Thursday, October 21, 2010
We were having a great day in Udaipur and going non-stop since early that morning. It was 5:20pm and we were apologizing to our guide at the City Palace for having to dart out on the tour so quickly but there were more important things to attend to—cooking classes! Three different courses had been advertised and luckily we picked the one that was a quick walk from our current location. We chugged a bottle of water and arrived 10 minutes later at the address we had been given. The building was an unassuming personal residence sitting just off the main road in the direction of the lake. A young guy in shorts and a T-shirt appeared and we told him we had arrived for cooking classes. He nodded and pointed us towards two plastic chairs around the coffee table in what appeared to be a living room/bed room. There were packets of paper scattered on the table titled “Shashi Cooking Classes.” One other girl sat across from us quietly studying the recipes. We took the queue and began looking through the nine pages of recipes thinking there was no way we could actually be cooking everything listed. A few quick minutes later our fourth classmate came through the door smiling and apologizing for being late. We took this opportunity to introduce ourselves to both of our classmates and swapped stories about our adventures in India.
A small woman suddenly appeared at the doorway draped in a blue saree and a slight smile. I immediately detected a strange intensity that reminded me of a revered professor entering the classroom. Moments later Shashi had nuzzled into our tight circle around the coffee table and introduced herself. She spent a solid 10-15 minutes telling us her story and describing how her cooking classes came to be over 8 years ago. Then with little pause she dove straight into giving us our first series of directions. She walked us through her packet of recipes and dictated additional notes for us to reference while we were cooking. When it was clear there were no questions she stood and marched us into the kitchen.
The kitchen was approximately 6 feet long and 5 feet wide. On the exterior wall sat a rack of dishes and a small cook bench (maybe 3.5 feet long) that held a dual burner stove top and a few various utensils. On the opposite wall the four of us were given seats next to the pantry. Shashi promptly dressed us in aprons and handed out clip boards for note taking. The girls were all plied with traditional bindis and it appeared we were now appropriately outfitted to begin. Once we were seated Shashi asked us if we would like Chai and we all nodded our heads. Without pause she walked us through her recipe for making Chai tea and quickly had the fragrant tea boiling on one of the burners. The tea was strained and we were each passed a cup of the most delicious Chai I have ever tasted (and I’m not even a fan of milk). With that dear reader, let us pause so you too can concoct a cup of the real thing before continuing. See recipe at bottom.
Shashi disappeared for a few minutes running around pulling out various ingredients before she paused to ask us which masala dish we would like to make. Aubergine (aka: eggplant) and Tomato Masala were quickly suggested, Shashi nodded and set about completing her ingredient list.
It was time to start cooking, for which all our starving stomachs were thankful, and Shashi dove right in to appetizers. First we prepared a batch of coriander chutney (that delicious green sauce we all inhale when visiting Indian restaurants at home) and a second of mango chutney. Catherine and I were delighted to discover how easy it is to make our favorite Indian condiment. Next we prepared Pakora batter and proceeded to dredge the likes of cauliflower, potatoes, mixed vegetable balls, and chunks of paneer cheese through the spicy stuff and fry them into heavenly bites of fried dough goodness. As each batch of the fried snacks came out they were ladled onto a tray and devoured by the students. The pakora kept coming and we finally started looking at each other wondering how we were going to make it through an entire meal.
Our focus shifted to spices and learning how to make masala. Masala is the Indian equivalent of one of the three French “mother” sauces and is used throughout the country to flavor all types of foods. It reminded me a lot of making Thai curries but without the coconut and a slightly different melange of spices. At this point Shashi was barking orders to all four of us in a loving, yet stern, tone that would remind you of your grandmother. Catherine assigned to crushing up garlic, ginger, onion, and salt with a mortar and pestle as the rest of us began chopping and making notes. Soon our aubergine dish was completed and it was time to move onto making a vegetable palau which is basically spice and stir fried veggies. Somewhere moving parallel to the group, Shashi began making cheese from locally purchased yoghurt. As she strained the curd we discussed spicing and ways in which it could be shaped and served. Each dish finished on the burners and was then covered and stacked to the side to stay warm for our meal. We had been cooking for a solid three hours and Shashi seemed to be throwing information at us faster than we could cook and take notes; however, we were all smiles and having a blast.
Finally we came to the bread and thought to ourselves, good lord, this woman really is going to cook every recipe in this packet! Sure enough, we spent the next hour making six different types of traditional Indian breads: Naan, Chappati, and Paranthas (plain, cheese stuffed, veggie stuffed, and coconut stuffed). All five of us were working at a 110% as Shashi would smack our wrist and correct our form in turning the bread on iron plate or forming the dough balls. It was just after 10:00pm and we had started cooking at 5:30pm! We were whooped and ready to eat (amazing considering the amount of pakora we had consumed earlier). Shashi trimmed a plate for each of us with a piece of fresh Naan covered in homemade cheese and a tomato relish she had somehow managed to whip up on the side. We made our way back into the living room and stared down at the table full of food we had spent the entire evening preparing under Shashi’s well trained hands. It was absolutely delicious. I think we all ate about three meals worth but this gluttonous moment of weakness had been well earned.
Still in grandmother-like form, Shashi did not eat a bite and instead focused on cleaning the kitchen with the help of some younger family friends. By the time we had made it through our main dishes Shashi came back in and asked Catherine if she and I were married. When Catherine informed her that indeed we were she lit up with big smiles and told us how good that was. With Catherine’s blessing she then began painting an elongated red mark on her forehead to signify she was married. It was my turn next and I received the male equivalent. She must have been really enjoying herself because she continued her painting and gave both of our fellow single students their own marriage war-paint. It was all pretty hysterical and everybody was having a good time. We took a few group photos and exchanged emails. It had been a great night with some really fun people and fantastic foodie knowledge—not too shabby for $10/person!
The recipe here is for one cup. If you want two cups, double it. Three cups, triple it, etc. [Note: measurements are in “glasses,” literally she used something that looked like an 8/10oz juice glass. You should adjust based on the size of your mug.]
SHASHI’s Masala Chai
1 glass of milk (We used whole milk, but you should try substituting your favorite creamy beverage: soy, rice, low fat, etc. Experiment as your results will vary.)
1/4 glass of water
2 heaped teaspoons of sugar (adjust this to your tastes)
1 teaspoon of black tea (Loose tea, not bags. Indian Darjeeling is recommended)
2 pieces of Cardamon (pods)
4 black peppercorns
1 chunk of fresh ginger the size of your fingernail
*Bonus Ingredients: Although she did not include it, Shashi noted that you can also include basil and nutmeg to the mix for additional flavor.
1) Roughly grind cardamom, black pepper, and ginger with a mortar & pestle
2) Add with all other ingredients into a small saucepan
3) Bring to a boil and then reduce heat. Simmer for 4 minutes, stirring ocassionaly. Chai should turn a coffee brown color and you should smell the Cardamon and other aromas.
4) Remove from the stove and pour through a strainer as to leave the tea and other solid pieces behind. [Note: solid pieces can be reused one time for a second cup]
5) Serve and enjoy!