Monday, September 22, 2014

A Koli Cooking Class, and my New Craft Blog

Hello, friends! I just got back from a long trip to India, and even in my foggy, bleary-eyed, jet-lagged state, I'm missing this little blog very much.

Our weeks in warm, rainy Mumbai were spent catching up with close family and friends. But I took one morning to treat myself to a rather special experience- a cooking class taught by Anjali of Anna Parabrahma. The Koli community are the native fisher folk of Mumbai and for years, Anjali has been blogging about her native Koli culture and food. She has now taken it a step further, organizing tours of seafood markets and teaching Koli cooking classes. For those who don't eat seafood, she has a special Koli yet Veg class that focuses on vegetarian specialties from her community. How could I resist?

And that's how I found myself in Anjali's bright, pleasant and immaculately tidy kitchen one Friday morning, cooking with her and her beautiful friend Gauri. The morning started with a cup of masala chai, snacks and a chat with Anjali and her wonderful Dad, who is himself a good cook.

Over three hours, we made five dishes. All the while, the conversation flowed easily and I was amazed at how knowledgeable and passionate Anjali is about regional Indian home cooking. And she has a natural instinct for how to create a well-balanced meal where the flavors and textures of the different dishes complement each other perfectly.

The main course for the meal was Vala che bhirda. Sprouted vaal (a variety of beans) are cooked in a coconut curry. My grandmother made this dish often and I make it myself but every family/community makes it a different way. The koli way is to skip the tadka (tempering) and use their savory, full-bodied koli masala (made with over two dozen ingredients) instead.

The second dish was kokum saar. Kokum is a tangy coastal tropical fruit, and saar is not quite a soup or beverage or curry but perhaps a hybrid of those three. Anjali talks about kokum saar in this touching post. I've used kokum quite a bit but never in the form of kokum agal (extract) which Anjali uses to make the saar conveniently. Later, I asked my parents about it and they bought me my own jug of kokum agal to bring back. The radish and jaggery in this saar make it irresistible and this dish was my favorite of the day.




The other two side dishes we made were a fiery potato onion bhaaji and a garlic chutney. Finally, Anjali kneaded fresh dough and expertly made rice rottis- flatbreads made with whole rice flour.

With some freshly steamed rice and papads that are not in the picture, the whole thaali came together. I savored every morsel in happiness and gratitude.


More pictures of my experience are on Anjali's blog. I blissfully left with a bag of goodies from Anjali- dried vaal, rice papads, chai masala, malvani masala and peanut paak.


And of course, I made sure I bought a bag of koli masala for my own use here. An expertly made masala is worth its weight in gold. By just adding a spoonful or two, you can turn everyday ingredients- vegetables, lentils- into a special meal with no hassle at all.

Taking a cooking class while on vacation was great fun in so many ways- I had a memorable experience, learned something new, made warm connections and got some edible souvenirs to bring back. I'm going to try and do this on every trip I take.

I was talking about vacation cooking classes with a dear American friend who will be living in Bangalore for a month next summer. Does anyone happen to know of good, informal cooking classes in Bangalore? She and her husband would love to take one.

Have you ever taken a cooking class, whether on vacation or not?

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If you've been visiting this blog for any length of time, you know how knitting, crochet, sewing and quilting has been slowly but surely encroaching on this blog-formerly-known-as-a-food-blog? I never wanted to start another blog for the crafty stuff because keeping up with one blog is hard enough and keeping up with two would be sheer madness. But you know you should never say never.

My sister happens to be wonderfully creative and talented at sewing and other crafts, and also runs a small, independent sewing business. When I visited her a couple of months ago,  I started pestering her into starting a blog to chronicle her projects. She turned right around and talked me into joining her- so to make a long story short, we're now blogging together about our sewing and craft projects at our new blog, Cottons & Chai. If you're so inclined, I invite you to go take a look.

Our goal is to post twice a week, usually on Mondays and Thursdays. Of course the minute we started the blog, I promptly ran off on vacation and left poor sis to do most of the posting so far. Kashmira has posted free tutorials (like this one for a baby toy), craft ideas (potato stamps shaped like cute produce) sewing book reviews, upcycling ideas and original patterns for purchase (like this hair organizer; she made one for Lila and we loved it so much that I insisted she write a pattern).

A soft and crinkly toy for tiny, curious hands
This flower organizer hangs in the bathroom and helps to corral
Lila's umpteen hair bows and clips
I've posted a quilt I made and a quick birthday gift idea.


Going forward, I'll post my sewing and craft projects on Cottons & Chai and leave One Hot Stove to deal with food and books!

I'll see you next Monday as usual- no, it won't be a recipe post, but I'll tell you about lots of interesting books I've been reading. How have you all been? What's new in your world? 

44 comments:

  1. What fun to blog with your sister! Welcome back --

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  2. I have missed your posts so much Nupur! Welcome back. Hugs!
    I enjoyed reading about your cooking class and can't wait to check out the new blog.

    - Priti

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    1. Thanks so much for leaving sweet comments on our craft blog, Priti! I've missed you too and hope you had a nice summer.

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    2. I had a busy and fun-filled summer with our family visiting us from India and California. I made some beautiful memories with my sister-in-law and her family and took a million pictures while sight-seeing with my in-laws. We all cooked and enjoyed lots of traditional meals together. I baked two special cakes and enjoyed seeing their reactions and getting all the compliments :-).

      A tip for that kokum agal - Rub a few drops of agal and a pinch of salt on raw sliced onions that are served on the side of a spicy indian meal. Sprinkle some cilantro and enjoy! My mouth is watering just by recalling its taste and I don't even eat raw onion usually, this is an exception. We have tried to recreate the taste by using red wine vinegar but kokum agal is kokum agal. :-) Make the most of it!

      - Priti

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    3. Priti- I'm so glad you had a wonderful summer! It is fun to cook with and for visiting family.

      I've always made that onion relish with regular white vinegar. But I can see kokum would be fantastic- thanks for the tip!!

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  3. Welcome back Nupur. It must have been very special for Lila :). Missed your blog post.
    -P

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    1. It was very special and exciting for Lila- a whole month of new experiences!

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  4. Oh Nupur! you are too kind. Appreciate all that you said here. I am glad you found agal to take back and it is shrink wrapped so it travelled safe too. So now you have all the ingredients to recreate the meal you learnt. Get the Vaal sprouting when you have time. Loved the cotton and chai blog, especially the sling bag. Hope Duncan was good while you were away. Love to you and a sweet pappi for Lila. Next time you must bring her over too.

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    1. Anjali- I was so delighted when my parents found the agal in their local grocery store. I can't wait to use it. And to meet you again soon for another cooking and chat session :)

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  5. I missed you, Nupur! I was delighted to read your post and to read about your time in India. The cooking class sounds awesome. It's something I'd love to do some day, just have never got around to doing it. And congrats on the new blog - I am the least "crafty" person (in every sense of the word ;-)) around, but I so admire anyone who can create beautiful things with their own hands and imaginations.
    This must have been Lila's first trip to India - how did she like it? You must have got a rousing welcome from Duncan!

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    1. Kamini- how lovely to hear from you. I hope you enjoyed summer. Oh and I wouldn't say music and dance is any less creative than making things with your hands!

      Yes, this was Lila's first trip to India and she enjoyed it thoroughly- new places, food, people. She made out like a bandit with all the gifts that were heaped on her (26 dresses- I counted). Duncan stayed with our friends and had a wonderful time but we're all delighted to be reunited.

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  6. I know Nandita of saffrontrail fame organizes cooking classes in Blore-

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    1. Ah, yes, I know Nandita and will e-mail her.

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  7. Welcome back Nupur! Have been wondering where you're off to. Hope you had a wonderful time in India. I'm going to India in October end alone with my toddler for the first time. Any tips? ;)
    The crafts blog looks interesting. Will try the hair accessories one. I desparately need one for my daughter.

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    1. Divya- the long flights are challenging indeed with a toddler. But mine is not bothered by flying, she slept, drank juice, watched cartoons and was happy as a clam.

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  8. Welcome home!!! The class sounded fun....sure hope we can find one!!!

    See you soon.

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    1. I'll find you a good cooking class, don't worry :)

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  9. Welcome back! I read and saw pictures of your day with Anjali. What fun!
    I had asked my mothe-in-law too bring me agal, that was 5 years ago, and we used it for Kokam sarbat, Kulith pithla and of course, Saar ( but without radish)
    Looking forward to your recipe with the koli masala.

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    1. Hi there! I seem to be the last person to discover this agal business ;) Anjali's saar was beyond amazing, I drank vati after vati of saar.

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    2. Makes me so happy to hear this everytime you mention it. You are such a small eater, next time come after a fast to my home so I can stuff you up till I am satisfied. Now that you have the agal you are going to be making lots of things with it and it will soon become indispensable in your pantry. I made some thing new with the agal. Look out for the post, so there you will have one more recipe to try.

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  10. Welcome back!! Or rather, I should say feels good to have a post again from you, coz I live in India, so you going back to the US is the reverse for me actually :-). Missed your posts so much....

    Regards,
    Meenal


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    1. Thanks Meenal :) It feels good to be back and into my routine.

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  11. I once took an Indian cooking class in Chautauqua NY and that class lead me to your blog! :-)

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    1. How funny :) Wonder if my aunt Terry taught it.

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  12. Welcome back. Koli cooking !! Its a shame I had never heard of it even though I am from Mumbai too. Thank you for sharing. Please do talk about your new food experiences. Would love to hear about the food scene in India. Just read Life Beyond Curry on Anjali's blog. Any one interested in regional foods needs to read this one.

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    1. Oh, I wouldn't know anything about the food scene in India- most of our meals were at home with parents and relatives. I did get to enjoy my usual Mumbai favorites like frankie, pastries, pav bhaji, biryani and Gujarati thali.

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  13. Dear Nupur, I missed you too! The Koli food sounds scrumptious (and the frankies, pastries, pav bhaji thali, biryani!) Having lived on the Indian west coast, I love that type of cooking. So happy Lila did well and had fun as well as Duncan! Welcome back. And look forward to your craft blog, although it will probably be a vicarious pleasure for me! R

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    1. Hi R!! How are you? Hope all is well!

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  14. Yayyy.. I am so happy you started a separate blog for craft. I was waiting for it for so long.
    I have read about the the class you took on FB. So fun. I have taken few classes at a culinary school here in Kansas - sauce making, bread baking and canning. I even taught canning to few friends two weeks ago.
    so glad to see you back Nupur. Missed your posts

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    1. LOL Shilpa, it remains to be seen how much I'll actually end up posting in that new blog! Your culinary classes sound amazing. And canning! How cool. I loved that princess cake you posted this week.

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  15. Have I missed your blog or what! Welcome back :) The cooking class sounds like such a fun way to spend time! The Kokum dish sounds right up my taste buds. The closest I have tasted to that dish is 'sol kadhi' when I visited Konkan few years back. I was blown away by the taste of it at that time. My mouth is watering just thinking about it! Cannot wait to read your posts on a regular basis now!

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    1. Neha- kokum's tangy-sweet flavor is pretty much irresistible. Sol kadhi is like this saar, only with coconut milk. Hope you're doing well!

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  16. Missed your blog posts a lot. Glad you're back. The new site looks lovely. I've been wanting to dive into reading books - the only books I ever issue out from the library these days are cookbooks. Could you give me some pointers where I can start?
    -Joyce

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    1. Hi Joyce- What are you in the mood to read? For a simple, heart-warming read- I would suggest anything by Alexander McCall Smith, such as the Number 1 Detective Agency series or the Sunday Philosophy Club. For a classic with a deliciously eerie atmosphere, Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier. For an unusual but gripping book, Room by Emma Donoghue. Kid lit that I enjoyed even as an adult: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. An adventure story: Wild by Cheryl Strayed.

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    2. Thank you so much for replying Nupur. I like reading mystery novels but I do want to check out more genres. It'd be much better than the idiot box. I'll check out the books that you've mentioned. Thank you once again.

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    3. Happy Reading! Oh and I forgot to mention my favorite new genre, graphic novels. I recommend Relish by Lucy Knisley for a really quick and fun read.

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  17. Nupur, there is a big tag going on in the Facebook world to list you're top 10 books and you are hereby tagged. I would love to hear from you when you find the time.
    Sowmya

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    1. Thanks for tagging me, Sowmya, but I'm not on Facebook so I won't be able to do this- sorry!

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  18. That sounds like fun! Great to see you back here...Hoping to see you next time :) take care

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  19. How wonderful to have you back, Nupur! I have been visiting OHS regularly in the fond hope that there would be a new post and delighted to find an update today. So good to hear all that you have been doing.

    I have only ever attended one cookery lesson and it was one my husband's office had arranged some years ago in London. We made pasta and ate what we cooked. My most enduring moment from that evening was my husband's colleague who had not eaten anything green in forty odd years and had trouble not retching while chopping tomatoes.

    What have I been upto? I have gone back to making documentaries and have attended a training course at a prestigious institution. I have since had a bursary to do another course there. I have also watched a few of National Theatre productions (Medea blew my mind away - not an easy watch, mind). Of the recent reads, Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey was the one that has remained a lot with me. There's Ian McEwan's Children Act (I am 22 in the waiting list at our library, would you believe it?) and Ali Smith's How To Both I am eagerly looking forward to reading.

    In the kitchen, I bought a mini chopper and chopped together red onions, coconut, coriander, mint and peanuts, tossed it together with an avocado and lime and ate it standing up as I was too impatient to fuss with bowl and table and suchlike.

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  20. Good to have you back, Nupur. The craft blog looks interesting. There are so many posts already. Don't know how am I going to catch up :)

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  21. wow Nupur, you manage your time so efficiently, and keep inspiring. Glad to hear about your India trip, and your craft blog is lovely too. I have made lots of decorative cakes past few months, and spending time with little ones:-)

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Thank you for taking the time to say hello!