Are you ready for possibly the coolest blog post ever!? For Christmas my boyfriend got me a private Indian cooking class for two, and it was kind of the best experience ever! Aside from learning about the cuisines from different regions of India, the instructor taught us the basics of Indian cooking and demonstrated the method of cooking authentic and healthy Indian dishes. Last night we cooked both Paneer Tikka Masala and Aloo Gobhi and it was better than any Indian food I’ve ever tasted. In this blog post I’m going to share what we learned along with the basic ingredients, although he was secretive about which spices he was using (and rightfully so!)
I can’t rave enough about this cooking class. First things first, the class was through Indian Home Cooking, where Sanjay (the creator and instructor) can come to your house and bring everything you need for a 3 hour lesson. He also brings 8 recipe kits in addition to the two that you’ll be cooking with him (so 10 total), so you can continue cooking on your own. The recipe kits are pre-measured spices and ingredients (that he’s secretive about) that you add in stages to the fresh ingredients that you purchase on your own. You get to pick out the meals you’re interested in cooking beforehand, and he also offers suggestions if you’re not sure. Check out his website immediately because if you live in New York you should try this.
I really don’t know how Matt found this but somehow he did. And I have to say, I was so excited when he told me what we’d be doing. It’s all I was talking about since Christmas! One of the reasons why I was so excited is because I really do not have a lot of knowledge about Indian cuisine, although I enjoy it immensely. Something was always a little intimidating about Indian cooking, mostly because the flavors are so complex and I never felt like I would be able to imitate it. Now, I’m not sure how I’ll do without Sanjay’s recipe kits, but this lesson helped me realize how easy and FUN Indian cooking is.
I think the thing I like the most is how zen it is. Yes, I’m using zen as an adjective. The major point of Sanjay’s lesson was don’t stress because in his words “you can always bring the dish back.” This means that it really doesn’t matter in Indian cooking if the oil’s too hot, the veggies burn a little, you leave it on the heat a little too long, or you add a little too much spice. He assured me that Indian cooking was for “lazy people” because it doesn’t matter in the slightest bit what happens to the dish because you’re loading in so many spices. There are also no measurements or timing allowed! The way you cook is supposed to be based on your five senses, which he tried to teach us how to do.
Another great point that I had never really realized before is how healthy Indian meals are. I’m not talking about low-calorie, low-carb etc., but Indian food has developed into what it is today because of the health benefits of certain ingredients, like turmeric, garlic, ginger, and so on. He was explaining that the spices are not used for flavor at all, instead they’re used for their healthful properties which over thousands of years has just happened to turn into something coincidentally delicious. The ingredients are believed to be the reason why Indians have low rates of cancer and other illnesses. Importantly, Indian cooks strive for balance between the different types of “flavors” like salty, sweet, and spice, because it’s believed that if you add too much or too little of one component it will lead to cravings and unhealthy eating. Umm that’s kind of a no-brainer now that I think about it!
One last tidbit before I get into the recipes, I was called out HARD for my “French” cooking. I hadn’t ever realized that my cooking style was noticeably a “French” style, or any particular style at all, but Sanjay immediately picked up on it and would frequently tell me to stop cooking French. I reasoned that since my family’s French Canadian that maybe when my dad taught me how to cook I subconsciously picked up French subtleties. For example, when we put the oil in the pan I tilted it around to coat the whole bottom of the pan, and Sanjay laughed and said that doing that was something the French do just for show and it makes no difference to the food. Also he laughed when I asked what kind of onion he normally uses (red or yellow?!). Sorry, I can’t help that I’m très Francais!
So, I’m not going to give a detailed recipe for these recipes because 1.) I don’t know the measurements for the spices, and 2.) They’re his recipes. But I’m going to give a general sense of how we did them.
Aloo Ghobi is a classic Punjabi recipe consisting of potatoes and cauliflower. I loved it when I’ve ordered it in restaurants in the past so I decided to pick it as a recipe to learn. And, it’s really simple! You just chop up a potato and maybe half a head of cauliflower into bitesized florets, along with onion, grated ginger, and crushed cloves of garlic. Then you get your oil nice and hot and add in cumin seeds and toast. Afterwards you add in the onion, garlic and ginger and sauté until translucent. When translucent, you add in another pack of ingredients which I think consists of eleven spices, and continue sautéing for a minute. Then you add in the potatoes and cauliflower, along with salt and chili powder, and turn the heat to low and pop a lid on it. Then you can basically cook it stirring occasionally until the potato and cauliflower are tender to your liking. Bam! We added in a pretty decent amount of chili powder and it was the perfect amount of spicy! We definitely needed some water handy when we were shoving this in our faces.
Paneer Tikka Masala
This is another dish that I’ve ordered in restaurants before and liked. Basically, paneer is Indian cheese, and cheese is always an obvious choice for me. Paneer is like a mix between tofu in texture and cottage cheese in flavor, and it’s marinated in yogurt and spices and sautéed with veggies in a tomato-based broth. Man was this good. My god I’m still thinking about it. It was definitely my favorite of the two, which is saying something because I’m obsessed with the aloo gobhi also. To start you dice up the paneer and marinate it in yogurt, ginger, garlic, and spices (not sure what the spices are) with the bell pepper and onion, and then you sauté it all together. In another pan you add more onion with the jalapeño and another pack of mystery spices, and then add diced tomato and water. You cook this mixture until the tomatoes are cooked down and add in the paneer mixture. When it’s all combined you add a touch of cream, salt, and chili powder. I think this recipe has thirteen spices in it. It’s my life’s mission to figure out these exact mystery spices so I can recreate the deliciousness whenever I want! That will definitely take some research on my part though.
As a side, we made Puri, which is a ridiculously easy fried wheat flatbread. It’s two ingredients: wheat flour and water. And it was actually really really delicious and perfect to soak up the extra juice from the paneer tikka masala. You just roll the wheat dough into little balls and roll it out into 4″ flat circles and fry in oil, flipping once. They puff up all cute-like and make you feel like you just created a delicious and complicated pastry (but you didn’t). Matt almost burned the house down after 3 glasses of wine when he tried to take over and flip the puri in the oil clumsily. Myself and Sanjay both cried out a warning and we all narrowly avoided third degree burns. Poor Matt.
After the class was over and Matt and I devoured our dishes we both went into food comas and passed out. Honestly it was one of the most fun date nights I’ve ever had. AND, I still have 8 recipe kits! I seriously can’t wait to tackle them, so keep posted! I’ll let you know how they go!