I think it’s pretty obvious that I love spices ;-). I truly believe that they bring magic to the dish with smell, color, depth and complexity of flavor. Although I was a fan of them as long as I remember, my passion really began with the Moroccan cooking class I took in Marrakech. So when I decided to spend over a week in India, I could not plan my trip without signing me and my husband up for a cooking lesson. I always thought I knew Indian food. Living in London for 4 years, having Indian food almost every week here in Hong Kong and watching lots and lots of cooking shows. But now I see that whatever I knew before was nothing compared to what I had seen, smelled, tasted, and learned during my trip and an amazing class with Jyoti at Gourmet Desire. I am planing on recreating a dish or two based on recipes I learned from her soon. This post is a kind of preview, so stay tuned 🙂
First thing Jyoti told us was that Indian food is regional and seasonal. And women (wives and mothers) are always in charge of feeding the family. Even if they are busy with work and have successful careers outside, they still manage to multi-task and take charge in the kitchen (Go women!). She also mentioned that what she knows about Indian cooking now is mostly from her mother-in-law. Prior to actual cooking session, we took a little walk at a spice market nearby. I had been waiting for this moment for weeks, even the rain couldn’t stop me from wandering around, taking photos and shopping (anyone who knows me can tell you how much I hate rain and getting wet). Although I love South Indian food, I decided to focus on learning Northern cuisine since I was in Delhi. But luckily we got to try a little South Indian street food ‘Vada’ at the entrance of spice market and it was a real treat.
After a nice cup of chai, Jyoti kindly opened her spice boxes for us. They are just so beautiful. True feast for the eyes. She also explained how important spices are to Indian people, not just for food but as alternative medicine as well. I could totally relate to her story about her grandmother using spices and yogurt as all kinds of remedies. It reminded me of my grandmother and her mother’s own remedies that we used to have in our home growing up.
Once cooking started, the entire house was filled with incredibly delicious aromas. Class lasted about 3.5-4 hours including eating 6 dishes we had made at the end. Dishes we made are goat Rogan josh, Dhal, Aloo gobi, Palak paneer, Pulao and Green chutney with Tikkis, which I don’t have any photos of, because we were too busy eating them immediately after they were fried. Everything we made was absolutely delicious and I felt extremely privileged to have learnt Jyoti’s family recipes in her own kitchen.
One particular thing that my husband and I were very happy to discover is the real flavor of Rogan josh. This is one of our favorite Indian dishes so we thought we were very familiar with it. But no. Rogan josh we had in Jaipur and at Jyoti’s home both had very distinctive fennel seeds flavor. One we had in Jaipur had lightly crushed fennel seeds, and Joyti’s had finely ground ones, which almost looked like light colored green tea powder. Either way, that aniseed flavor made a world of difference from what we normally have at the restaurants here. I think we will have to ask the chef at our favorite Indian restaurant to add fennel seeds in Rogan josh from now on.
Traditional Indian food is definitely not fast, simple or convenient. Most dishes have tones of ingredients and there are so many different steps to take in order to achieve the complex layers of flavor. And getting specific recipes can be a little tricky because almost every house has its own way of cooking, which is passed down to generation to generation. It truly is a food that you need to put your heart and soul into. After hours of cooking, eating and learning through a long conversation with Jyoti, I could really understand what she meant by ‘wives and mothers are always in charge of cooking and feeding the family no matter what’. It is just a kind of food that you have to cook with love and care. And who would do it better than your wife and mom?
Spending hours cooking in the kitchen is not something most people are willing to do these days. And there are so many quick and easy recipes out there. In most days, I cook pretty much everything in 30 minutes or even less to an hour. Although I love and appreciate complex dishes that require a lot of patience I often overlook them just because it does’t seem very convenient. I think the most important lesson I learned from this experience is that I should never forget the beauty of slow home cooked dishes and satisfaction I get from feeding my loved ones good food I prepare with so much heart.