk. The most sought after type of rennet is from calves and is a by product of veal production. So much violence. Coagulating milk through yoghurt is better. After much stirring, the mixture turns into solid (curd) and a slight green liquid (whey). We then drained off the whey using a very thin cloth and placing some additional weight on it. We used some huge canned tomato cans as weights. After few minutes, the white cheese was removed from the cloth and cut into large chunks. People were impressed. Then Kurma took one of the pieces and cut it to tiny pieces, added some lemon juice, coriander, olive oil and pepper. A quick snack ! Oh, boy…it was superb ! The rest of the pieces would be used for our punjabi matar paneer.
We also decided to make a garden salad dish which was not part of the actual menu. Kurma prabhu felt that this would be a welcome dish amidst the full Indian menu. People liked the idea.
As the asparagus went through a little bit of frying, the whole kitchen was filled with so much aroma. I couldn’t wait for lunch ! That stove seen above is a camping stove. We got it for A$15. Cheap, strong and good. We bought 2 new sets and I have only one left with me. The other? Well, Jignesh prabhu drove the 4-wheel drive over it. Yup…I had placed it near the gate of the house in a hurry to pay my obeisances to Kurma prabhu as he was preparing to leave for the airport later in the evening. Shortly after this, Jignesh reversed the car, took the wheel too close to the gate and cruuuussshhhh!!!! Gone.
Never in my life have I ever had eggplant pickle. Lemon, yes. Mango, yes. Carrot, yes. Yesterday, my Romanian friend was boldly declaring that in her country they make watermelon pickle ! I competed with her by saying proudly, “Oh yeah?!…in my country we make eggplant pickle! Beat that! “. She was surprised too. Eggplant? There were few people in the room during the cooking class who mentioned that they were not great fans of the fat vegetable. But the chef knew how to change our minds. He heated up some peanut oil, threw in the ginger, followed it up with asafetida and emptied with eggplant along with salt and cayenne. He called few of the guests over and gave them the task of stir-frying them. Later on, he returned and added some vinegar, lemon juice, sugar and continued its cooking. He returned again, poked the dark vegetable with a knife and sprinkled some cumin seeds, removed from the camping stove and let it cool.
You can’t have an Indian lunch or dinner without some sort of bread. We had decided to go for poories. I was delighted. It’s been sooooooo long since I had the oil soaked bread. I had already, earlier in the day, worked up the crowd into a suspense, “…you won’t believe this…but the chef will be making poories! WoW! You will love it !”. And they looked blank, “What’s that?”.
Almost everyone jumped at the task of rolling up a poorie. It was like a reality TV show. Each one competing with one another to see who does it better and quicker. And I must say, I was surprised to see that they were coming out good. And thin. Personally, rolling up the dough for any sort of Indian bread was never my favourite activity. I would rather hand it over to someone in my family to do the task. At my grandma’s place, the task of rolling was the task of one of my uncles. He has been doing it for almost everyday for 30 years !!!! And is he quick? Very quick! He is fussy about the quality of the circle and the thickness. It has to be almost thin and perfectly round. And he feels that no one else can get it right but him. So the ladies in the house gladly made way for him to carry out the operation for all these years.
Chef Kurma’s son, Nitai prabhu truly believed that making poories was in his blood already. He needed no training. He went to a corner of the kitchen and started churning out the world’s smallest poories like a machine! Today’s kids. You never know what they are capable off.
The most surprised person in the room was the chef of the kitchen. She said later on that in all her years of cooking she was never introduced to any of the items we were making. And it was a huge learning curve for her. She was so impressed that she promised us that she would allot a day, only for vegetarian dishes at her cafe, and all made from Kurma’s cookbook. How about that!!!! WoW ! I felt so accomplished when she said that. I had wanted that too.
As the poories were being made, Kurma showed a few others the task of having the paneer cubes fried in that ghee in the wok. As he took a scoop out, I was incredibly tempted to try out a piece. I mean it looked so edible. It looked, smelt and felt beautiful. Many WoW’s emanated from the room. Kurma said that paneer was a cheese that you could fry without it melting.
And next in line were the poories, made with such care and devotion by the guests. Kurma prabhu declared later in his blog, “We prepared some of the tastiest and most crisp poories ever tasted at a cookery class“. While making them, he asked what I thought of the poories floating around in the ghee pool. I said, “I give it a score of 10/10!”.
Karhis are smooth and creamy yogurt-based dish served with rice. Either yogurt or buttermilk is whisked with chickpea flour and then simmered into a creamy sauce. Kurma explained that this dish was an excellent source of vegetarian protein. Another idea to eliminate the notion that one must eat meat like fish for protiens. This item had carrots, green beans, broccoli florets, peas and zucchini too.
And so, like this the day progressed. Lectures, cooking, lectures, team activity, staring at the dish being prepared, seeing it set aside, moving to the next one. Like that, it went on. We began to see our actions being converted to something that we all would eventually be proud to eat. And tell everyone about it later.