Being the adventurous foodie I am, I recently signed up for an Indian spices lesson and vegetarian cooking class, a cuisine I really knew nothing about. If you’ve been following my blog for some time, you know that my love for travel really stems from my interest in trying different foods. And being the chatty person I am, I love to talk to locals and learn more about their culture through the foods they eat. So after my 3-hour Indian cooking lesson, including a field trip to check out Indian spices, I honestly felt like I had spent a day in India. I take home memories from everywhere I travel and this little excursion to India was no different.
As it turned out, there were staffing issues at the cooking school, so I was fortunate enough to get my personal instruction in Indian cooking at the home of the chef, Jayashree Iyengar. Jay is a mechanical engineer who recently decided to leave her professional career to pursue her passion for teaching others how to cook Indian food. She named her company Popping Mustard Seeds, which didn’t make any sense to me, but you’ll soon see why it does now.
Jay started the class by talking about the different regions of Indian and how the cooking, ingredients, and especially the curries, vary from one region to the next. She then walked us through the myriad of spices we’d be using, many which I was unfamiliar with. I’ve always been fascinated with Eastern medicine and self-healing and as Jay explained, there are a number of Indian spices that are used as medicinal cures. (mental note to self to learn more about this.) I was fiercely taking notes as both of my
high-maintenance kids are into holistic medicines.
And then we started cooking! Our menu included Black-Eyed Peas Sundal, Couscous with Cauliflower and Peas, Channa Masala (my new favorite Indian food), Okra Pachhadi (Raita) and a very interesting dessert, Rava Kesari, made with cream of wheat. Each student was assigned a dish and mine was the Okra Pachadi (recipe below). It was a great chance to introduce my palate to a few new flavors. Jay was kind enough to provide me with recipes from the class to share with you.
Black-Eyed Peas Sundal
1 cup raw black-eyed peas or 1 frozen packet
1 raw unripe mango (available at the Indian store), chopped
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp urad dhal
8 -10 curry leaves broken into bits
1 or 2 dry red chilies
½ tsp asafoetida (hing)
Juice of half lemon
½ cup unsweetened grated coconut (fresh or frozen)
¼ cup cilantro
½ tsp salt
If using raw black-eyed peas, soak in 3 cups of water for at least 3 hours or overnight. Cook the black-eyed peas in the soaked water until they are soft. If cooking directly in a saucepan, turn the heat to low once the water begins to boil. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until they are well cooked and soft. Add more water as needed. Drain any excess water and set it aside. Chop the raw (unripe) mango into tiny bits and mix it in with the cooked black-eyed peas.
Start with the prep work above. Place oil and mustard seeds in a sauce pan at medium heat. When you hear the mustard seeds pop (I had never heard of these before but the tiny mustard seeds actually pop like a corn kernel would, alas the name of her company) wait for a 2 or 3 seconds and turn off the heat. When the popping stops completely, open the lid and add the asafetida, curry leaves, urad dhal and red chilies. Sauté the mixture until the urad dhal turns reddish brown. Add the black-eyed peas/raw mango mixture, and salt. Mix well and turn off the heat after 2 minutes. Mix in the coconut and lemon juice. Cover and let it sit for a minute or so.
Channa Masala (Chick peas in Indian spiced sauce)
1 can (15 oz; about 1 ½ cups) Chick peas (or 1 cup raw chick peas)
1 large tomato – chopped
1 tsp oil
A sliver of butter
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp garam masala powder
½ tsp chili powder
6 to 8 Indian curry leaves (curry patha) torn into bits
2 or 3 tbsp of chopped cilantro
½ tsp turmeric
Salt to taste
1 medium size tomato, cut into big chunks
1 medium size onion cut into big chunks
1 inch piece of ginger peeled
2 cloves of garlic
¼ cup raw almonds (can be whole, slivered or sliced) soaked in just enough water for at least 15 minutes
Grind all the ingredients for the sauce to a smooth paste and set aside.
Prepare the sauce as per above instructions. If using raw chick peas, soak in three times the water for at least 3 hours or overnight. Cook the chick peas in the soaked water, until soft. If cooking directly in a saucepan, turn the heat to low once the water begins to boil. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes until they are well cooked and soft. Add more water as needed. Drain and save the excess water and set them aside. If using canned chick peas, drain the liquid from the can and thoroughly rinse the chick peas and set them aside. Do not save the drained liquid.
Channa Masala Preparation
Place oil, butter and curry leaves and the prepared ground sauce. Stir while cooking the sauce for about 3 or 4 minutes; until the sauce begins to bubble and lets out its aroma. Add the chopped tomatoes, cumin powder, garam masala powder, coriander powder, chili powder and turmeric. Cook the tomato for 2 or 3 minutes and then add the chick peas and salt and mix well. If the mixture is too thick, add water at this time (the saved water can be used if you are not using canned chick peas). Let the mixture simmer for about 8 to 10 minutes in low heat. Turn off the heat. Garnish with cilantro and serve the channa masala with chappathi or rice.
Okra Pachadi (Raita)
2 cups thinly sliced okra (about a dozen okras)
1 or 2 tsps of oil
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp of lemon juice (prevents okra from becoming sticky)
Salt to taste
1 cup plain Greek yogurt (any kind other kind of plain yogurt)
1 tbsp chopped cilantro (fresh coriander leaves)
1 tsp oil
½ tsp mustard seeds (optional)
¼ tsp asafoetida (hing)
2 or 3 Indian curry leaves (curry patha) torn into bits
1 small dried red chili
Cut the okra into thin round slices. In a bowl, mix the okra with the oil and the chili powder and lemon juice. Spread the okra mixture on a baking sheet. Bake it in an oven at 350°F for 15 to 20 minutes. Then turn the oven to broil for about 2 or 3 minutes or until the okra turns brown and crispy. Okra can also be sautéed in a skillet with some oil until it turns brown and crispy. Add a tsp of lemon juice to keep it from becoming sticky.
Transfer the okra mixture into to a serving bowl and mix in the yogurt and salt. Garnish with the seasoning.
Place oil and mustard seeds in a sauce pan at medium heat. When you hear the mustard seeds pop wait for a 2 or 3 seconds and turn off the heat. When the popping stops completely, open the lid and add the asafetida, red chili and curry leaves. Add the seasoning to the Raita and garnish with cilantro. Serve with rice or chapatti.