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A Taste of South India with Sanjoo Malhotra

Want to learn the secrets of Indian cuisine? Dying to experiment with exotic ingredients? Or are you just tired of cooking the same-old same-old? YLC took a 3-hour workshop with Stockholm’s resident culinary guru Sanjoo Malhotra to learn the in’s and out’s of South Indian cookery. And boy were we impressed!

Having spent a chunk of time in India,  I was looking forward to cooking (and tasting) bona fide dishes from the subcontinent. Something that Stockholm’s restaurants simply do not deliver.

Sanjoo agrees “For some reason, most of the Indian food in Stockholm is cooked by Bangladeshi’s of a specific region”.

And while they do satisfy a market  – it’s not the real deal.  Bangladeshi cuisine is noted for it’s addition of sugar whereas Indian does not. Adding insult to injury, most restaurants tone down the spice levels to cater to the Swedish palate turning them into watered-down caricatures of the real thing. Bad news for the rest of us looking for an authentic spice kick.

On top of this, Swedish restaurants serve a version of North Indian cuisine that is simply “copied and pasted” and repeated everywhere in the West. This is not representative of what is available in the subcontinent.

“South Indian food is non-existent in Sweden because people simply don’t know about it.  Northerners use wheat and dairy whereas southerners use rice and coconut milk. Even the spices differ” Key differences he keenly stresses to his students.

Hailing from the Punjab but having lived in 8 different regions of India from Srinagar to Bangalore, he grew up with an appreciation for the diversity of Indian food, customs, religions and languages. Food was an integral part of his upbringing (his grandmother ran an Indian cafe) and much of what he knows he learnt from his family. Two years ago, he began giving cooking workshops to spread his love for food and judging by some return students there that night, these are gaining popularity.

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The Workshop


17:30  Sanjoo makes a rundown of the tasting menu. We’ll be cooking 11 dishes between seven of us and we’re  split into three groups each responsible for a portion.

18:00 We troop into an industrial sized professional kitchen, all stainless steel and flashy gadgets. It’s every wannabe foodie’s fantasy. Like an episode of Top Chef, all the ingredients we’ll be using are laid out in picture-perfect order. Sanjoo briefs us on the various herbs and spices. There’s a great hunk of tamarind, a yellow canister of asofoetida that adds a flavour reminiscent of garlic and onions. There are whole star anise, dried red chillies, cloves, turmeric, mace, ground pepper. Bulbs of garlic, knobs of ginger, mango, pineapple and the biggest bunch of coriander I’ve ever seen and we’re encourage to smell everything.

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18:30 We split off to our stations. There are four recipes tacked to a shelf. We’re in charge of the Hyderabadi lamb biryani, a cabbage thoran, his mother’s coriander-cashew chutney and a fusion Indian Swedish dessert of yoghurt steeped with vanilla and fresh cardamom. Everyone’s intently studying the recipes. Knives go into overdrive and we’re thin slicing onions, dicing garlic, shredding cabbage. Someone’s using the football-sized mortar and pestle to pound spices. Another peels a pineapple, carefully digging out the eyes. Sanjoo teaches us how to correctly choose a coconut and instructs another student in the delicate art of cracking it open. After several tries, the nut splits,  leaking coconut juice into the sink. This is soon turned into grated coconut and used liberally in many of the dishes tonight. The smell of spices frying in hot ghee fills the kitchen and our stomachs begin to rumble at the prospect of our feast.

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19:30 The lamb’s added to the spiced rice mixture; a cast iron pan holds the lid down so no steam escapes. There’s a fish curry simmering on the four-top in the corner, rice poppadoms (unique to Kerala) are being fried to a golden crisp. Someone’s sauteing vermicelli and cashews in ghee for a saffron infused dessert. I caramelize chopped pistachios with honey and sugar and all the while Sanjoo moves from station to station, offering hints of advice here, tasting food there, suggesting garnishes for one dish and always asking students what they think. To him, the recipes are a guide and he encourages us to trust our taste. In between he shares anecdotes from India and snippets of history.

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20:00 In a burst of inspiration, Sanjoo shows us how to make paneer (a fresh white cheese). It’s surprisingly simple and we’re all offered a taste. Soft, creamy with a hint of sour. It’s a revelation.

20:30 We’ve been so intent on our own recipes, I don’t even know what the others are making. I circle the room and everyone’s busy plating. There are oohs and aahs as we admire everyone’s creations. There’s a spicy avocado soup native to Malabar Muslims,  a fragrant fish curry dotted with mangos and mustard seeds, a giant platter of Keralan Chicken generous with coconut and turmeric and a platter of dosa’s with a side of tomato chutney.

20:45 As we eat our 11-dish feast, Sanjoo delivers a presentation packed with culinary history and pictures from a food tour he conducted in South India. With the delicious food and  images of traditional kitchens, temple visits, toddy palm tapping and Indian weddings – we couldn’t be farther from a cold Swedish Autumn evening.

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21:30 Thoroughly stuffed, we were each given bags of mustard seeds, coriander seeds, curry leaves and a stack of recipes to take home. Now that’s what I call a thorough workshop!

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Details

What: South Indian cooking workshop,  other regional workshops also available
What you’ll need: Basic cookery skills. Confidence around stove tops and knives. Course conducted in Swedish and English
What to bring: A willingness to experiment. Come hungry; you’ll need the room for the feast at the end of the night. All ingredients provided.
Cost: 795kr/1 class OR 1500kr/2 classes
Time: 17:30 – 21:30 approx.
Location: Stockholm’s International Culinary School, Alströmergatan 39 (Fridhemsplan T-Bana)
Contact: info@ootbtravel.com

Favourites: Sanjoo has a “curry hotline” that he encourages you to call if you need guidance on a dish. Now that’s thorough dedication!

Additional Information: Visit Out of the Box India or his Facebook Page.

About Ting Yiu

Ting Yiu
Ting calls both Hong Kong and New Zealand home. When not writing/taking photos, her vices include scuba diving, National Geographic, turn of the century explorers, spicy food, book stores and science fiction. She is happiest gallivanting through remote corners of the globe while documenting her ensuing (mis)adventures.

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