Indian Roti – Cooking Class at Poppadoms Taste India
The other day I took an Indian cooking class at Poppadoms Taste India in Kelowna. Poppadoms is a fabulous Indian restaurant offering traditional Indian foods with a modern twist using local and fresh ingredients flavoured with spices brought over from India. Poppadoms is named after the paper thin, crisp, cracker-like bread traditional in Indian cooking. The owners of the restaurant are the Dosanj family, each working in and contributing to this thriving family business. Mother and chef Jas seems to be the heart and soul of the kitchen. Daughter Aman works in the kitchen as well as coordinate special events, daughter Jasmin, a graduate of the Alberta College of Art, designed the restaurant, does all the gorgeous photography of their foods and events as well as carries on administrative responsibilities of the restaurant. The handsome brother Harry runs the bar creating award winning Indian inspired cocktails (ask for Harry Berry) from fresh ingredients and traditional spices. I have to say that once you meet the Dosanj family you kind of fall in love with them.
Poppadom’s food philosophy is to promote the local and seasonal food and cook it with authentic spices brought over from the various regions of India. Indian foods is a natural fit with local produce says Jas Dosanj. They know their suppliers, buy organic and how the food they buy was grown or raised. This is reflected in their menu that, where possible, changes seasonally to take advantage of what the valley has to offer. The menu at Poppadoms includes a wide variety of vegetarian dishes, gluten free and even lactose free items. They even cater to kids, doing kids hot lunches together with Okanagan Grocery Artisan Bakery and are considering even cooking classes for kids in their kitchen. A brave undertaking. Their food is representative of the vast country of India and its regional specialties. Indian cuisine is not uniform throughout the geographically vast country and each region has its own unique dishes, blends of spices and cooking techniques. On their culinary exploratory trip to India they visited many regions for the first time. Their cooking classes reflect that regionality as well, offering demonstration and participation classes featuring the various regions. Our class featured both Keralan and Kadala regions of India.
The class took place in their kitchen on a Sunday when the restaurant was closed, so Jas was cooking on her day off even though they were in the midst of preparation for a Poppadoms Taste India dinner at Local Lounge Grille in Summerland the next day (more on that later). Six of us gathered in their dining room over masala chai tea to hear about their restaurant and plan the class activities. The Dosanj family arrived here from England (Southampton) and after searching for entrepreneurial opportunities here decided to open a restaurant where they could cook and serve the kind of food they wanted to eat themselves. To further their culinary capabilities they travelled to India on a culinary mission, staying in villages at private homes, learning about local dishes, ingredients and spices. They came back from this educational voyage informed and armed with recipes, spices and dishes to try at their restaurant. I believe there are several chefs in the valley wishing to go with Jas on her next culinary exploration of India. I’d like to put my name on that waiting list as well.
Poppadoms is well recognized in the valley for their exceptional cuisine and this is reflected in a number of awards they have received so far. Their Bengali Fish was awarded best dish of the year by EAT magazine Exceptional Eats Awards this year. Since 2011 they received no less than 9 various awards for food and drinks.
Our class was a hands-on in their kitchen, intended to teach us new skills and remove some of the fear associated with cooking recipes from a different cuisine. We were soon divided in groups of two, given an apron and invited into the professional restaurant kitchen. How fun. Each pair was given a recipe to follow and we were to pick our ingredients from a cart set in the back, laden with vegetables, fruits, spices, coconut milk, coconut butter and more. Our recipe was for a Keralan Veg Ishtew, or a curried vegetable stew. We picked our ingredients, measuring a teaspoon of this or that, three cardamon seeds, 3 cloves, 10 fresh curry leaves (yes), coconut oil and coconut milk, among other items. We settled at the vegetable station in the kitchen and begun our work. We toasted the spices before we ground them in a wooden mortar and pestle (yes, it’s the best way to do it). We chopped the carrots, peeled the potatoes, minced the ginger and crushed the garlic cloves. Once we had all the ingredients in place (mis en place as they say in French kitchens) we begun the cooking. First we sautéed the whole spices in the coconut oil, followed the garlic and ginger. In went the onion, curry leaves (all 10 of them), together with green chilli and salt. Now the vegetables are going in: potatoes first, cooked until tender, then carrots and peas that take less time to cook. When everything is just about down you add the coconut milk. Apparently coconut milk is not added early in the cooking, only at the very end as a flavouring agent. The ground fennel powder made from the fennel seeds we toasted and ground in the mortar went in last. We tasted and added more fennel and more salt and then Jas came and tasted the dish, adjusting the fennel and salt just so, creating an authentic flavoured, slightly spicy dish. We were certainly proud of “our” creation and gained insight into cooking with indian spices that we didn’t have before.
After we finished preparing the dish we were given a demonstration by Jas for making roti. Roti is the flat Indian bread rounds, a cross between pita bread and Mexican tortillas. It is traditionally made unleavened, with whole wheat flour. Jas has obviously made them before, as the dough danced in her hands and the roti puffed up like a balloon in the cast iron pan. Our roti were okay, not as brilliant as hers, some puffing up here and there, others remained stubbornly flat. Oh well, you have to get a feel for it. Roti is used to scoop up food and is traditionally served with Indian meals. Don’t confuse it with naan bread which is leavened and baked in an oven.
After class we gathered our dishes and sat down in the dining room to enjoy the fruits of our labour. Instead of plates we had large banana leaves, sterilized and softened by Jasmin over an open flame in the kitchen. I believe she also brushed each banana leaf with oil. It was fun eating this way but we didn’t go as far as using our fingers to scoop out the food, although we got a demonstration of how it’s done from Jasmin. The food sits on your fingers and you flick it with your thumb into your mouth. This way the finger that touches your mouth does not touch the food in the common bowl. None of us tried it.
The food was fresh tasting and delicious with layers of flavours in every bite. Our dish was the vegetable stew in coconut milk, the other two dishes were chickpeas and coconut curry and chicken masala. The chickpeas were cooked together with freshly shelled coconut meat (it’s a hands-on class and everything is purely fresh) in coconut oil, ginger, curry leaves, tomatoes and spices and had and pungent flavour. The chicken for the Keralan Chicken Masala was first marinated in spices, then cooked in coconut oil, spices and tomatoes, with coconut oil added at the end. It was sweet-spicy and mild orange coloured without any addition of food colouring (a no no in the Poppadoms kitchen). The wine pairing was Stags Hollow 2011 Sauvignon Blanc. Jasmin cautioned us not to follow preconceived ideas about wine and Indian food (that they don’t go together, or require sweeter wines) and open our minds to the possibilities,. The wine was aromatic and and crisp, light on the palate with citrus notes lingering in a refreshing finish. This was certainly a beautiful match for the food we were enjoying.
Indian food is only as good as the spices you use to produce it say the Dosanj family. They import all of their spices from India and roast them themselves to ensure utmost freshness. Jas makes her own blend of garam masala (apparently there are as many variations as there are cooks) and they sell a spice kit that includes the garam masala, turmeric, red chilli powder and cumin seeds. Of course I got the package and I look forward to trying the recipes at home. What were you thinking:)
I enjoyed the class so much and loved the food, so the next day we drove down to Summerland to Local Lounge Grille to attend the Taste India dinner with Poppadom. The evening opened with a cocktail prepared by Harry Dosanj and proceeded through 4 courses of fabulous foods served family style to guests seated at long tables in the lounge. With my vegetarian palate I particularly enjoyed the baby gem salad with spiced yogurt dressing, chapatti stuffed with cauliflower and potatoes, the Indian dry spice roasted Okanagan root vegetables and saffron pilau rice. I did however taste everything (almost) and can say that the flavours were incredible: banana leaf wrapped Arctic char, tandoori spiced valley game hens, long braised lamb shank with Indian spices and slow roasted suckling pig vindaloo (I drew the line here but tasted the vindaloo sauce made with garlic and vinegar and fiery red chilli, very spicy and great). Jas, Jasmin and Harry all came out to visit with the guests at the tables, answering questions and giving information about the food. Aman was busy in the kitchen and came out a couple of time to speak formally about the dinner, the dishes and the preparation. It was a lovely evening with great food carefully and expertly prepared, beautifully presented and generously served. Many left with styrofoam containers full of leftover foods from dinner.
So after all this I was inspired to make something Indian at home and thought I would try the roti first. Surprisingly, it worked out and we enjoyed it with a mildly spiced lentil daal that was already in my Indian “repertoire”. I highly recommend the Poppadoms cooking classes and plan to attend more classes in the spring when we return for our European adventure.
To register in Poppadom cooking classes check out their website here. The next three classes in January and February will feature the cuisine of Chennai, Punjab and Kerala.
Here is Poppadoms’ recipe for roti.
1 1/2 cups whole wheat or white flour (I used white)
1 cup lukewarm water
1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
Place flour in a bowl. Add some of the water, a little at a time, mixing the water into the flour with your outstretched fingers, adding just enough water until a ball of dough is formed.
Add the oil and continue kneading about 4-5 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Lightly dust the work surface with flour.
Divide the dough into 8 pieces and flatten each into a disk. Let rest a few minutes to relax the gluten.
Roll each ball into a thin disk, dusting it with flour if it is too sticky.
Heat up a 8 or 10 inch cast iron skillet to medium heat.
Once hot, lay the dough circles on the hot pan.
Once the roti begins to bubble up (you hope) flip it over to the other side.
Cook until both sides are golden in spots.
You can use a spatula to lift the roti, flip it and press down on it when necessary.
Enjoy with curry or other In dian foods.