Curry Mixology

As many friends and family are aware, the reason that I haven’t been blogging much lately, is that my wife and I have spent the past 3+ weeks backpacking through India.  We arrived back in Cairo safe and sound yesterday, so I’ll be spending the next week or so getting caught up on some blogging about this fascinating part of the world.

One of the big draws for me to go to India was definitely the cuisine.  And while I’m sure we only truly scratched the surface in terms of our culinary experiences, we were able to eat some pretty amazing (and not-so amazing) food.

Because of India’s diverse cuisine we had planned to do two cooking classes while on our trip – one in the north and another in the south.  However, a bout of food poisoning in Udaipur sidetracked our northern cooking class, so we only ended up doing one in the south.

We spent the last week of our trip in the state of Goa.  Goa is one of India’s most popular tourist destinations due to its phenomenal beaches, diverse wildlife and colonial-era Portuguese architecture.  After spending two weeks in the hectic north, it was the perfect spot to wind down and enjoy a much more laid back atmosphere.

After taking the afternoon to explore our surroundings (and enjoy the beach!), we decided to wander around Palolem village and see what type of cooking classes might be offered.  We settled on a class at the highly-regarded Spicy Bella Restaurant.  These classes were a little more expensive than others offered in town (2500 rupees/person or about 40 USD), but after meeting with the chef Kamal and seeing his enthusiasm for the local cuisine, I felt confident it would be worth it.

When we arrived for class the next day, we sat down with the chef to review our menu for the day.  It turned out we’d be making 3 basic curries – makhani (a tomato/cashew curry of butter chicken fame), palak (a spinach/onion/mint curry) and masala (an onion/garlic-based curry popular in the North).  From these 3 curry bases we could make approximately 30 different curry dishes.  Chef Kamal described what he’d be teaching us as “curry mixology”.

taking notes before the class

taking notes before the class

All 3 three curries were fairly labour intensive and as you might imagine, used a wide variety of ingredients and spices.  Unfortunately, the chef didn’t provide us with the recipes ahead of time, so we spent a lot of time writing down directions and estimating quantities throughout the session, which I must admit took away from the experience a bit.

spices and other ingredients we'd use for our cooking class

spices and other ingredients we’d use for our cooking class

We started with the makhani curry, which as I mentioned is made from a tomato and cashew base.  After boiling chopped cashews and watermelon seeds in water for a few minutes to soften, we added the tomatoes, fried onions, garlic and various spices and continued to boil until we reached the desired thickness.  After that we blended the mixture until it was smooth and then strained it to get out all of the little chunks of tomato skin and spices.  We were left with a smooth gravy that could now be stored in the freezer for months.  To finish off the makhani curry, we took the gravy and heated it again with oil, ginger, fenugreek, sugar, salt, milk (or cream) and butter (of course!).  Now if you want butter chicken, just add some cooked chicken to the mixture and you’re all set!

chopping onions for the makhani curry

chopping onions for the makhani curry

tomato-cashew mixture for makhani curry

tomato-cashew mixture for makhani curry

Makhani curry base

Makhani curry base prior to straining

Makhani chicken (aka Butter Chicken)

Makhani chicken (aka Butter Chicken)

After a quick break to sample our first dish, we were back in the kitchen making the palak and masala curries.  Both were made in a very similar manner to the makhani curry – you start out by cooking the bases (ie spinach/mint/onion OR onion/ginger/garlic), add spices and blend until smooth.  Once blended you reheat the curry and add a bunch more ingredients and spices and finish with whatever protein or vegetable you’re adding, in our case paneer (for the palak) and chicken (for the masala).

Palek Curry base

Palak Curry base

Palek Paneer and Chicken Masala

Palak Paneer and Chicken Masala

As the chef explained each curry can be finished with any number of ingredients, like chicken, beef, fish, seafood, paneer, vegetables or chick peas to name a few.  Some dishes even use a mix of two of the curry bases.  This makes each recipe extremely versatile, which is great because it allows us to create lots of new dishes from only a few basic recipes.

I’m really looking forward to trying these dishes out in the upcoming weeks.  For the most part, we should be able to buy most of the ingredients here in Cairo.  Anything we can’t find, we should be able to find close substitutes.  As soon as we buy ourselves a blender, we should be good to go!

Anyone else hungry? 🙂

Photo with Kamal, chef at Spicy Bella restaurant

Photo with Kamal, chef at Spicy Bella restaurant

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