Oh, my goodness. If you find yourself in Delhi with a day to kill, arrange to take a cooking class with Neha at Saffron Palate. We just spent a wonderful five hours learning a few things about Indian cooking and enjoying the fruits of our labor. Actually, fruit is about the only thing we didn’t enjoy but we didn’t miss it as we had such a variety of dishes to prepare and taste.
I booked this experience on line and, unlike our Taj experience, this one was a big winner. Two other folks joined us: Paul and Carmen from Vancouver, BC. We did the cooking on Neha’s rooftop at her outdoor kitchen. The weather was perfect and the location was great. She and her husband live in the top floor apartment of a three story building. Her parents-in-law live on the second floor and her grandfather-in-law lives on the ground floor. The apartment is in a leafy neighborhood with lots of trees and sits directly across from a temple.
After exchanging a few pleasantries, we set to work. The key to Indian cooking is the spices that are used wisely and liberally. We had two spice boxes to work from: One had ground spices and one had whole spices. I think one dish used only four spices the rest used at least six.
We began by making some snacks:
Potato cutlets that had a base of mashed potatoes and were loaded with spices and had some semi-mushed peas and a few soaked lentils along with cilantro and chilis and who can remember what else. After the cutlets were fried, they were served with lashings of sweet yogurt, tamarind sauce and mint-chili sauce and sprinkled with more spices, Indian carrots (which are sweet and red) and cilantro.
Then we made samosas. Rolled out the dough, shaped and filled the cones and then fried them. They were also served with the sauces.
And then we made a variety of pakoras, deep fried, battered goodies: Stuffed chilis, onion rings and spiced paneer.
Then we took a break and gobbled up the “snacks” with cold beer and water. And then we were full.
But wait, there’s more:
Butter chicken with so many ingredients it isn’t even funny. Vegetable biryani, which called for the use of the whole spices (bay leaf, black cardamom, chili, mace and black pepper) plus some of the ground spices as well. A chick pea concoction in which the chick peas had been cooked in water with tea bags to give the chick peas the correct color and, presumably, flavor. And a dry fry, which means no sauce but does not mean no oil, of potatoes and spices.
Then we moved on to breads:
The basic roti, a plain whole wheat flat bread.
Oil parantha, which uses the same dough as the roti, but is layered with oil and spices and folded and rolled out and fried to create layers.
Stuffed parantha, which is just what it sounds like.
For dessert, we put together the beginnings of a kheer, or rice pudding. Neha had made some pudding ahead of time as it takes quite a while to cook and cool.
And, finally, we sat down together to eat as if any of us was hungry. It was all absolutely delicious.
As I said at the beginning it is all about the spices but also about the way they are added and balanced and put together. Lots of technique goes into this style of cooking but the results are well worth the effort. In spite of all the references to chilis, none of the food was HOT but it was all super flavorful.
Neha presented each of us with a mini-spice box as we left. Now, I just have to find the right spices to put in it and then it will be time to invite all of you over for dinner.