Add some spice to your cooking with The Milestone Cookery School
When I was growing up, home-made curry involved raisins, apple and lots of turmeric. To be fair, my home town of Pontefract was hardly the culinary capital of anywhere and it was only when I moved to Sheffield for university that I had my first real curry. Slowly, but surely, I have trained my taste buds to like spices and heat (and coriander) and curry is now one of my favourite meals.
As a number of South Indian restaurants have been popping up across the city, curry has become more interesting – I’m really starting to learn about the Indian cuisine. I now know what a vada is, what a dosa is and that I will never see a garlic and coriander nann in my favourite Indian restaurant ever again. This is all well and good, but knowing what to order in a restaurant is only half the story. To have any chance of getting to grips with a cuisine, we need to take it into the kitchen and have a crack at it ourselves.
Easier said than done sometimes though, eh? Precisely. Which is why I was intrigued when The Milestone Cookery School started advertising South Indian cookery courses. Admittedly, I was a little sceptical at first as The Milestone is a very British restaurant, but a friend of the family, Manisha Patel, actually runs the classes and, as she grew up in India, her recipes and techniques are very traditional. So when The Milestone kindly offered me a place on the next course I excitedly took them up on the offer!
On arrival to the upstairs classroom I was warmly welcomed by Manisha and her husband, Prakash and I was quite glad to find that the class was quite small with just four of us taking part. We were each given our own workbench which was set up with all the tools that we would need for the day and a few ingredients. Not being one for wasting time, Manisha put us to work straight away and we chopped up garlic, coriander and chilli in preparation for the cooking.
We kicked off with a simple renghan batak (or aubergine and potato curry) and Manisha showed us how we can knock up an extremely tasty onion and tomato free curry in just a few minutes. In fact this recipe is so simple that it put my obsession with Patak’s curry pastes to shame! We just heated some oil in a pan, added a teaspoon of black mustard seeds and cooked them until they popped before adding minced garlic cloves and some minced ginger. That cooked away for a bit before a diced potato and aubergine went into the pan. After a couple of minutes of cooking we added a teaspoon of salt, sugar, turmeric, ground coriander, sesame seeds and chilli powder along with 4 tablespoons of water. Once the vegetables were cooked we added some defrosted peas to the pan, sprinkled some chopped fresh coriander into the mix and served.
The end result was stunning and I instantly felt ashamed of my reliance on curry pastes, especially as I always have the ingredients used here in my spice rack at home. I was interested to also find that Manisha will use the spice mix for any vegetable curry as it’s quite light and lets the flavour of the vegetables shine through, but when it comes to a meat curry she will use something heavier as the meat needs the extra flavour. I was starting to understand why I always go vegetarian when I eat at an Indian restaurant!
Next up we had a go at making bataka vada (or lemon and coriander potato balls). Potato was mixed with spices, fresh coriander and lemon juice before being dipped into a batter of spiced gram flour and deep fried. Manisha told us how her kids like to eat these with ketchup (yes, ketchup) and she will regularly make up a batch for the family to snack on. She will also play around with the ingredients, sometimes adding onion, garlic, coconut or sultanas and I think I would also quite like to add a chunk of strong cheddar cheese to the centre of each ball…
Manisha then gathered us around to show us how she makes a coriander chutney; another incredibly simple recipe of fresh coriander blitzed with chillies, garlic, cumin seeds, salt and sugar, lemon juice and oil. This was also absolutely stunning, so fresh and zingy thanks to the lemon and chilli. Apparently the stuff is popular in cheese sandwiches in India and, having tried it myself, I can certainly see why.
Last but not least we had a go at chapattis. These were quite a bit fiddlier than the other dishes; the dough was easy to make but there’s a real skill in rolling these out, especially if you want perfectly formed circular chapattis! We used traditional rolling pins and chapatti pans, but Manisha explained that we could use normal rolling pins and a frying pan at home. For those with gas hobs you could cook them on the naked gas flame but as some of the group didn’t feel so comfortable getting so close to the flame, we stuck to the pans this time.
And there we were! We all had a full meal cooked up and ready to take home, but more importantly we had a wealth of knowledge, especially as each of us took away a little booklet of the recipes we’d followed throughout the day. But, probably most important of all, was that we’d all had a tremendous time. Both Manisha and Prakash are friendly, confident and welcoming. They had managed the class excellently ensuring that we got through the dishes, but that we still had fun. And we did have fun, I actually laughed all afternoon.
Classes are £50 and last for three hours. Check out The Milestone website for future dates. I hear that Manisha is looking at chopping and changing the recipes she uses at future classes so, you never know, you might see me at a future class…