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My first foray into Indian cooking

The Cinnamon Kitchen is known for serving some of the best Indian cuisine in London and this weekend, I was lucky enough to join one of their monthly cookery masterclasses and test my culinary skills by cooking up a selection of South Indian dishes.

The monthly courses give members of the public the chance to experience life in the kitchen of the award-winning restaurant and the incredible opportunity to cook with Vivek Singh, one of the most successful Indian chefs in the country, as well as head chefs Hari Nagaraj, Rakesh Nair and Abdul Yaseen.

At the start of the day, the chefs gave our group a brief background on Indian cooking and the typical dishes which you can expect to find in different parts of India. We were introduced to a selection of spices which are used throughout Indian cookery, some I had heard of but most I hadn’t. For me, the reason I don’t cook Indian food too often is because I don’t tend to have the right spices in the cupboard, and I’ve always thought they would be hard to get hold of. Abdul explained to us that there are three different groups of spices and the more experienced you are with Indian cooking, the more spices you incorporate into your dishes. Spices such turmeric, chilli powder and fennel seeds for example are perfect cupboard staples to get you through the basics of Indian cooking and as you progress you start to use slightly different spices such as black cardamom and rock moss.

Once the brief was over, we donned our aprons and headed into the kitchen. We split into three groups of five and each tackled a couple of different recipes to put towards our banquet at the end of the class. I was in charge of the Lemon Rice and Yoghurt Rice and I was amazed at how many ingredients went into what I thought was a simple dish! I also got to try my hand at ‘tempering’ for the first time which means heating oil in a pan until its piping hot and adding your selection of spices for just a few seconds until they crackle and then instantly removing them from the heat and adding to your dishes. The spices release all of their flavours creating an incredibly tasty oil and transforming the rice from just the carbohydrate on the side (which I’ve always found when I’ve been cooking it), to an essential element of the dish.

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Other recipes being cooked included sea bass wrapped in banana leaf, biryani of black leg chicken, rice pancake, guinea fowl mappas and much more. The kitchen was filled with amazing smells and everyone was suddenly ravenous! We were in the kitchen for about two and a half hours being taught all sort of tips and tricks – watching the chefs chop whole onions in four seconds flat and prepare guinea fowl in a matter of minutes. I was amazed to see how calm the chefs remained despite doing so many different things at once but I couldn’t help thinking that kitchen must be a different place when the restaurant is open. All of a sudden, like clockwork all the dishes were prepared and sat under the hot plate. The presentation of each dish was impeccable and there was a real sense of achievement amongst the group as we toasted with a glass of prosecco.

We all went through to sit in the restaurant and the waitresses bought out the food in courses and I have to say, it was without doubt one of the best meals I’ve had (obviously the rice being the standout dish!). Each mouthful was bursting with flavour and, as a person who doesn’t deal well with spicy food, I was a bit worried that everything would be a bit too fiery but the heat was really subtle. We all sat around eating and chatting to Vivek about his upcoming plans for the restaurant and then wandered home with our new cookery books and aprons. The pressure’s on now to replicate some of these dishes at home!

I would advise anyone who is into cookery to book onto one of these courses – you won’t be disappointed.

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