While visiting my home town of Knysna earlier this year, I had the fantastic opportunity to take a Gujarati cooking class with vegetarian Sunita Jordan at her "interim" home perched next to the Knysna River. Sunita and her husband David have taken a sabbatical from London to spend quality time with their two young girls. They intend returning to London later this year and I can't wait to join her for more of her fun classes.

To start with, Sunita teaches you all about the spices in her Masala tin, which consists of the most common whole and ground spices that are used in everyday curry cooking.  Cumin seeds, mustard seeds, cloves, cassia bark, dried red chillies and curry leaves make up the whole spices, while the ground spices include coriander and cumin powder (often combined), chilli powder, turmeric, sugar and salt. To quote Sunita, "your Masala tin is an essential addition to the curry lover's kitchen and makes the curry-making procedure less labour intensive."  I haven't yet managed to get my hands on a Masala tin, but it's on my shopping list for when my Mom gets here next week, as she too has done one of Sunita's courses and is just as keen to get herself a tin.
 

Other spices that we sampled and made use of whilst cooking,
 Cardamom pods, Fenugreek seeds, black onion seeds and cumin seeds
 
 
Next we learnt that Gujarati cuisine is associated with the Gujarati's from north western India.  It is mainly vegetarian and your typical meal consists of cooked vegetables, lentil curry or daal, rice and Roti or poori (flat breads).  

Sunita simply loves Indian cooking, and she has a passion for sharing her knowledge with others.  As we stood around grating, shredding and chopping an assortment of vegetables, she suggested ways of adapting and modifying her vegetarian recipes to include other forms of protein like chicken, lamb and even prawns.  The first dish we made was Bhajia, more commonly known as chilli bites.  I have always wanted to learn how to make these and was astounded at just how easy they are to knock together. 

 

 Spinach, green pepper, onion, lettuce & potatoes in a chickpea batter
ready to be deep fried
 


Sunita at the helm...
 
 

Bhajia turning golden brown - almost ready...
 


Crispy & delicious...

 
To accompany the Bhajia, we made two easy Chutneys - one with tomatoes and the other with dates. For the tomato chutney we blended together tomatoes, garlic, chilli powder, ginger, cumin seeds, salt, jaggery and a few coriander leaves to a smooth consistency.  Some fresh chillies are added to heat things up a bit!  Sunita pointed out that it's important to taste as you cook, to make sure that you have enough salt, spice, etc. This tomato chutney is refreshing and the perfect match for the chilli bites.

 
 
Before....

 

During... 

 

After...
 

  
Simple date chutney - sweet & moreish! 

 
After stuffing our faces with Bhajia and sipping on delicious home made Chai tea, we were ready to learn all about vegetarian curries.  I have heard of Moong (Mung) beans before, but don't recall ever eating them. They are the seeds of the Vigna radiata, native to India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. This curry is packed pull of flavour and enough to turn any carnivore into a vegetarian.  Moong beans are a great source of protein and fibre. (If you're not a fan of these healthy green beans, they can be substituted with chickpeas or red kidney beans if you like.)


Dried moong beans, rinsed in warm water

 
 
Cooked for about half an hour, some of the skins rise to the top
 

In another pot, Sunita added mustard seeds, cumin seeds, chopped onion, ginger, garlic, chilli, tomatoes, salt, sugar, turmeric and several other spices. The cooked moong beans were added at a later stage, garnished with lemon juice and coriander.  This simple Moong Bean curry can be served with Basmati rice, pooris or chapattis...  And so it was off to the "rolling board" next... 

 
 
Sunita is a whizz with her Chapatti rolling pin

 
 
The Poori dough consists of wholemeal and plain flour,
salt, sunflower oil and warm water, kneaded unit soft and smooth,

 then rolled into rounds about 14cm in diameter
 
 

Using a slotted spoon, push the poori down under the surface
so that they puff up, 
turn over and fry on the other side
for a couple of minutes
 
  


Drain the Poori on kitchen towel & serve with curry
- they're great for mopping up the leftover sauce in your bowl...

 

The second curry we made is called Akhoo Shaak, translated it means stuffed vegetable curry.  We used potatoes, aubergine and green pepper.  Sweet potato, butternut or pumpkin can also be used.

 

For the stuffing - chickpea flour, peanuts, coconut, ginger,
 garlic, fresh green chillies, chilli powder, salt, turmeric, jaggery,
fresh coriander leaves & cumin powder

 
 
 
Potatoes, onion, aubergine, green pepper mixed in with some of the stuffing

 

 Gently fry mustard seeds, asafoetida & dried chillies on a medium heat



Add quartered tomatoes & bananas pieces, yes bananas,
and follow the rest of the recipe...

 
 

Gujarati Guru, Sunita with her worthy spread 
 

 
 Achar masala (pickle masala) - a blend of roasted aromatic spices 
transforms this bowl of sliced onion into a pickle
 

 
Crushed cardamom pods



Carrot Halwa - sinful!
  
 

I walked away well fed, my senses indulged, recipes and notes in hand - ready to go home, stock up on spices and start experimenting with my new set of skills! A magical experience of colour, texture, flavour and aroma - if you are living in Knysna, book your spot soon as this is a class you don't want to miss out on.  And if you're living in London, not long to go and Sunita will be cooking up a storm in a kitchen near you...

To get in touch, visit  www.indiancookeryschool.org