I have always been a lover of Indian food, eating Indian from the age of two, but I find it is one cuisine that people are a little hesitant in learning, with the majority of people I know either eating out, or buying a paste to start cooking with. So to encourage us to cook more Indian food at home, last weekend our family took Indian cooking classes. And, where better to learn the art of Indian cuisine in Sydney than at Nilgiri’s with Ajoy Joshi.
Ajoy Joshi, the head chef and owner of Nilgiri’s has been passing on the techniques and secrets of Indian cookery for the past 15 years, and outlines the importance of fresh, seasonal ingredients as the basis of each dish stating “you need to start healthy to finish healthy”.
Ajoy began his training in Madras, and learnt from six Indian masters, who were experts in their own regional cuisine. By learning their techniques, Ajoy was able to incorporate different regional ideas into his cookery and is able to share the variances of regional cuisine with those of us who attend his classes.
The day started with Hyderabadi Murgh (or korma), a dish from his hometown of Hyderabad, and with no need to prepare the ingredients ourselves, it meant we were able to just enjoy cooking together and sharing the product of our labour.
At our own cooking stations, we began our first dish by first preparing our ingredients in the order we would be adding them to the Korma, a dish that Ajoy explained is only better the next day if cooked well.
We also learnt the importance of each spice being used, not only for their flavour but also for their digestive properties. Amongst our lessons were that chilli (with seeds added) helps in the breakdown of carbohydrates, and tamarind helps to lower blood pressure.
Ajoy also passed on knowledge that he believes a chef he worked with, Michel Roux (Senior), summed up best “son, if you don’t get your onions right don’t bother cooking”.
Throughout the rest of the day we cooked the other dishes on the day’s menu – Pathar Ka Gosht (lamb cutlets), Dum Ke Kebab (smoked chicken mince kebabs), Tamatar Ki Chutney (tomato chutney) and Thalli Machchi (panfired marinated fish) – with different members of our group cooking different dishes and snacking on each dish after finishing cooking.
We finished the day cooking Pilau rice to go with our Chicken Kormas that were still cooking on the stove top. Each group’s dish turned out slightly differently, depending on how each part of the meal was cooked, how their onions turned out, and where their pans were situated (evenly or not) over the heat.
I can’t speak for anyone else but my own Korma tasted fantastic, and definitely spurred me on to learn more Indian dishes to be cooked at home.
Garam Masala can be translated as “hot mixture” and is important not only for taste in Indian dishes but also as a preventative medicine as it is believed to aid digestion.
According to Ajoy, the basic Garam Masala consists of cassia buds, green cardomom pods, and cloves. In Australia where cassia buds are not readily available, Ajoy recommends grinding cassia bark.
After making this basic spice mix you can also add other ingredients to your Garam Marsala depending on the protein you are using in your dish. Adding black cumin for chicken dishes, nutmeg (in moderation) for meat dishes and spinach (as nutmeg helps as a catalyst to break down the iron) and fennel seeds for fish and seafood.
This was the first class at Nilgiri’s for 2011. Ajoy’s cooking classes are held on Saturdays with different classes held throughout the year on the different regional cuisines of India. Cooking classes for children are also available.
81 Christie Street
St Leonards NSW 2065
+61 2 9966 0636