Monday, June 19, 2017

Cooking With Jyoti.

I met Jyoti Agarwal back in 2010 when I took two cooking classes from her as well as spent the better part of half a day sampling street foods and doing a market walk with her.  You can read about my time with Jyoti here and here and you can get more information about her classes on her website.  Back then, Jyoti's cooking classes were something that she was just starting up and even then, I had so much fun spending time and learning some basic Indian cooking skills from her that I offered the girls the opportunity to do a cooking class with her.   They both enthusiastically leapt at the idea so I signed us up for a half day cooking class and a half shopping/market/snack tour.  I also had Jyoti arrange for transportation to pick us up outside of the PVR Rivoli Theatre, take us around with Jyoti and then drop us off at the theatre at the and of the day.

But, I need to first flash back to how the day started.  It started really bright and early.  I knew Ayşe was arriving into Delhi this morning and I think I was too excited to sleep much last night.  Her flight was scheduled around 4:30a and I had told her to text me when she landed.  I was awake when her text came through on my phone!

Through our Airbnb apartment house manager, Rajni, I had arranged for a pre-taxi to pick Ayşe up from the airport and bring her straight to the apartment.  Yesterday, the manager reached out to me via WhatsApp to confirm the pickup and to tell me that the driver would be waiting for Ayşe outside Gate 5.  I relayed that info to Ayşe. Of course, I had no clue where Gate 5 was located and only hoped that Ayşe would be able to find the gate.  As soon as I got her first text message, I was wide awake and waiting for the next one to appear on my phone.

As I had feared, Ayşe could not find the gate.  She walked every which way but no luck.  Several text messages were exchanged between her and I and between Rajni and I before we jointly decided that it would be easiest if Ayşe just took a taxi.  I told her to tell the driver to take her to the PVR Rivoli at Connaught Place.  I then told her to open up Google Maps on her phone and set the theatre as the destination.  I then told her to text me when she was about 10 minutes away.  That's when I would leave the apartment and make my way to meet up with her.  I was expecting her ride to take at least 40 minutes but barely 20 had elapsed when she told me she was just a few minutes away.  In the meantime, Rajni apologized profusely for the trouble but I told her not to worry, these things happen.

So, I darted out of the apartment and scurried over to the theatre.  I then waited, waited and waited.....much more than a few minutes.  Patience.  Soon enough a taxi slowed down as it approached me and I could see her smiling face looking back at me from the other side of the passenger window.  She's here!   We greeted each other with big smiles and a hug!  I welcomed her to Delhi and after she paid the driver, we made our way back to the apartment.   This time, it was not Islam who opened up the gate for us, it was Keshap.  He's the night guard who comes on duty at 8p and leaves 12 hours later at which time, Islam arrives.  Like Islam, he's a bit shy and his English is also not so good but he's very friendly.

Chantale was awake when we entered the apartment.  Poor thing, she's still grappling with issues related to her father.  I don't think she's slept a full eight hours straight since we've arrived in to India.  One of these nights, she will crash and hopefully, finally have a good night's rest.

Everyone was happy to see everyone else. We showed Ayşe to her room and let her rest for a bit.  We had to be back in front of the PVR Rivoli at 9a so it would not be much of a rest but a few minutes is better than nothing.  As I had expected, she did not sleep a wink on the plane.

Around 8:30a, I rustled Ayşe awake and everyone got ready for the day ahead of us.  A few minutes before 9a and we were out the door.  Islam had arrived for his day shift.  With a smile, he waved us out the front gate.

We waited in front of the PVR Rivoli Theatre until around 9:15a at which point I called Jyoti to find out about the status of the car.  Apparently, the original driver had run into issues with his car and another driver would be picking us up in his place. So, it was just a matter of waiting.

Patience.  We spotted a car slowing down as it neared us.  I had to shout to Chantale that the car had arrived.  That woman is always off somewhere, in search of a photography moment :-)  The driver confirmed he was picking us up to take us to Jyoti's house so we all got in and off we went rumbling down the streets of Delhi.  It was Chantale's first view of the city beyond the small area around our apartment.  We gave her the front seat so she could snap away.  She's quickly becoming very handy at taking photos with her imitation GoPro.

In 2010, it seemed like it took a very long time to get to Jyoti's house but today, it was relatively short drive.  I immediately recognized her house though not the face of the young woman who let us in.  We were ushered into Jyoti's living room to wait for her.  The room had not changed in all these years.

When she finally entered the room, I thought she had not aged a day in the last 7 years.  We introduced ourselves and then I told her that we had met before; that I had attended one of her cooking classes years ago.  She did not recognize me.  So, to show her that I was not just making up a story, I pulled a photo that I took of her all those years ago. I asked if she still had the same pink shirt and she said that it was still hanging in her closet!  She was so surprised at what I was telling and showing her.  She remarked that she had put on a few pounds since we first met and I replied that I had as well and that it meant that we were both doing well in life.  In 2010, she had a young man named Bobby working for her.  I remember him because she was constantly shouting out his name, calling for him.  She told that he had long moved on, that he had gotten a job in a restaurant.  Like many employers, she was happy he could leave for better opportunities but sad to have someone who had been working for her for many years, leave.

Well, I could have gone down memory lane with Jyoti for hours on end but it was time to get cooking!  I had asked for a menu of northern Indian dishes as this is the region that we're traveling through on this trip.  I wanted the ladies to know how the food is cooked so they can better appreciate what they are eating.  Jyoti remarked that had she known I had cooked with her before, she would have switched up the menu.  That was nice of her but in reality, my intention for today was to just sit back and enjoy the activities going on - I would leave all the cooking up to Chantale and Ayşe.

As with my class in 2010, Jyoti started with an explanation of the essential tray of spices used in northern Indian cooking. It's a different set of spices for southern cooking.

Then, it was brief intro into how you have to cook spices to release their essential oils, a key technique in Indian cooking.

We got treated to cups of masala chai. I'm not much of a fan of the beverage but both Chantale and Ayşe love it!

While we sipped on our tea, the next lesson was the fresh ingredients that are used to season food - garlic, onion, chili, etc.

Now it was time to start putting all the pieces to gather and whip out some yummy dishes!

Before the girls got their hands into the food, they were given aprons to wear.  Jyoti has them custom designed for her.  Her business has done well over the years.

Today, she did tell us that videotaping the cooking class was not allowed.  I fully understand why but back in 2010, when she was just starting out, there was no restriction so I shot video so I could have a reference back to the class.   So only photos as a reminder of our class today.

We made several dishes at once starting with the a basic cooked tomato puree that would be used to make the butter chicken.

The ladies also worked together to make tikki with peas.

They also made a rice pulao, dal, curried squash and an okra dish.  The smells that were wafting about the room were intoxicating.  Even though I wasn't really very hungry, the greedy side of me really wanted to eat!

There was a lot of food to cooking and because Jyoti was teaching at the same time, it took longer to produce each dish than if she was able to just concentrate on cooking.  After we finished cooking, we retreated back to the living room so that her staff could clear off the dining table and set up for us to have lunch.

When we returned to the dining table, the food had all been placed in the classic metal Indian serving bowls and 4 metal plates had been set out.  It was finally time to eat!

The butter chicken.

The okra.

The rice pulao, squash, and dal.

The squash.

The rice pulao.

The dal.

It was nice to know how a proper Indian meal is served.  I would have piled the rice on the plate and then everything around it.  But the proper way is to put the solid stuff on the plate and the more liquidy stuff in the bowls.  I started with what looks like a small plate of food but if you add the stuff from the bowls, excluding the yogurt, it actually is a lot of food!  Of course, there were some dishes that I liked more than others.  I had seconds of the dal, okra and squash.   Whenever I am in India, I basically go vegetarian not because I'm afraid of eating the meat but because the vegetarian fare here is so delicious.  Only the Indians can transform the humble lentil 1,000 different tasty and very soul satisfying ways.

Oh my God!  I was so stuffed.  Thank God, we get to do some walking this afternoon.  I need to be able to button up my pants again!

All in all, I think the girls really enjoyed the cooking class - they were fully engaged at all times and I got to be the beneficiary of all their efforts!  Thank you!

Next, it's off to do some shopping, marketing, and street snacking with Jyoti.