Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Spicing up my cooking

I love Indian food. It is one of the first things I learned to cook from scratch properly beyond the standard things that my parents cooked. They are pretty easy as they are reasonably forgiving. They can take a bit of time though and when I plan meals now, I have to be mindful of cooking time and not making anything too hot so that the children will eat them. Occasionally, I dip into the world of curry paste but I never use cooking sauces. It goes against my nature. Call me a food snob if you like. 

I always marvel at how quickly they can make the dishes in restaurants and take aways so when Living Social invited some bloggers including myself to Dilli restaurant in Altrincham to join one of their cookery classes, I made sure I could get there and see how they do it. 

You notice I've not mentioned "curry" so far. As we were told by one of the two chefs that taught us, curry basically means "gravy". And masala? "Sauce"!

At the start of our day, we were shown how to make onion bhajis. Apparently, the key is to leave your onions mixed for a while to draw out some of the water as this makes the onions crisper. We got to sample them with a tamarind dip and a mint dip, both totally unlike the stuff you usually get with it. They also made potato and onion bhaji which was not made into balls, so it was a bit like eating spicy fries! 

Then it was our turn to cook. In all, we made 3 curries at our little stations.

We started with a chicken dish, with paneer for the vegetarians. I picked up so many tips along the way, which seemed so obvious. Like, once we had all our spices, they added water to them before they were placed in the pan. Why? So they don't burn as you add them to the oil! Why did I not think of that? Another tip I picked up is that when the oil starts to split from the curry is when the spices are properly cooked.

It was all done pretty quickly and I think I picked up from this is that a lot of the speed is in the preparation - they had a lot of things ready - like garlic and ginger puree, pureed tomatoes, chopped ginger, chopped chillies. In other words, treat it like a stir fry and get it all ready beforehand. Things like garlic and ginger purees can be frozen in cubes to make things quicker. 

Everything smelt divine cooking, and in what felt like no time at all, I had a proper restaurant style curry which, true to form, we put into takeaway containers to take home. It tasted fab, but I did think that it was probably too hot for anyone else in my house.

Then we made a tarka dal, which stupidly I didn't photograph at all. That was even quicker, because there was no chicken to cook through and anyway, the lentils were pre-cooked. This was also quite spicy. 

The final dish we made a sag aloo, a dish they had included due to popular demand. Again, the devil is in the detail - everything prepped and ready to go, cooking the spices enough, as well as in the right order. Adding the right ingredients at the right time seemed to be key as they could really change the taste of the final dish, like lemon juice.

By the time we'd made all 3 curries, I was starving. I'd had some bhaji and tasted the curries and they were all packed away ready to take home. Luckily, we all went back down into the restaurant to have lunch, where I had a fantastic chicken curry with fenugreek and spinach which was gorgeous, before going our separate ways with plastic bags full of curry and a little goody bag.

My handiwork was due to be our tea on Sunday but I was nervous that the curries would be too hot for the children so I let them taste them first. I was right, they ran for drinks once the chilli hit the back of their mouths. It did seem like they had all got considerably hotter overnight and even the sag aloo that had seemed considerably milder when I tasted it now seemed hot. And boy, did I sweat eating the curries - which is not bad for January! Husband found them too hot as well so had to dump a load of cooling creme fraiche on top. The children had to have something else. They did suggest on the course that if you want different heats to your dish, to make it mild, then cook chilli and spices in oil and add it to a portion of two to make it spicier for those who prefer it.

It was really a fantastic experience and I learned so much. I hope that the next time I make some Indian food, I remember everything I learned and make some awesome tasting curries. Maybe with the chilli turned down a bit.

(Living Social invited me to take part in the Indian cookery class and stay for lunch. They kindly also gave me a small goody bag to take away. I have not been told what to write and I have not received any further compensation. All words and opinions are my own.)

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