The theme of this blog is to break the food cycle. And one of my staples – that I sometimes get tired of, in large part because it always tastes the same – is curry.
Sure, I can make a Thai curry, or an Indian curry, and there’s a difference between the two. But my Thai curries are invariably zesty, rich temples of coconut, lime and lemongrass, and my Indian curries inevitably turn out red, mildly spicy and heavy on the tomato.
So when Emily suggested we take an Indian cooking class about the same time that this project’s order was coming up to India, I jumped at the chance.
As I started to research and inventory what “national dishes” I’d need to cook for this project, India had, from the get-go, posed a conundrum. India has one billion people. It does not have a “national dish.” This isn’t unusual – does America? Does China? Indonesia? Brazil is the largest country, by population, to have a definitive “national dish.” So far, I’ve found about 30 countries that have stumped me in my research – and 4 of those 30 are the 4 biggest.
For the Indian class, we’d make a sampling of foods from across the country – and even beyond. Chutney and chicken tikka masala stem from the British occupation of India. Saag paneer comes from Punjab, at the north end of the Indian subcontinent. Fish curry, with its use of tamarind to sour the bowl, is often associated with Goa. Samosas are evidence of Arabic influence on Indian cuisine. We also made mango lassis, raita and papadums.The class started with the appetizers – samosas, lassi, chutney, raita and papadums. About 15 of us gathered around a semi-circle of ingredients, identifying the smells, tastes and looks of spices we’d be using. It was quick work – helpfully, many of the ingredients had already been prepped – and led to a family-style gathering before a second round of cooking.
I was eager to cook the chicken tikka masala, as prior attempts at making it at home tasted nothing like what I consistently ate in restaurants. Sure enough, the techniques I learned led to a meal that tasted like the CTM I want to eat. Good spices and patient cooking are the keys to a good Indian dish.
The highlight of the meal was the fish curry, a decadent, complex dish. I loved the balance of the spicy and sour, with the fish as a subtle carrier for the many flavors.
If you’re interested in taking the Indian cooking class, it’s offered through Hipcooks, a West Coast chain. We paid $65 each for the course, which included a 3-hour lesson, a full meal and drinks (which neither of us partook in, because Emily is pregnant and I was still recovering from hakarl).