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Food and Ingredients News

Indian cooking and the spice of life

I think we’ve all been there at one time or another and had a disastrous experience with too much spice. It may well cause a moment of hilarity, when one or the other of our guests is calling for water, lots of it and quickly, but it begs the question: “why do we use spices?”

One of the first things that you’ll learn at any Indian cookery course is that spices are not just for flavour. To many peoples on the subcontinent, fresh and organic spices are not just to give their food a bit of a kick. The marriage of more mundane ingredients with exotic herbs and spices, traded in local markets for centuries, is as much to do with ensuring that their bodies stay nourished as it is with anything to do with simply flavour.

The old adage, we are what we eat, has never been truer than with the concept of the n=majority of Indian cuisine. Collated over many centuries, the various indigenous peoples of regions of India have developed harmonious recipes that blend affluent, local spices to produce the dishes we know and love in the UK as our favourite take-away food.

Ayurveda is much more than the technique developed of marrying ingredients to one another, as sworn by by the populace of many Indian townships. It is an out and out science that draws upon the chemistry between ingredients, developed through time-honoured practises (in the absence of any scientific equipment), passed down from generation to generation.

Okay, it may not pass a stringent examination under controlled conditions in a lab as a health benefit, but many of the blends we taste in our favourite Indian dishes have remained fervent in their respective cultures due to the belief that such time-honoured combinations as we’re now used to seeing accompanied with rice, naan, chapatti and roti have the added benefit of helping to stave off disease.

So not only are many of the Rogan Josh, Jalfrezi and other spicy dishes mouthwateringly tasty, but it’s the common belief of the people who uphold the traditions of their preparation to a traditional recipe that each curry or balti we have is doing our body good in a way that we perhaps do not even realise.

The scarcity of food in such tropical zones is well documented and the way of thinking that has been enforcedly adopted over time is: what benefits are my meal going to deliver my body and mind? Necessity is the mother of invention and many of the combinations of onions, chilli, red meat and spices that make up the basic ingredients of your common or garden curry dish are the results of using combining what ingredients were available to help stave off the effects of malnutrition and pestilence in times gone by.  A blessing in disguise as we look back, one may hasten to say.

So the next time you’re sitting down with your Biryani, mostly unknown on home shores sixty years hence, just think of the journey that traditional dish has had to get onto your plate today.

Spices are a truly fascinating culture on their own – and can be quite lethal if served in inappropriate doses but a boon when you know how to get the best from them.
The quickest and easiest way to acquaint yourself with their benefits is take on one of the many popular Indian cookery classes on offer, many available from those on our cookery course home page. Get to grips with your corianders, cumins, turmerics and cardamoms once and for all so that next time the boss comes round for a curry, you end up giving them too much of a chilli reception, whether they deserve it or not.

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Cookery Courses London News

French Indian fusion cookery course for final Friday frolics

What do you get when you cross cuisine in the style of French Creole with the aromatic herbs and spices and tradition of southern Indian cooking? To sum it up quite succinctly, Chef Mehernosh Mody.

The award winning chef is hosting cookery courses on the last Friday of every month at La Porte des Indes, the restaurant name in itself a combination of the French influence using Asian ingredients and know-how to create a fusion menu that draws upon all of his experience.

This is a simplistic style cookery class in the form of demonstration, rather than hands on participation, but that in no way means the budding chef will be left feeling short-changed for the experience, and all for a very reasonable £45 asking price. Especially when you consider that the cost includes a three-course meal and a welcome drink as well as a myth-shattering behind the scenes insight into Indian cooking at the London restaurant-hosted cookery course.

At the heart of any Indian meal is a foundation knowledge of the herbs and spices that give them their delicate flavour. Every chef who’s had to learn to cook Indian food from scratch probably has a tale or two of over-indulgence in one spice or another, culminating in the odd gallon of water for the unfortunate victims at the trial and error stage. One of the key aspects of this cookery course is the exploratory demonstration of those spices, not only in the punch or twist they can deliver but also the preparation of them, from their initial roasting right through to the grinding and pounding stage so that they’re usable in the powder or flake form we are used to.

These shared secrets come after a guided tour of the kitchens of La Porte des Indes, part of the Blue Elephant group of restaurants, where Chef Mehernosh and his talented, dedicated team make the magic happen on a regular basis. And that magic not only extends to the food. Within the package, there also comes an overview of what wine to mix with the various Indian dishes that chef will be preparing. Up here in the West Midlands, Indian = lager; we’re obviously missing the expert tutelage of the refined French palate to add to our Asian-influenced cultural heritage, so any lesson teaching us how to put the vino into vindaloo wouldn’t go amiss.

And the cookery course doesn’t end at the restaurant. The tour, masterclass and demonstrations themselves are over in the blink of a lunchtime eye, lasting from 12 noon to 1.30pm, when you sit down to eat the three course meal you have watched being so diligently prepared. However, you do get a copy of the cook book used by the chefs at the London restaurant, as well as your participation certificate and, more importantly if you want to have a crack yourself at home, a spice mix to compliment what you have learnt and the tome you take home.

There is a full schedule of the end of the month cookery courses on the La Porte des Indes website, the next one being, obviously, Friday 30th March. The lesson can be booked per individual or, as is the en vogue team building exercise of the decade, as a corporate package. The £45 includes vat, however, a 12.5% service will be tagged on to your final bill. See the website for full listing of terms and conditions.

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Cookery Class News

Cookery class in the heart of curry-land – Birmingham

Today, our cookery course is set in the heart of traditional Indian cuisine in the UK – Birmingham. England’s second city has housed Indian restaurants since the end of WWII, although historians are split between which was precisely the first Indian cafe, whether it was The Darjeeling in Steelhouse Lane or The Shah Bag on the Hagley Road, both officially opening their doors to the public in 1945, almost a decade before Indian restaurants became popular in many of the other larger cities in the UK.

In more modern times, as ethnicity of the West Midlands has become more diverse, you cannot walk along any town’s High Street without a waft of Asian spices greeting you on the fragrant air from any one of a multitude of influences, from Bangladeshi to Pakistani. For those offering cookery courses competition is fierce; with a large population density in its mostly-urban townscapes, the market for those who want to learn to cook Indian food is potentially huge .

As testament to that, we bring you news of a fantastic cookery class deal, ideal for the individual or couple who are looking to take their understanding of Indian cuisine further than a jar of Patak’s tikka masala for a midweek treat.

The Spice Trade, based at The Rajdoot Tandoori on George Street, have not only identified this need, but also come up with a cracking cookery class for those working in and around Birmingham on Monday and Tuesday evenings. You book the cookery course online, which is essentially for a two-course Indian meal. For £24 per individual or £42 for a couple (the maximum, unless buying as gifts for others), you get the attentions of one of their top class chefs to guide you through a demonstration in the first instance and then get to have a go, yourself. You also get a drink thrown in, so you can literally sit down and eat the friuts of your labour once the two and a half hour (7 – 9.30pm) cooking lesson has run its course.

That is just one of the offers at The Spice Trade Indian Cookery School, to give it its full name, founded by Anita Sharma-James, of Good Food Show fame. In a similar guise to the two-course set up, they can cater for group events and the growing trend of corporate team-building cookery courses that are taking over from outdoor pursuits in favour of an exercise they can use at home, rather than bringing back a pile of muddy clothes after a wet weekend in South Wales.

This offering is a true insight into how to cook Indian, with a few tips of the trade brought back to the UK from the sub-continent. As you can imagine, this amazing deal is only open for a limited time; for full details and t’s & c’s (there are restrictions, such as age, maximum numbers, etc.), head on over to The Spice Trade.