UK News & Events
REVIEW OF COOKERY CLASS – 7 APRIL 2012
Why did six Amma devotees, namely Liz from Tooting, Christine from Surbiton, Andrew from Ewell, Francis from Brockley, Karen from Uxbridge and Martin from Forest Gate, get up early one Saturday morning to travel across London for an hour or two? The reason, you have probably guessed, was to arrive at Zani's house in Chadwell Heath in order to learn the art of Indian cuisine from Zani and her friend Manoo.
Instruction commenced at 11 a.m. when we were presented with a recipe book for the day, a mix of North and South Indian dishes. We began by cooking our own lunch of stuffed vegetables, chappatis and raita, and then, suitably fortified, we spent the afternoon preparing prasadam for the 25 people coming to evening bhajans, who were to be served a feast of vegetable pilau rice, moong dhal curry with coconut, samosas and papadoms, followed by a rich, milky pudding.
We students already knew that Indian cuisine is not fast food, and it was a busy day, 'full on' as Zani said, but Amma's devotees like to be stretched, and goodwill, harmony and a sense of fun prevailed, with quite a lot of anecdotes and the sharing of life stories along the way. Generous with their knowledge, Manoo and Zani taught us that aromatics are the vital core of Indian cooking, comprising:
- spices, such as haldi (turmeric), jeera (cumin), ginger and green chilli, often fried in ghee (clarified butter) at the start of the dish and known in their combined form as the tarka.
- herbs, such as dhanyia (coriander leaves), often added at the last minute as their flavour is more delicate and easily lost.
- seasonings, primarily salt and black pepper, but could also be sugar, raisins and other dried fruit, if appropriate to the dish.
Conscientious teachers, Manoo and Zani insisted that all six students tried every aspect of the tasks, from vegetable and spices preparation through to frying the tarka, adding the other ingredients and cooking the dish through to completion. I particularly enjoyed the demystification of making chappatis, although mixing the pastry eluded me somewhat. "Don't dig into the atta with your fingers," scolded Zani as my pastry kept crumbling into flakes and sticking to my hands, "kneed it with the palm of your hand and stay on the outside…and add some more flour." Zani's young children had been in and out throughout the sessions in that wonderful Indian tradition whereby children are indulged and loved, and her four-year-old daughter Amaya was perched on the end of the work surface and rolling out her own mini chappatis at this point.
All six students were non Indian, so we didn't have parents who could impart this knowledge to us. "In Indian cooking, we use all five senses," said Manoo, our substitute mother, "sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing - listen for the sizzle, then you know that the seeds are roasted." We had seen Indian cuisine broken down into its component parts, but would the ingredients mix together and come right? The English have a saying: the proof of the pudding is in the eating… unanimously we found the end result delicious, sumptuous, something you might dream about at night.
At the bhajans, the food we had made was served on plastic thali trays.
"Was it good?" I asked an Indian lady.
"It was nice." She nodded, but must have seen the look of disappointment on my face. "Look, I finished it." She held up her empty tray and angled it towards me.
I looked round for someone else to ask and saw Mike Plowright across the room. "Was it good?" I called across.
He boomed back with his perfect diction,"Superb!"
by Martin Bates