If you’re like me and think that cooking authentic Indian food requires a Tandoori oven, a trove of exotic spices and years of apprenticeship with your Indian grandmother, then put away that Bombay takeout menu because local chef Preeti Sikri is unlocking the secrets of Indian cooking with her ongoing series of classes called CurryOmCurry.
I attended her latest group class covering “Indian Breads” at a Westport home this week with two friends. We learned to prepare all those yummy breads I love to order but never thought I’d make at home -- naan, aloo paratha, poori -- plus dahi keema, a delicious ground chicken and spinach dish served with the naan. The experience was as hands-on as you want it to be. We took turns mixing batter, rolling and stuffing, flipping, frying and of course eating, all while sipping a glass of wine in a beautiful kitchen with a group of fun, enthusiastic women.
The breads were surprisingly easy to prepare and all delicious in their own right but especially when paired with the yogurt raita and the mango ginger chutney. The paratha filled with grated potato, homemade paneer cheese and cilantro was a personal favorite, although I did find myself sneaking more than my share of the crispy fried poori. Could be a newfound guilty pleasure.
What struck me is how common many of the ingredients are – ginger, yogurt, cilantro – with a smattering of Indian spices like turmeric, cumin and garam masala. All of the specialty spices are readily available at Penzey’s although Preeti provides alternatives (while completely dismissing curry powder as an American concoction!) so you don’t need to put an extension on your spice rack unless you want to. Construction on mine is underway. And I’m torching that curry powder.
Preeti is a self-taught chef (apparently Indian grandmothers are overrated) and has seemingly perfected an arsenal of classic Indian dishes, many made even healthier by sneaking in vegetables or beans. She brings a very easy, informed style to her classes and shares her recipes as well as plenty of tips worth writing down. Her next series of Saturday classes kicks off August 8th (priced at $60 per 2-hour class, minimum of 4 people). Not convenient? Then contact Preeti about a group lesson in your own home with a customized menu. Check out her self-designed website for class descriptions, scheduling and some amazing recipes -- www.curryomcurry.com.
Bottom line: If you’re looking to expand your bag of culinary tricks, then CurryOmCurry is a great way to add Indian cooking to your repertoire. Plus it makes for a really fun evening with friends. I’d love to try a class on different curries. With a poori chaser of course.
Note: Preeti (seen on left) highly recommends Spices of Asia in Norwalk (281 Connecticut Ave) as a go-to source for Indian ingredients like paneer and the whole wheat durum flour she prefers for the paratha and poori.
Chef Preeti Sikri