Back to school for the children this week and for once they are not the only ones getting the chance to learn something new. I have just been to a really enjoyable cookery class taught by Sheba Promod who lives in St Albans. Sheba is the founder of Absolute Indian Cookery School and teaches locally and in Bristol and London. I had been told about Sheba’s fantastic supper clubs so I was keen to find out more about Sheba’s food and background (more on the supper clubs in a mo).
Sheba’s family is from Kerela and she learnt cookery from her mother, who still spends a great deal of time there. Kerela is on the Southern coastal tip of India and is famous for its spices, fish and coconuts, and its food reflects its local ingredients. As a result the food is light, healthy and delicately spiced, all of which are ideal for a hot late summer day.
I went to the Central Street Cookery School in Islington which Sheba uses for some of her classes as it is proving difficult to find a good venue locally. The space was perfect for teaching; spacious, modern and full of light. My fellow students included several knowledgeable amateur cooks, a trio who had been given the day as a Christmas present by their wife/daughter/daughter-in-law and a mother and daughter. There was some very confident onion chopping and sharing of experiences of travel to India, but the course is definitely suitable for all levels of cook. Sheba is on hand to help at any stage if you are a beginner, and can give lots of tips and suggestions if you are more experienced.
Our lesson started with a guided tasting of the main spices and ingredients used in Kerelan cookery and I nibbled kassia and cinnamon bark, mustard seeds and curry leaves, which all grow in abundance in India. Sheba introduced us to Kasmiri chilli powder which has a bright red colour, useful for colouring dishes, but without firey heat, so it is ideal for adding warmth without a sting. I tried jaggary for the first time, which is unrefined sugar used to sweeten a range of Indian dishes. Raw, it is like eating fudge. Sheba recommends Medina on Hatfield Road for buying Indian ingredients.
We then went to our stations and worked our way through four recipes starting with a delicate fish molee, which is served as the first course for wedding banquets in Kerela. We tested and tasted as we cooked, learning to season and add spice as needed, with Sheba popping around regularly to check how it was all tasting. The stand out dish for me and many of the students was the chicken kuruma which was flavoured with fresh lime juice and handfuls of coriander and was very light and zesty. We also made cabbage thoran, lemon rice and ulli pachadi (a yoghurt side dish) to go with the chicken and each dish was straightforward and packed with flavour.
When we had all finished cooking, we took our dishes outside to share on a long table. Sheba poured the cold Indian white wine which went perfectly with the food and we all tried each other’s dishes. We were amazed how much they varied depending on how much spice we had added, or which oil we had used. It was a very sociable experience and as we sat out on a hot sunny day we could experience how this food works so well in Kerala. Sheba’s next class is on Indian Street Food and you can learn to make Beef pepper fry rolls, potato bondas and masala chai so if you want to learn something new, why not give it a try? For more info visit absoluteindiancookeryclasses.com
Sheba also runs a supper club in St Albans most months, where you book a place and turn up to her house and eat what she fancies cooking that day. Supper clubs are very popular in London but I am not aware of many in St Albans – let me know if you run one. The idea is simple: you get to try home-cooked delicious food by a great cook and eat communally in their home. You will meet like-minded people and get the chance to try and talk food. One of the pleasures of it is that you can go along on your own and Sheba explained that she often did just that; that way you get to talk to the cook and other guests and find out more than in a regular restaurant. There is a minimum donation of £35 for a place at Sheba’s supper club and for that you get generous cooking made with “a great deal of passion, affection and pride” as Sheba explains. The next supper club will be on 13th October and you can get to try the Kerela kuruma we made but by an expert! Email Sheba on firstname.lastname@example.org to book a place.