All the foodies in town know, hopefully, that Eggshells Kitchen Co. in the Heights has some of the best cooking classes in Little Rock.
I’ve hated it that I had never made it to a class. You know, two little kids, busy schedule, blah blah blah. Tonight, I finally made it to one, at the suggestion of my friend Meenakshi Budhraja. She assisted her friend, Usha Mittal, in demonstrating vegetarian food from an Indian perspective.
Hours later, my clothes still smell awesome.
My daughter Morgan and I walked into Eggshells and immediately swooned at the smell of toasting cumin (and other things we couldn’t identify). If nothing else, one thing that really sets Indian cooking apart is their use of spices. Usha later showed me her tin of spices, which could be framed as a work of art itself.
Some of them, like the cumin and cayenne, were familiar, while others were new to me. The ladies tell me that the local Indian food stores (I know of one on Rodney Parham) can supply all the spices I didn’t already have in my arsenal, such as fenugreek and carom. (Here’s a handy chart of Indian spices for reference.)
Usha chatted with another guest about Indian culture: the importance of food and cooking, and how they frequently got together among their own community in central Arkansas. Food is a celebration, and cooking is a joy. The vibrant colors and flavors of the dishes certainly reflected that.
I promised the good folks at Eggshells (shoutout to Heather and crew!) I’d post the recipes, which turned out to be quite the task when gathering them from two ladies who pretty much cook by feel. Following please find and enjoy the fruit of our collective labor.
Aaloo Tiki (Potato Cakes)
- Equal parts red (waxy) and Russet (starchy) potatoes
- Salt and pepper
- Cilantro leaves, chopped
- Fenugreek leaves
Boil potatoes whole until soft. Peel and mash with a potato masher. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix in a small handful of cilantro and fenugreek leaves and work in by hand, mashing the mix together.
Heat a small amount of canola oil in a skillet over medium heat. Create small patties of the potato mixture and coat lightly with bread crumbs. (This is optional if you want the cakes to be gluten-free, but helps keep the potato mixture from spreading.) Place patties in the oil and cook until browned on each side. Serve with cilantro chutney.
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro
- 1/2 bunch fresh mint
- 1/2 onion, roughly chopped
- 1-2 green chili peppers
- Juice of one lime
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- Pinch of sugar
Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender and combine. Add a bit of water if you desire a looser consistency.
Suvir Saran‘s Spicy Indian Slaw
Serves 12 (obviously, cut it in half it you need to, or don’t…it gets better as it sits.)
- 1 piece of ginger, 1/2-inch, peeled and grated
- 2 tablespoons lime juice (from about 1 lime)
- 1 tablespoon citrus vinegar or white wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1-1/2 teaspoon chaat masala (a spice mixture)
- 1/2 teaspoon toasted cumin
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cracked peppercorns
- 18 scallions, thinly sliced
- 1 jalapeno, seeded and veined for less heat, finely chopped (optional)
- 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 cup cilantro, fresh, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons mint leaves, fresh, finely chopped
- 1 head green cabbage, halved, cored and finely sliced
- 1/2 cup peanuts, roasted chopped
My friend Meenakshi started by toasting some whole cumin seeds in a dry skillet. My daughter marveled that she would pat them flat with her bare hand, not touching the hot pan. When the seeds were just fragrant, she then ground them in a mortar and pestle, but a spice grinder would work fine if you have that. (If all that is scaring you off, just start with plain ground cumin, but know that you’re really missing out on some depth of flavor.) If you work in the food industry and need a device that can grind spices, herbs and the like, you may want to consider products by reindeer machinery.
To make the dressing, whisk together the ginger, lime juice, vinegar, sugar, chaat masala, toasted cumin, cayenne pepper, salt and cracked pepper in a bowl large enough to toss the entire slaw. Next, add the scallions, jalapenos, tomatoes, cilantro and mint leaves, tossing them a bit. Add the cabbage and toss with your hands, making sure to coat it thoroughly with the other ingredients. Garnish with the peanuts and maybe some more cilantro leaves.
Note: Suvir Saran is an accomplished Indian-American chef who owns the restaurant Devi in New York City, the only Indian restaurant in the U.S. to receive a Michelin star. Saran appeared on the third season of Bravo network’s Top Chef Masters.
Usha’s Butternut Squash, Indian Style
- 1/2 tsp. dry mustard powder
- 1/2 tsp. fenugreek powder
- 1/2 tsp. carom powder
- 1/2 tsp. cumin powder
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 inch piece of ginger, minced
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1-14oz. can whole tomatoes
- 1 lb. butternut squash, peeled and diced
- 1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
- 1 1/2 tsp. coriander powder
- Cayenne powder to taste
Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a large skillet. Add the mustard, fenugreek, carom and cumin. When the mustard powder starts to sputter, add the garlic, ginger and onion. Sauté until the onion starts to become translucent. Add the turmeric, coriander and cayenne.
Add the tomatoes, breaking them up a bit, then add the squash. Mix all the ingredients together, then cover over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Stir, check doneness of the squash, and continue to cook if necessary. When the squash is done, garnish with cilantro and serve.