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They came, they saw . . . and they even made it!!

Well, folks, at this time of year with Christmas and the ever-important cricket match between India and Australia the usual Wednesday routine of the blog appearing had a slight hiccough! Be that as it may, I want to share with you the class I gave to a group of young Sydney girls.

I have always wondered how you change young people’s perceptions about anything, especially food, and even more so when it comes to Indian food.

The answer came in the form of 33 young girls from a school in Sydney who were aged between 12–14 years.

(This, incidentally, is the age-group my son is in and I have learnt watching him that this is the age when impressions are formed either good, bad or ugly!! Get the young kids into the ‘good’ category and you have probably done a good job as a parent!!)

So, what about these young girls?

Well, they came to my restaurant to learn how to cook an Indian dish.

We could have cooked any of the million or so dishes from India but I decided on making paneer for a number of reasons, namely:

Paneer is something most Indians love to eat (in different forms) but very few can make it correctly.

Paneer is a dish that is very similar to fresh cheese made in different parts of the world, where it is called by different names you’ll be familiar with, such as haloumi, feta, mozzarella and bocconcini.

Paneer is a great substitute for meat and is extremely nutritious. And given that many young people, particularly girls, are vegetarians, I thought this would be a useful dish.

Paneer also has that “wow” factor that can lure kids into making it at home to show off to their parents, and even to their siblings, to get a little respect from them!

So this is what we did.

We divided the class into groups of three.

Each group would make their own paneer [following my paneer recipe] and allow it to set.

They would then return the following day and create the dish paneer makhni using the paneer that they had created.

Each girl would also come with at least one question/doubt that she had about the dish whilst they’d been cooking it, it could’ve been about a spice, or the amount of chillies used, or the addition of salt, etc.

I just wanted them to think about the dish, to question the reasons we do things and to get their minds whirring.

We also gave each student a recipe to take home [as you know how easy it is to forget what one has put into a dish on arriving home and all the other in-between stuff from cooking the paneer to arriving back home!].

So, off we went to the demonstration table so that the girls could watch me make the paneer from scratch to finished product.

After they’d watched me make the paneer the groups retreated to their ‘work stations’ to recreate the dish.

stirring the milk till it comes to room temperature and then cream is added, while it heats

continue to add vinegar till the curds separate from the whey

straining whey using a muslin cloth

sieving the whey

tying the muslin cloth

tying the muslin cloth into a tight knot and allowing the cheese to set

And here is what the girls did the following day when they came back to make a superb tomato dish that the paneer is added to for the paneer makhni.

checking the pan is hot enough to add oil to make the 'sauce'

adding oil and clarified butter

adding chopped white onions with salt, stirring till the onions are caramalised. this is followed by ground ginger and crushed garlic, added one at a time.

adding chopped tomatoes after the spices go in, again, one at a time

after stirring in tomatoes they are cooked till the oil comes to the surface and the skin of the tomatoes comes off

adding honey at this stage

adding all of the honey to get a balance between the acidity of the tomatoes and the chilli and salt, a unique way of cooking!!

followed by fresh cream (optional, but the girls were keen to add it) and dried fenugreek leaves

dicing the paneer that was made the previous day

adding paneer to the sauce, fold and voila Paneer Makhni ready to serve your guests!!

Well, after the cooking was done and all the pots and pans were cleared away we decided to make some steamed baasmati rice to accompany the paneer makhni and also to talk about spices and chilli and salt and turmeric as one does with young girls!

Joking aside, their insights and what they knew was interesting. Here goes:

It was amazing to learn from these 12-14 year-old kids that they all had used chillies at some stage in their ‘young life’ and that, as one girl told some of the others, “A chilli is hot when you bite into the seed,” and one girl even knew the medicinal benefits of eating it, namely that it helps in reducing weight!!

So, as one girl would reveal a little fact about something, the others would chime in, “Turmeric,” one said “is good for giving colour to a dish.” And no sooner had she said this than another girl promptly corrected her that it was not ‘just to add color’ but to ’bring out’ colour in the dish, as her mother had told her (who had, apparently, done a class with me a few years ago!!!).

One girl said that baasmati rice was low in GI and was good for people with diabetes.

I was pleased and impressed by the girls’ knowledge but towards the end of this session one girl called the dish we had just cooked a CURRY but she was soon corrected, gently, by some of the girls and yours truly!

How interesting, I thought, as the last wave of girls had left the class, that when you come with a pure and clean mind you have no preconceptions and these young girls proved it. They were keen on learning, they were interested in giving their knowledge and, most importantly, they were able to change their view and learn something (as well as taking home a superb dish for their family to sample).

JOB DONE AJOY, time to go on a break. . .

And that’s what I did folks. You all know about the Boxing Day match and so off I went to Melbourne to watch the little master Sachin Tendulkar score his 100th international hundred, well almost!! (what a marvellous innings that was, and if he is even half as good as Don Bradman, I’ll be content with that!)

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!!

About Ajoy Joshi

i've been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i've owned nilgiri's indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i'm on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a 'curry in a hurry'! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i'm enjoying exploring the new social media and as well as having published cookery books i'm now moving into videos. simple and easy to follow that don't go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!

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