by Hannah Zitren
When it was announced that each employee at Ash would be entitled to a day to develop a new skill to celebrate the passion and dedication our beloved late CEO, Sue Ash, had for continuous professional development, allowing each of us to reach our full potential, I thought about numerous options but couldn’t pin down one specific activity. That was until I went for the most sumptuous dinner one evening at a local Indian restaurant and realised then and there I had to learn the secrets behind this cuisine. The exotic smells of the spices and the rich, spicy and flavourful dishes were too much to resist and it suddenly occurred to me that I have always thoroughly enjoyed cooking from scratch and often host dinner parties for friends and family. Yet authentic Indian food was something I hadn’t prepared (well not without the help of a jar of korma sauce!)
I decided to embark on a half day course with Farzana Ullah , an Indian lady who from a very young age, has been surrounded by this type of food. She has spent years perfecting the dishes which have been passed through the generations and now teaches clients how to make traditional Indian food. Coincidentally, I scheduled my cookery class for 8 May 2016, exactly one year to the day when Sue died, and I couldn’t wait to get started.
I opted to cook onion bhajis, a spicy Indian snack or appetiser similar to a fritter; lamb karahi curry (a karahi is actually a type of thick, circular and deep cooking pot used in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal); chicken korma, a curry with spiced sauce made with yogurt, cream, nut or seed paste (korma literally means cooked meat) and a lentil dhal curry (dhal is a dried pulse which has been split).
On my arrival, I was provided with a Masala Dabba, a stainless steel Indian aromatic spice tin, which included curry powder; cardamom powder; chilli powder; cumin; garam masala; turmeric; salt; ground coriander and a small metal spoon for dispensing accurate measures.
We firstly set to work on the bhajis, finely slicing the onions and mixing them with gram flour, dry chilli, cumin, coriander and baking powder. We then added chopped coriander, green chillies and crushed pomegranate seeds and gradually added water to make a batter of a medium consistency. This mixture was then left to stand for half an hour before we added a pinch of salt and then heated some oil in a pan. Once the liquid was piping, we dropped spoonfuls of the mixture into it and fried the batter until the portions resembled golden brown nuggets. We then removed them and drained them on kitchen paper before serving on a plate.
For the lamb karahi, we put oil in a pan and added the onions, garlic and ginger and heated everything for a few seconds. Tomatoes and green chillies were then included and this mixture was cooked until the tomatoes became soft. Crushed coriander, cumin, chilli, turmeric, salt and paprika were placed into the pan, then the lamb, and the whole dish was stir-fried for five minutes to ensure the meat lapped up all the flavours from the herbs. One cup of water was then tipped into the mixture and everything was cooked on medium heat for 45 minutes until the lamb was tender and broke easily with
a fork. The lid was then removed to brown the meat and, once ready, we took the curry off the hob, put it in a dish and garnished it with fresh coriander and garam masala.
The dhal was put into a pan and left to simmer for 20 minutes before coriander, cumin, salt, turmeric and chillies were added and this concoction was left on a low light for an hour until it resembled a yellow soup-like mixture. Once ready, we added some of the leftover fried onions from the bhajis and the dhal was then mixed and put into a container and sprinkled with coriander.
The chicken korma was the last dish that we cooked. We started by mixing chicken with garlic, ginger and half a pot of plain yoghurt. This was then left to one side while we fried onions with tomatoes; bay leaves; cardamom pods; garam masala; coriander; bay leaves; turmeric and black pepper. All these ingredients were then removed from the pan and blended with the remaining half of the pot of yoghurt until it formed a smooth paste. Everything, including the chicken, was returned to the pan with a can of creamed coconut, some water and ground almonds and the korma was covered and left to simmer for 45 minutes.
We took all the food home with us and I served all the dishes to my family for dinner – they did not disappoint!
The main thing I took out of this cooking experience was that no matter what you do in life, if you are truly passionate about something and put your all into it, you will reap the benefits. Farzana runs these classes because she wants other people to share her delight in cooking, and the enjoyment she gets from seeing how a dish goes from inception to fruition is evident. Whether you eat to live or live to eat, there's no denying the words of Virginia Woolf, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well if one has not dined well."