Apple strudel, smoked salmon, and fresh coffee. A brunch date? No, the start of a Ramses Hilton cooking class. It’s a Thursday morning and around 30 women (and two men) have gathered for a session on how to prepare a three-course Indian meal. Wearing Ramses Hilton aprons and equipped with a copy of today’s recipe, it seems like it should be time to roll up sleeves and get chopping. But this is a different kind of cooking class–the social, relaxed, and fabulous kind.
So we start out with a breakfast buffet of little sandwiches, pastries, and freshly brewed coffee. Then on to a tour of the Ramses Hilton kitchens, including the butchery and bakery, the cold food preparation area, and the grill. Chef Dimitri is quick to point out that the chefs wear gloves, that there are separate rooms for poultry and beef, and the bulletin board which is covered in awards the hotel has received for impeccable cleanliness. The tour group nods and hums their approval.
Then back to Maharaja, a cozy Indian restaurant on the second floor of the hotel that has been set up with a large table and a portable hotplate for the presentation to follow. Chef Manoharan Sundaram begins with an explanation of jhinga amiritsari, a carom-seed flavored shrimp saute with peppered cabbage salad and mango chutney. The manager of Maharaja, Anoop Thajudeen, explains in more detail what Chef Manoharan is doing and hands out a list of the spices, most of which are available at a grocery store in Mohandessin called Al Ansary.
As Chef Manoharan cooks, the scents of Indian spices fill the air and the inquisitive observers takes notes while their stomachs growl. Manoharan skillfully chops and sautes mango slices, mixes in vinegar and sugar, and, once boiling, adds a couple of spoons of mint and chat masala. And the finished product: mango chutney. Once the class is over, an obliging waiter carries the plate around the class. Next, Manoharan makes murg malai barwah, an almond yogurt marinated chicken stuffed with cottage cheese and served with tomato sauce, rice and vegetables. Finally, kulfi, a cardamom flavored Indian ice cream.
The class is over – and, as if fatigued from merely watching the preparation, a look of relief passes over the attendees as the dishes they have learned to make are now served to them. Clinking forks and knives give way to conversation. Mona, a mother and avid photographer/cook, is impressed with the gathering. "It’s informative and enjoyable," she explains. On the other hand, Eileen, a program organizer at CSA (the Community Service Association in Maadi), has heard complaints about the lack of hands-on cooking. In any case, the group attending this session do not seem the least disturbed about a cooking class that involves no cooking on their part.
"Some people come for the socializing and the food," explains Fayza, who took a day off work to gather with friends specifically for the session.
But all are in agreement on one thing: the food is excellent. And in the end, only the group’s ability to reproduce the meal at home will measure the effectiveness of the teaching method.
Based on the recipe given and notes from the class, here is the recipe for murg malai barwah.
MURG MALAI BARWAH
The best idea is to gather all the ingredients in front of you (like Chef Manoharan does during his presentation)
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup crushed almonds
2 teaspoons garlic ginger paste (a mixture of ginger and garlic ground together)
2 teaspoons cardamom
2 teaspoons green chilies
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon crushed helba leaves (available at Al Ansary market in Lebanon Square)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons cream
2 teaspoons coriander leaves
2 half boneless chicken breasts (one bone at the end)
1/2 onion, chopped and fried
1/2 container of cottage cheese (100 grams)
2 teaspoon coriander leaves
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon tumeric powder
2 teaspoons ginger
1/2 cup crushed mixed nuts
1/4 cup raisins
1 teaspoon saffron
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon cardamom
3 teaspoons ginger garlic paste
3 teaspoons almond paste (peeled almonds soaked in water and blended in a blender)
1/2 cup yogurt
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons oil
1/2 cup mushrooms
1/2 cup broccoli florets
1/2 cup baby corn
1 cup basmati rice
1/2 onion, chopped
2 teaspoons garam masala (in this case, garam masala consists of equal parts cardamom, cinnamon, crushed cloves and 2 bay leaves)
1 tablespoon oil
1. Put chopped tomato with some water in a saucepan on medium heat and bring to a boil.
2. Soak basmati rice in water.
3. Mix together marinade ingredients and preheat oven to 170 degrees.
4. Once tomatoes and water are boiling, add cardamom, chili, almond powder, bay leaf, and ginger garlic paste.
5. Make chicken breast stuffing: Take cottage cheese and add tumeric, ginger, fried onions, crushed mixed nuts, raisins, saffron and coriander leaves.
6. Add more water to tomato sauce if necessary and let it simmer.
7. Insert a large knife into each chicken breast and stuff cavity with the cheese mixture.
8. Coat in marinade and cover in foil.
9. Saute chopped onions and garam masala in a pot with oil.
10. Add two cups water and bring to a boil. (2 cups water for one cup basmati rice)
11. Put chicken in oven. Bake for 20 minutes covered and brown for an additional five minutes under the broiler.
12. Add one cup basmati rice to the boiling water.
13. Add more water to the tomato sauce and blend. (Easier with a hand blender since it needs to go back in the pot after being blended.)
14. Stir the rice and add flavor to it (saffron, nuts, lemon or tomato)
15. Saute broccoli, mushrooms and baby corn in butter and then cover with water and allow to simmer.
16. With tomato sauce back in the pot and on a low flame, add butter, cream, and crushed helba leaves.
Pile rice on a plate, or use a rice mold. Put vegetables with a little of the tomato sauce mixed in over the rice.
Chop the chicken breast into four or five pieces, to make the stuffing visible. Drizzle tomato sauce over the chicken.