When I started my internship at Experience Days last month, I said that a cooking class was at the top of my list. Call me lucky, but we certainly didn’t waste any time making that a reality! It’s safe to say I was over the moon when I learnt we were going to meet the lovely Minesh, learn all about Indian cuisine and take part in an Authentic Indian Cooking Class!
Professional chef Minesh Agnihotri, founded the Brighton restaurant ‘Indian Summer’ in 2001, and is the man behind the ‘The Kari Club’: - a cookery club that seeks to teach people there is more to Indian food than just plain old curry. Just a 5-minute walk from London Road Station in Brighton, sits Minesh’s authentic cookery club, an Aladdin’s cave full of wonderful aromas and spices! Upon arrival, we were met with a warm welcome from Minesh himself, who was ready and waiting with some welcome drinks he had prepared for us. After a few introductions, we were immediately introduced to the Indian cuisine with some delicious Mango Lassi. A popular and traditional Indian drink, it’s a blend of yoghurt, water and fruit – and it tasted amazing! With mango being one of my favourite fruits, this refreshing beverage was the perfect way to kick off our class and introduce us to some new flavours. As we settled ourselves in, Minesh outlined what we would be doing in the class, as well as explaining his background with authentic Indian food. On his childhood trips to Gujarat, Minesh was involved in the preparation of vibrant and fragrant food. He recalls that when visiting a “traditional” curry house in England, he was left dismayed by the poor representation of Indian food, and sought to bring real authentic flavours to everyone that had been missing out. And oh boy, have we been missing out!
On the agenda for our class was ‘Mamaji Chicken’ (a cashew chicken dish) and ‘Baingan Bharta’ (a vegan aubergine dish). Alongside these two dishes, we were to prepare basmati rice, homemade chapatis and a sweet potato thoran (a salad-like side). With Alex, our honorary vegan, in tow, we had the exciting opportunity to try out cooking a plant-based alternative alongside our meat dish. The class can easily cater to a range of dietary requirements, and we all thoroughly enjoyed the plant-based cooking – as we realised there’s many more vegan options than you may originally think! In exploring these alternatives, Minesh opened our eyes to just how clean authentic Indian food can be, contrary to popular belief.
We began the Baingan Bharta by creating our aubergine mash, which would essentially be the base of our vegan ‘curry’. After piercing our aubergines, we placed them directly on to a gas stove, in order to barbecue them. This was by far the strangest way any of us had ever cooked an aubergine, but it turned out to be the tastiest! After smoking, we went on to peel the aubergine and mash it down into what ended up being a very un-auberginey consistency! Preparing and cooking the aubergine in this unique way created an incredible smoked flavour that carried right through the entire dish. I’m not usually a fan of aubergine, but this dish turned out to be one of my favourites. Cooking it in this way was delicious and I can’t wait to try it myself at home.
One of the best things about the class is that Minesh involves you in the addition of each ingredient, tutoring you through the tastings of your creations throughout the process. The wealth of knowledge he has accumulated from years as a professional chef really shines through this cookery club, as his impeccable palette is able to educate you on the different levels of flavours and spices as your dish comes along. I didn’t realise just how much a dish can change with the simple addition of a few spices! Alongside cooking the Bharta dish, we prepared the Mamaji Chicken – an interpretation of a dish that Minesh’s mother used to cook for him when he was a child. This rich, nutty curry included making a cashew nut paste that was incorporated into a lovely mix of tomato, onion, ginger and spices. Next was the sweet potato and carrot thoran, an amazingly refreshing salad that complimented the main dishes superbly. Whilst chopping, Minesh let us onto a few tricks of the trade by teaching us some essential chef’s knife skills. There really is a trick to handling a knife to chop finely and beautifully, and after some tutoring, we all had our go at mimicking Minesh’s uniformed chopping. This was Ayla’s time to shine, as she took to it like a duck to water! The rest of us, however, may need a few more lessons…
The final part of our meal to prepare was the chapatis, something no authentic Indian meal would be complete without. The base of a chapati is simple, so a few ingredients and a bit of kneading later, we had our dough and were ready roll it out onto the wooden board. With our surface dusted with flour, Minesh taught us how to roll out the dough into perfectly round discs. If we thought working with a knife took skill, the art of rolling a perfectly round chapati took even more! With a specialised rolling pin that is thin at both ends and thicker in the middle, we rolled the dough in a circular movement to create the thin base. Being extremely familiar with authentic Indian food, Rina was by far the most skilled chapati maker of us all – even impressing Minesh himself in the process! Once rolled, each one was placed onto a hot chapati pan for around 30 seconds, until small air bubbles began to appear. They cook incredibly fast, and they can be prone to burning, so make sure you keep an eye on them!
With all our food prepared and ready to be eaten, Minesh set the table for our evening meal. All our work had paid off as we got to indulge in the new flavours and spices, cracking open a bottle of wine and sitting back to enjoyed our feast. The entire environment was welcoming and relaxing, and Minesh was very accommodating to us all. If you’re even remotely interested in Indian food, (or any food for that matter!) I recommend you check this course out for yourself, or as a gift to a loved one. This engaging and, most importantly delicious course is great for anyone wanting to learn more about the authentic cuisine or wanting to experiment with some new dishes at home.
If you fancy a night in and are located near the Brighton area, the Kari Club can even come to you! Minesh also offers private classes, where he can bring the true taste of India right to your door. To find out more, check out this At Home Authentic Indian Cooking Class.
A huge thankyou to the wonderful Minesh for being a fantastic teacher and opening our eyes to the true tastes of India - we all cannot wait to try some out for ourselves at home!