Thursday, January 27, 2011

Orphanage Trip & Cooking Class

I'm done with Sanskrit classes! Whoop! Whoop! I could probably move onto the Level 2 Sanskrit class now, but since I've only got 1 week and 1 day left in Mysore (?!?!???), I figured I wasn't going to kill myself doing more (and harder) homework. I'd much rather take it a bit easier and let the last few weeks soak in a bit and run around town doing other stuff too. Other stuff like... Hanging out with the orphans again!

I think it was a holiday yesterday (Republic Day? ...I have no idea. I am really living in a bubble right now!) so all the orphans were dressed up to the nines in fancy outfits. One of the yoga students is an Oral Hygienist and she wanted to check all the kids' teeth, so the plan was to stay in the orphanage and play with the kids on the roof while the dental check went on downstairs.

Here's the line of boys waiting their turn:

The rest of us had fun playing with the kids again. It was a little more contained than running around in a park.

Someone brought a guitar and was singing. One of the kids started dancing along. Too cute!

Some of the other kids were drawing or playing with Barbie (she's universal).

My friend Rob has much cooler pictures posted on his FB page. Will post them once I get his permission to use his pix.

Today, Alice, Sonya and I decided to do a cooking class at Anu's. On the menu: Palak Paneer (including how to make your own paneer), and a variety of eggplant dishes. I had no intention of learning how to make paneer since I don't eat that stuff, but I sure as hell LOVE Palak! (spinach)

Anu's is a little home kitchen that usually serves home-cooked food to the yoga students, buffet-style. It's much lighter, less greasy and spicy than all the other restaurants in town. On her days off, she gives these cooking classes.

Excuse the green tint in some of the shots. Where the spice talk was given was under a green perspex roof and I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to change the colour temperature correctly.

What she calls her "masala spice box" - a box with all the spices she uses frequently, including Cardamom, Fennel, Black Pepper, Tumeric, Ajwain, Mustard seeds and Fenugreek. She also showed us other good stuff like curry leaves, coriander (aka cilantro) and coriander seeds.

If you're looking to elimnate onions and garlic from your diet... Y'know... following an Ayurvedically Saatvic diet, then a good substitute is something called Asafoetida. I have NEVER, EVER heard of this. Anu says explicitly that this is NOT MSG, as some people believe. It's some kind of resin taken from a plant. Google it. We saw it in small, blocky form and also as a powder. Just a sniff of this is enough to pack a punch up your nostrils (apparently you can cook this with onion if you want, just not with garlic coz it'll be too pungent a combo).

The Making of Paneer.
Step 1: Bring milk to a boil.

Step 2: Add lemon juice. As much as you need to separate the... er... milk from the whey. Basically the milk should separate into a white solid block and a clear liquid.

Like this:

Step 3:
Strain it so only the milk solids are left.

When it's in the strainer, you can run more water through it to take away the lemon juice.

Step 4:
Put the solids in a cheese cloth and SQUEEEEEEEEEZE the hell out of it. To get a solid block, you should really put this cheese cloth between 2 towels and put something heavy on top of it and leave it overnight.

Step 5:
Ta dah! That's IT. Done.

Anu says they only buy their milk from a local farmer's co-op. :) So I figured it'd be OK to try a tiny bit of the paneer. It um... tasted like solid milk. HAHAHA.

Then came the aubergine dishes. Grilling the aubergine first always add a bit more flavour to the dish, even if you're cooking it in something else later. If you don't have an oven or a barbeque, here's a tip: You can grill the aubergine over the stove. Fer reals. It gets EXTREMELY messy towards the end when it gets juicy, but it works if you want char-grilled eggplant. Check out the process of grilling over the stove:

Because the outside's kinda charred, here's Anu's assistant scraping away the charred bits (while she's talking about something else).

Into the wok it goes, with the rest of the spices.

Anu was also explaining to us how you would fry the mustard seeds in oil first - and showed us how the seeds pop up when they're cooking (you can see her flipping the aubergine on the other stove towards the end).

More eggplant dishes. And cooking the Palak. Actual spinach isn't as green as the stuff you see in supermarkets. Anu says if the spinach is too green, she won't buy it as it means the farmer has added too much fertilizer. (!)

I take way too many pictures. I need to learn how to cull them down even more!!

More aubergine overload... She sliced some others to dip in a chilli/ tumeric paste to pan-fry. Her tip to get stuff to stick to the eggplant? Making little cut marks in them like this.

Of course, we all got to sit down and feast over Anu's hard work (apologies for the greenness, we were under the green roof again!)
P.S. Spot Alice & Sonya!

The cooking class was an AMAZING experience. Anu is like a tour guide to Indian culture, giving us information from medicinal properties of each spice, to cows and their importance/ significance to Indian culture, to the "typical" Indian way of living outside of the major cities (since as she says, the majority of Indians still live in poor villages and have a very different way of life to what we are exposed to here in Mysore).

She has written a book but hasn't published it yet - still waiting for the food photographs to be done up. All of us would have bought her book on the spot since her food is delicious and she was such a charming host! A+!

PS. Backbend update: Stood up again from the last backbend from the floor today. Take that, you backbend-sucker! ;p



  1. Oooh that's Samia with the guitar. Fun!

  2. I'm going to be very sad when you leave Mysore! These posts have been awesome.

  3. So much fun! Now I want to take this cooking class!

  4. Dear Jaime
    Thanks for sharing what you learned in the class. I love palak paneer- both the cheese and the spinach. The grilling of the aubergine is creative. I'm afraid I could burn my apartment if I tried doing it.

  5. asofetida is a bit crazy, the indians also call it 'hing', i was told by my indian neighbors at home. also is supposed to help with digestion. you have to keep it separate from the rest of your spices because it is so potent it will make everything smell like it. also i gather the Jains will use it for cooking because it replicates the taste of onions and garlic, but they are supposed to not eat onions and garlic. or something like all that. :P

  6. Boodiba: yes it is!

    SF: I'm going to be sad leaving here too. I can't think about it now coz it's too upsetting. :(

    Yyogini: This was my first cooking class EVER and I'm definitely gonna look into signing up for more when I get back to Amsterdam. They're fun! (also probably because Anu did all the cooking, we didn't have to lift a finger, as you might have noticed! HAHAHA!)

    Arturo: That's exactly what we all said too! Freak everyone's housemates and partners out with the aubergine grilling. Although just watching her do it, it seems highly unlikely you could burn the place down (unless you're not watching once the eggplant is done.)

    Tova: I'm wondering why I have ZERO pictures of you on my blog. Time to get that sorted SOON! And I'm definitely bringing back a bottle of asafoetida powder with me. It's a very interesting pungent aroma!


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