When we booked our trip to India one thing I really wanted to do was a cookery class and I was as excited about that as I was about seeing tigers!
Trailfinders booked me onto a half day course with Shashi in Udaipur and it was a fantastic session (which was more like six hours rather than the three I was expecting).
Shashi welcomed eight of us into her home- a flat about 10 minutes drive from the centre of town. We were three Brits, four Brazilians (two of whom didn’t speak English) and an Aussie. All brought together by a love of Indian food. She told us how she came to be teaching: losing her husband in 2001, and in need of an income, there were many jobs she couldn’t take because of her caste but she was allowed to cook. I was shocked to hear that the caste system was still so strong, I thought it was dying out. Anyway, she found work cooking and it was an Irish guest who suggested she set up a cooking school. At the time she couldn’t speak English but she learned from the tourists who she met through work.
Fast forward 14 years, one secret visit from Lonely Planet and one house move later and Shashi is in great demand. It’s easy to see why: she’s warm, funny and a whirlwind in the kitchen.
She handed round a leaflet of her recipes for us to work through and take home. I assumed we’d make one or two but by the end of the sesh we had a veritable feast on our hands and in our bellies.
Her kitchen is pretty basic- a large table in the middle which we worked around with two gas rings on it which are powered by a big bottle, not mains gas. She also has a pretty ancient looking but super efficient food processor and piles of dishes around the side.
Our first job was to make a cup of tea and Shashi talked us through making a proper masala chai with fresh spices and how to do it with dried. It was the most tasty chai I’ve ever had and stupidly simple to boot.
Refreshed we all mucked in to make veg pakora, mango and coriander chutneys. I also thought I’d need a deep fryer to make pakora but Sashi used a high sided pan for deep frying and the most technical piece of temperature gauging kit: a wooden spoon!
After a quick break to sample the pakora, and some tips on making a sweet banana version, she introduced us to the secret of many a good curry: a base sauce. Shashi told us that this base is the beginning of a variety of curries and restaurants will make a massive pot of this masala sauce before service. Like sofrito or mirepoix, getting a flavour base to start with opens the door to a world of choice.
Shashi’s secret sauce was in fact a traditional mix of onion, ginger, spices and water cooked slowly until the flavour and colour have developed. We used this base to make aubergine and tomato masala, chickpea curry, spinach and potato curry and palak paneer. We even learned how to make our own paneer and I am excited about creating some at home with some creamy jersey milk.
My favourite part of the day was making bread with Shashi and one of hers sons. I got hooked on lachha paratha while I was over there; a layered bread made with lashings of ghee. Shashi showed us plain paratha made without ghee, stuffed paratha, chapatti and naan breads- plain and with local cheese (a sloppy cottage cheese) and tomato. She was very keen to make sure that we all got the hang of rolling and shaping the dough, and most importantly how to cook it correctly.
This is serious bread, and much better than any I have had at Indian restaurants back in the UK.
Rolling out paratha
After hours of cooking, learning and laughing we all sat back round the table where we had started and tucked in to the fruits of our labour. There was nothing we did which I would feel daunted about trying at home and Shashi’s technique meant that we all had a go at every stage. Since getting back I have been drinking chai, making chapatti and paratha and giving the secret sauce an outing.
It was a great day and I would whole heartedly recommend it to any one with an interest in eating Indian food but no idea how to make it. I don’t know how much I paid as the travel agent lumped all my costs together but I do know that some people paid when they were there and I am sure they were paying less than £10 which, for the food we ate alone, was amazing value.
Shashi is a formidable lady, and really inspirational. She told us that she is often booked up well in advance, so get in touch before you set off for Udiapur (one of her sons looks after her email) and book for an unforgettable foodie experience.
Shashi Cooking Classes
Web: www.shashicookingclasses.blogspot.com (this looks very out of date – she is definitely not at the address on this site!)
Other foodie notes on Udaipur
We stayed at the Amet Haveli on the lake. Stunning rooms, views and breakfast. The restaurant, Ambrai, is well worth a visit even if you aren’t a guest.
Millets of Mewar is a chilled out little cafe near the pedestrian bridge. They specialise in healthy foods and the vegan banana date shake is a must, along side the veggie kebabs.
The Jasmine Restaurant on the river by the pedestrian bridge was a great budget find. A beer, a soft drink, a mountain of pakora, curry and bread for around £4. It is the furthest of the two tiny eateries right on the water by the bridge.