Suitcase and World: Cooking with Mai and Meera.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Cooking with Mai and Meera.

Mai and I decided to head back to the car around 3:40p to give us plenty of time to get to our cooking class. I gave our driver the directions which I got from the instructor, Meera.

"My house is located behind Fort Kochi Head Post Office at Quirose Street. House indentification (sp) Blue roof shade and aluminum siding gate. A small board isplaced on the boundary wall and also on the GateName - Flavour cooking class."

Our driver found Quirose Street without problems and he drove at a snail's pace so Mai and I could look for the sign which we easily spotted.

As we got out of the car, a man greeted us and waved us inside the gate. We took off our shoes and sat down on the couch. The clock on the wall showed 3:45p. We were early.

Right on the dot at 4p, a woman appeared. It was Meera. She indicated for us to follow her into the next room which looked to be the dining room. It had been reconfigured to be a demonstration kitchen of sorts. Two tables had been placed in an "L" configuration. The shorter table held a two burner cooktop. The longer table held the ingredients which had been placed in four neat rows to match each recipe.

We immediately plunged into the class. Meera had printed out copies of the recipes - 3 veg, 1 non-veg (which was a fish curry) and appam which is the iconic bread of Kerala. She started by going through each recipe and pointing out the corresponding ingredients. She had chosen to substitute many of the main ingredients and gave us advice on what other substitutions we could make e.g., prawn/shrimp instead of fish for the curry, beets in stead of eggplant for the roasted veg dish, etc.

The fish curry was cooked with green mango which is not an ingredient I have ever used before. I've eaten green mango but never cooked with it so I was particularly intrigued by this recipe. I can imagine the mango would add a nice tang to the dish.

First task at hand was to cook the chickpeas as that would take about 15 minutes in the pressure cooker.

While the chickpeas were cooking, we got started on the other dishes. Since all the ingredients had already been cut up, it was simply a matter of cooking. I let Mai do the honors so I could take the photos and video.

First dish to get underway was the fish curry. Meera mixed the dry spices with water to make a paste which was then fried to release the essential oils. The green mango was then added, along with some water, and cooked til soft. Then went in the fish. A few minutes on each side so as to not overcook it. The fish was finished with a fried mixture of the mustard seeds, fenugreek, shallots and curry leaves.

The beets were cooked with some chili. That was followed by the cabbage/carrot slaw like dish which was cooked with grated coconut. I've had that dish before and it is very tasty so I'm glad I got to see it being made. The key is to use freshly grated coconut. I'm going to have to learn how to crack open the coconuts to get to that flesh as frozen coconut will not be good enough.

Last came the chick peas....cooked with a sauce as always.

As cooking progressed, the heady scent of the base ingredients typical of Keralan cuisine filled the air - coconut oil, mustard seed, fenugreek, shallots, curry leaves, turmeric, chili. The ingredients were all familiar to me so taking a class like this is more about learning textures and technique more than anything else. I always hope to pick up a tip or two as well.

 Last but not least was the dish that both Mai and I were really interested in learning how to cook - appam.  Appam is the classic starch component of a Keralan meal. Classically, it's made with ground rice that is fermented with toddy which is an alcoholic drink made from the sap of the coconut palm.  Meera anticipated that we would not have access to toddy back home so her recipe used yeast as the fermenting agent.  I will have to see if I can find toddy because I don't think appam will taste the same without the coconut flavor imparted by the toddy.

Before we knew it, an hour and half had gone by and we were ready to sit down and eat what Meera had basically cooked for us. We didn't have much time to gulp down our food as we had to leave no later than 6p. We ate as much as we could. It was a very simple but satisfying home cooked meal.

We didn't want to be rude but shortly before 6p, we told Meera we had to leave. We paid her 500 rupee each. Yes, a two hour cooking class for around $9! On our way out, we thanked Meera and her husband for kindly hosting us.

If you're ever in Kochi and you want to take a cooking class, consider Meera.   Here is her card for information.

Our driver was already ready to go. We got in the car and off we went, heading back to the Taj Malabar. It was a short ride. There, I gave Mai a hug goodbye and wished her a safe journey back home.

Back in my room, there was a tray waiting for me. You know you're in a classy hotel when there's something like this greeting you at the end of the day.

The rest of the night was uneventful - just a shower, a bit of blogging and TV to pass the time. I made a cup of lemon tea to sip on. I have no plans for tomorrow so it will unfold as it happens.

Goodnight from Willingdon Island, Kerala!