Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Atlanta Trip - Cook's Warehouse - Vegetarian Cooking Class

On my trip to Atlanta I had the opportunity to take my first cooking class ever. I had two choices at first - a vegetarian cooking class and another more home style cooking class 'Fall for Fall Hands On'. After some consultation with my wife - who is a vegetarian - I decided to take the vegetarian cooking class. Now I have a confession to make - I'm not a huge Indian food fan, in fact I really haven't liked much Indian food I've ever tried. Same for Christine (my wife) but I figured that at the minimum I'd learn something new which I could bring to the kitchen and I suspected there are Indian dishes out there I would like.

I didn't know much about Indian cooking but I believed that I just had a history of choosing poorly at Indian restaurants - kind of a 'bad idea menu' thing. However, I was not deterred - after all there's something like a billion Indians (in India alone) eating this kind of food everyday so it would be pretty shocking if there was no Indian food I liked. Plus, I thought it would be downright arrogant to make a statement so broad and sweeping as I don't like Indian food.

So on to the course. The description stated that we would be making the following dishes (I'll post the recipes as well):
Saag Paneer - reduced spinach with cheese, onions, ginger, garlic and more
Whole Wheat Parathas - a flat bread grilled on a pan
Bengan Bharta - roasted eggplant with tomatoes, onions and spices
Toor Daal - yellow lentil soup with tarka
Peas Pullao - a rice cooked with spices and combined with peas
Raita - this is a yougurt mixed up with spices and fresh veggies like cucumber and tomatoes

I'll go into more details on the food later on but I want to give my general impressions while I still remember. The Saag Paneer was great - the taste was not too spicy and the spinach combined with the Indian cheese made for something really different but not too exotic. I'm definately making that again.

Whole wheat Parathas - amazing! I had these once years ago but I could not remember what they were. In fact, I've tried to order these many times in Indian restaurants but always ended up with a different bread. These are very easy to make and you can spice them any way you like. The dough takes about 10 minutes to make, let it rest for 30 minutes and then go crazy!

Roasted Eggplant - another amazing dish with tons of potential. The eggplants were roasted until they were completely soft and collapsed then mashed and combined with tomatoes and onions. I figured that I could change the ingredients up on this using the roasted eggplant as a base and the potential is endless.

Toor Daal (yellow lentil soup with tarka) - this was not one of my favorites. I suspect it was because of the curry leaves in the dish. Still, I liked the technique of cooking the lentils and it will start my experimentation with lentils.

Peas Pullao - this seemed to be a basic rice dish. I'd never seen rice cooked like this. The basmati was soaked for about 20 minutes. In the meantime cloves, cinnamon, cumin seeds and onions were cooked briefly then water was added and brought to a boil. None of this was drained out and the rice was added and cooked as usual. The rice was pretty good in the end. I didn't think it was anything to write a blog about :) but it was pretty good.

Raita - another winner. This yogurt based cold dish is served on the plate as a sauce and is used when the other dishes are burning your lips off. It tastes great and really works. A couple of times I was getting a little hot under the collar and the raita really took the temperature down - fast!

The chef was Archna Becker - she owns a restaurant close to the location of the Decateur Cook's Warehouse. She was great - very knowledgeable, enthusiastic and down to earth.

In the end I loved the cooking class and am really keyed up on taking more in the near future!


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