November 25, 2010
When November rolls around each year we reflect on events that have influenced us and have made us change the way we live our lives. Make it a point to stray from your comfort zone and do things you have never done. This is where lives are lived fully…
It is a rare time that I get to spend time with my dear sister who lives states away. This past summer I signed up for a weekend of Indian cooking at the Silo Cooking School at Hunt Hill Farm in New Milford, Connecticut with noted chef Suvir Saran, owner of the only Indian restaurant in the US to have received a Michelin star. I knew this would be a fun adventure for us sisters to catch up on life doing something new and different.
And so it was…an intimate affair on the first day. The cooking school is located in a barn that dates back to the 1700’s. With all its nooks and crannies, crooked floors and walls, Skitch and Ruth Henderson have owned this farm for many years.
Our class began with introductions and a brief history of the farm by Mary who was our gracious hostess and behind-the-scenes facilitator. Suvir talked about how Indian food eaten in American restaurants is laden with rich ingredients that are not everyday home cooking found in India. He explained that cooking in India is healthier than portrayed in local restaurants. Cooking is a group effort with the culmination being that all sit down to the table and enjoy their culinary creations. Today’s American culture has become more of an “eating on the run” ritual that lacks human interaction. Holiday times bring back the fellowship that was once part of every family’s daily routine. Is it any wonder why we all look forward to this holiday every year?
We learned about the importance of using spices through proper preparation of the spices themselves. Tempering brings out the richness of spices by the using heat which brings the essence of each spice to the front seat.
Suvir had a menu of 6 dishes for Saturday night and 9 dishes for the Sunday lunch session. Both classes were hands on cooking which meant we would get to prep and cook all of our dishes. Mary had each recipe set out in a mise en place manner around the kitchen. “Read your recipe and understand it before you start”, Suvir said. We each chose a recipe and proceeded to our stations. Between the shrimp balchao, Grandma Hayes’ inspired cornbread, day after turkey hash and the mixed fruit cobbler (all recipes from American Masala Cookbook) we feasted on all that we made. The pineapple rasam was tart, spicy and refreshing. I think that we all were all pleasantly surprised by the success of our cooking experiences.
A particular highlight was meeting Charlie, who joined Suvir for this Connecticut weekend. He was worried about the lambs back at the farm that were just born and were having some difficulties in his absence. We had a discussion about baking bread and both Suvir and Charlie highly recommended their favorite 2 bread books, Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day and Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzenberg and Zoe Francois (excellent books that take the mystery out of baking bread).
Sunday’s menu had more Indian recipes from Indian Home Cooking and were a bit more involved than Saturday’s cooking. Terri & I worked on the Dhansaak stew, a spicy lentil and squash stew had a warmth from the heat of different ingredients from cayenne to serrano peppers to ginger. There were mushrooms with onions and tomatoes, grape raita, tamarind chutney, Hara keema (ground beef with spinach and mint), and much more. This was a weekend that has inspired my cooking this whole year. Cooking from Suvir’s 2 books has taught me the importance of the use of spices.
The beauty of the Indian cuisine lies in the sum of all its parts. Thanksgiving is a meal that has many more parts than we consume daily and is certainly more than a meal with lots of dishes. This year’s Thanksgiving menu had that hint of exotica inspired from that weekend back in June. We brined our turkey with toasted cumin, tamarind, ginger and cayenne and glazed the bird with Suvir’s tamarind glaze. We chose to use the grill for our turkey. The glaze gave the skin a blackened look that was not so photogenic but was perhaps the tastiest turkey we have ever made. The green pea samosas were a fun way to serve a green veggie. Sweet potato puree was a bright note in the meal with roasted sweet potatoes that were pureed with grated ginger and reduced apple cider then topped with a crumble topping made with butter, pecans and a hint of brown sugar.
Thank you Suvir for allowing me an opportunity to share my experiences with readers.