Samui Wining & Dining
Cooking with a Dash of Philosophy

DD Pande shares a few secrets of cooking Indian food.

 

11I've always loved Indian food. I remember clearly the first time I tried it. I was sitting around a table with my new Indian colleagues in South Africa eating an incredibly spicy mutton curry. The spices, the flavours and eating with my hands completely won me over. You may enjoy Thai food along with all its associated spices but deep down, maybe you hanker after a good Indian curry.

      So where on Samui can you get an authentic Indian curry? There are a few Indian restaurants on the island but really, you've heard of the saying, "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for the day, teach him to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime", haven't you? So why not learn to cook traditional Indian food yourself and conjure up all manner of authentic dishes in the comfort of your own home.

      Ok, so your question here might be, why on earth would you come all the way to Thailand to learn how to cook Indian food? Well, quite simply the answer is because you are given the opportunity to meet a passionate and charismatic man whose love of Indian food and the world around us is generously shared in his cooking course. Opportunities to meet rare souls like this are few and far between so when they present themselves, you have to take them. Isn't that was life is truly about?

 

      DD Pande is the general manager at Noori India restaurant, situated on Chaweng Beach Road. A wonderful conversationalist and incredibly passionate about food and philosophy, DD is a very interesting man to talk to and even better to learn from (and not just about Indian food). He has taught at the School of Hotel Management and Catering Technology at Jaipur University and is a published poet and writer. He arrived on Samui ten years ago with the aim of helping his brother, Peter, in the restaurant, and has been here ever since.

       DD offers an Indian cooking class in specially equipped premises not far from the restaurant itself. He quickly makes you feel at home, insisting that you treat the kitchen as if it were your own. You instantly relax and soon get caught up in his story-telling.

       “Cooking is a mixture of science and art”, he explains. Yes, that makes sense; the science is all about the measuring, structure and organising of cooking the foods. The art part is when you experiment, taste, and cook from your heart, with passion and love. As DD correctly points out, many people talk of ‘Mama’s cooking’ with great fondness and we all know that Mums cook with love.

         After donning your special ‘Noori India’ cooking apron, you start with a little spice identification. You don’t realise how many spices are used in Indian cooking until you actually see them laid out in front of you. The smells are intoxicating - more than 15 different dishes holding ground spices such as cumin, coriander, masala, turmeric or chilli powder alongside their ‘whole’ partners such as cloves, star anise, cinnamon, cardamom pods (in black and green), coriander and cumin seeds and even dried nutmeg flowers. You are encouraged to smell and, under DD’s instruction, taste some of the seeds to try and identify and appreciate the flavours, all the time while listening to where these various spices came from, or how they are used in Indian cooking.

         The cooking starts with something really easy - salsa with an Indian twist, made with cucumber, tomato, onion, lime juice, salt and a dash of spice. Every time a new ingredient is added to the mixture, you hear, “Mix with your hands, and taste!” This is very much a ‘hands-on’ course.

         A slight change to the recipe saw us preparing our second dish by mixing the same ingredients (minus the lime juice) and adding DD’s homemade natural yoghurt and a different spice (no mixing with the hands here). Two simple dishes eaten with some freshly made poppadoms (which we’d prepared seconds earlier using an open flame).

         Next were the onion bhajis. DD told us that traditionally, onion bhajis are ‘bite size’ - a lot smaller than the huge versions you get in England. We learnt to mix the sliced onions with the chickpea flour and seasonings into a sticky dough (using once again our hands). Making sure the oil was very hot (DD had already explained that cold oil will just cause the food to absorb the oil rather than cooking and crisping it), we slowly slipped the little dough dollops into the oil. One by one, they turned a beautiful golden colour and I couldn’t wait to taste them!

         But the magic didn’t end there. With DD’s help, more spices were chosen and thrown into another pot with hot oil - a chicken madras had begun! A firm favourite around the world, this dish completely blew me away. The ingredients were simply a selection of spices, onion, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, chicken and coconut milk. For years, I’d thought this dish was the culmination of hundreds of ingredients which needed days to prepare, and yet here we were creating it in a morning. Together we fried, we stirred, we steamed, we added chicken and later coconut milk and after a while, the Madras emerged. Further instruction resulted in some chapattis to eat with our madras. I was awestruck - I had cooked my favourite Indian dish, and it tasted fantastic! I couldn’t contain my excitement.

         I looked over at DD; a huge smile was spreading across his face. If his goal was to inspire people to cook Indian food and to encourage them to learn how simple it was, his mission had, yet again, been accomplished.

         

Colleen Setchell


 


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