(Monkia, Owner of Hipcooks)
I can think of no better way to share time with a friend than hanging out in a refurbished loft-ish kitchen in Northest Portland cooking Indian food (without measuring cups – LOVE IT), and eating!!!
Lucky for me, my playdate dream came true last Wednesday when A. and I motored north after a long day of work for some “Shortcut To Nirvana”, as the title promised. Loosely translated – come learn how to cook Indian food in this savvy new kitchen set up in NE Portland. Hipcooks, the brains behind the cooking brawn, is all about fun, creative, recipe-free cooking. You can learn more by visiting Hipcooks Online. Lucky for me, Hipcooks owner Monika moved to Portland recently from Los Angeles, so now us Oregonians get to enjoy her hip approach to food and eating.
The set up was perfect: Large semi-circle demo kitchen with small cooking stations set up around the countertop. There were 16 of us in the class, and plenty of space to spread out, take a break, or dive right in. Naturally, as soon as A. and I threw on our snazzy orange and yellow hipcooks aprons, we were already sheming of ways to create tasty Indian edibles, as inspired by the dishes in front of us.
What I Loved: The fact that we went through all the spices to smell them, understand their place in our upcoming meal, and most importantly – how to identify them. I also loved that the emphasis was on cooking from taste and feel, so we threw out the measuring cups from the get go and just trusted our judgement. I also loved that we all sat down to eat, including our instructor Allison, which made the experience feel more communal. The ingredients were all fresh, mostly organic, and it was just the right amount. A. and I learned a lot about ‘yield’ for a class of 16, as we usually over-cook and over feed and are left over-whelmed after our cooking gigs.
I know you’re dying to know what we whipped up, so wait no longer:
Veggie samosas and Pakora with 3 sauces: Mango Chutney, Raitia, and “Green Machine” (RECIPE TO FOLLOW)
Fish Curry with coconut and fresh tomatoes
Chicken curry with stewed tomatoes
Sag Paneer, which turned out to be my FAV, even though I don’t normally like this dish
We even had a little mango Lassi (mango and yogurt drink) and homemade mojitos to zest up the night.
The cool thing about Indian cooking is the creative use of veggies and spices. Like most traditional cultural cooking, Indian food dishes use spices that balance the palate and may have curative benefits. Example: spices like turmeric and cumin are healthy for blood circulation, blood pressure, and the liver. Spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and garam masala may balance the spleen/stomach with their sweetness, and coconut (in healthy quantities) has anti-inflammatory qualities. Good thing too because we did do a little deep fry action on the samosas, so we needed all those healthy bennies to counteract the fry effect. Yes, I was a good girl and only ‘tasted’ the fried stuff. I mostly dove into the sauces and the insides of the samosas.
I had never curried fish before, and that was a treat. We used snapper, which apparently ‘holds its own’ against the robust flavors of the indian spices, and I really loved it. Even better – it cooks FAST, as in 5 minutes once the curry sauce is pipin’ hot!
I want to give you two recipes, but keep in mind that these are not completely Hipcooks recipes and that I’m doing this TOTALLY from memory…..and God only knows that aint what it used to be!
GREEN MACHINE SAUCE – the green garnish sauce at Indian restuarants
1 large bunch of green onions
almost 1 large bunch cilantro
1 large handful of mint leaves
about 1 finely diced jalapeno pepper
about 1/2 cup of freshly grated coconut
Salt, to taste
grated ginger and garlic, to taste
Juice of 1/2 – 1 lime, but don’t make it too sour
a pinch or two of cumin and paprika, and maybe even a little chili powder
Mix all ingredients in a food processor. Add a little liquid (water, but just a hair) if too thick, or add more onions/mint if too thing. It should be on the spicy side. Do not overdo the coconut or it will mellow out the flavor too much.
SAG PANNER – this is the green sludge like dish that I usually avoid because it is over-oiled and over-cheesed. Make it this way and you avoid the whole ‘over’ anything and its a fresh, healthy way to get some greens
2 tbsp EVOO or coconut
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 package organic spinach, defrosted and excess water removed
6-8 oz paneer cheese (this is definitely a specialty food store purchase. Paneer cheese is sheep cheese – Yay for me, as it is easier to digest!!)
1-2 tbsp cream
1-2 tbsp minced garlic
Juice of 1/3 – 1/2 lemon
Spices to taste: cumin, garam masala, coriander, sea salt, mustard seed, turmeric
In a medium saucepan, sweat the onions and garilc (cook until clear but not browned). Add the spinach and stir. Cube the cheese into 1/2″ cubes and add into the spinach. Stir regulary, letting the cheese melt and become aromatic, but not get too runny. You may need to turn down the heat. Begin to add the spices and taste for flavor. This should taste fresh, but also have a slightly creamy essence, hence the addition of a little cream. You can add the lemon juice more toward the end for more of a zesty flavor.
Serve as a side or as a main if you add some chicken or other protein source.
Thank you to Alison, our chef extraordinare that evening, for opening my door to Indian cooking. I’ve always wanted to learn and now I feel that I not only have a few recipes to play with, but some principles for Indian cooking that I can apply to future dishes.