With a delightful invitation to the Cinnamon Kitchen‘s Vegetarian Masterclass, my Saturday morning was happily filled with spices, humour and cooking up a storm rather than my usual library routine. We started with an education on the intricate relationship between Indian culture and food, weddings feasts and the array of spices one can expect to taste in this cuisine. Chefs Vivek, Hari and Rakesh each explained their experiences, cuisine differences (from their respective home towns) and off we went in small groups with our chefs. Since the plan was to eat our collective dishes for lunch, the pressure was on!
Chef Vivek commented that he couldn’t think of anybody who made a biryani as well as Chef Hari. He was not wrong: the Hyderabadi biryani was the star dish! We peeled and chopped swede, Jerusalem artichokes, sweet potato, turnips and carrots before things got really interesting. Out came the herbs and spices: turmeric, chilli, coriander, mint, garlic and ginger and nutmeg plus a hearty serving of natural yoghurt. Whilst marinating, we took turns to stick our heads in the pot and soak up the intense aroma in complete awe at how something containing swede could smell so good, and this was before it had cooked! As the rice boiled with cardamom, cloves, saffron and cumin, our stomachs rumbled in response to the intoxicatingly fragrant scent, but no time to think about hunger; the baghere baingan (baby aubergines with sesame and tamarind sauce) wasn’t about to cook itself…
Two nice chaps in my group seasoned and prepared the marinade for the aubergines, whilst the fourth member, a cool doctor, fried seeds – sesame, coriander and cumin – and peanuts, at which point everybody came over to our station because the aroma was unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Oh, how I need to book that trip to India…
Ever since I watched Rick Stein’s India series I have wanted to taste jaggery (and pack my bags and explore the country for 6 months!); imagine my delight as I assembled the ingredients for my banana and coconut payasam, and saw it on the list. It was the first time I’d physically seen and tasted it – think treacle! Under the watchful eye of Chef Hari who, horrified at the prospect of me losing a finger or two, kindly sliced the jaggery into pieces to simmer with some coconut milk, raisins, banana and rice. And, with a nod to my beloved Iran, saffron and cardamom also featured (see last image for the finished dish). A happy moment!
Mixing education with culture, delicious food, unpretentious and fun chefs and a diverse, interesting mix of participants, the masterclass was an absolute treat. Trying something new, expanding my horizons and meeting fun people never tasted so good. And, the added benefit being that no animals were hurt for my pleasure. Team vegetarian!
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