My very thoughtful husband decided to give me the gift of an experience, rather than a material item, for Christmas last year. His gift was a series of Indian cooking classes from Shruti Parikh, of Shruti’s Kitchen, in Cary. The gift idea originated from my love of Indian food, which we often enjoy on date nights out. I’ve always been curious about the different types of food that come from the regions of India.
Before scheduling my classes, Shruti and I discussed my interests. We determined that one class would be learning about Northern Indian cuisine since this is what I’m familiar with from dining out. The next class would be Southern Indian foods, and the final class would be Western Indian foods from Shruti’s home state of Gujarat.
Shruti also explained that Indian cuisine has been influenced by many foreigners. For example, the Portuguese people brought into India the use of chilis, potatoes, and tomatoes! The British created the “curry”. As early as the 1300’s the Moguls brought to India the concept of marinating meats, dried fruits and nuts, and the use of fragrant spices such as saffron and cardamom!
We met at Shruti’s home, although she also teaches classes at Whisk, in Cary. For my first lesson, we focused on Northern India, where the dishes are composed of heavier foods, meats, millet, and corn. The recipes we made were Palak Paneer, which is a spinach dish with yogurt and paneer cheese; Naan, the only Indian bread not made in a skillet; Chicken Tikka Masala, a stew-like chicken dish with a delicious thick sauce; and Gajjar Ka Halwa (Carrot Halwa), a dessert.
When I made these dishes for my family I received excellent reviews! The Carrot Halwa is a must try, and who doesn’t love another way to inject vegetables into children??
Shruti explained to me about the five layers of flavor in these dishes: the first being a fat flavoring; a second layer is whole spices or seeds; the third layer is aromatic spices; the fourth layer is dry spices such as cumin, coriander, and turmeric; and the final layer is made of freshness (cilantro or lemon juice). The fragrances emitting from our cooking were so flavorful, and when I tried the dishes with all of these quality spices the taste was amazing!
On lesson day two, we tackled some Southern Indian dishes. These take on the coconut flavors of the coast, with plenty of lentils, fish, and rice among the ingredients. Our recipes were Coconut and Chana Dhal Chutney; Sambhar, a lentil and vegetable soup; Potato Masala for the Dosa (a thin bread made in a pan); and Idli, a patty-like bread. These dishes were completely vegetarian and gluten free! Both breads are made from rice and ground urad dhal beans although they look and taste completely different from each other. This entire dish was less time intensive and could be partially made in advance. The breads and potato dish was very popular with my family.
My final class is coming up in May, and I’m looking forward to traveling to Shruti’s home state. I’m thrilled that I can now identify the origins of the foods on menus and I’ve learned some history regarding this delicious cuisine. Someday, perhaps I will be lucky enough to travel there in person!