What do you buy your New York-based cooking-obsessed girlfriend for her birthday when you already bought her an engagement ring that she doesn’t know about yet? If you’re The Boyfriend, you first suggest that you replace her Kindle that your golf clubs fell on and broke. This is obviously a diversionary tactic, designed to get her hopes as low as possible. Then you knock it OOTP (it’s the World Series this week so everyone knows that stands for “out of the park,” right?) and get her a League of Kitchens cooking class.
Without intentionally plagiarizing the League of Kitchens website, this is their schtick: League of Kitchens brings together teachers who love to cook from around the world and connects them with students eager to learn less-accessible recipes and cooking techniques straight from the people who know them best. League of Kitchens has done the work to find amazing immigrant cooks living in the greater New York area — people from India, Korea, and Lebanon, for example — and has worked with them to develop menus and curriculum. And they’ve worked to fix the biggest gap in learning from people who just know how to cook — teachers who tell you things like “cook it until it is done” and “put in enough spices.” So League of Kitchens cooked with their teachers, and then wrote the recipes in instructions that can actually be followed, with plebeian banalities like units of time and measurement.
I can’t vouch for the entire program, because I have only taken one class, but I will definitely be back. It was a phenomenal experience. When The Boyfriend bought the class, he knew he wanted me to do a class that included meat, and that I wanted one that involved a lot of cooking. So he did all the research, and picked out Dolly’s Trinidadian 6-hour class, and booked me for a Saturday afternoon in October. When the appointed weekend finally arrived, I shlepped out to South Ozone Park and spent the day with habanero peppers and garlic, learning to make goat curry and spicy mango chow (using unripened fruit and tossing it with a cilantro and pepper puree for a spicy-sweet snack that is to die). And we made traditional Trini roti, which must be rolled in a particular way, and grilled just right, but is totally worth the effort for fresh, warm Trini-tortilla. According to Dolly, Trinidadian food is influenced by the African, Indian, Chinese and Caribbean immigrants who have moved to Trinidad, and the result is all my favorite parts of Indian food (long-cooked curries, braised meats, decadent sauces) painted with an island palette. (To learn more about Dolly and her thoughts on Trinidadian cooking, see this New York Times profile that came out shortly before I took her class!)
Before I get too carried away, I want to heartily endorse League of Kitchens, and particularly shout-out Dolly, a skilled teacher, excellent chef, and gracious host. Four women spent the day camped out in Dolly’s kitchen while she explained the difference between broad-leaf and ordinary thyme, and why Trinis prepare curries differently than Jamaicans. She was patient, kind and incredibly knowledgable. And the woman can cook. She made enough food to feed an army, and sent us all home laden with leftovers. I couldn’t wait to share my new recipes with The Boyfriend, who had had his eye on the goat curry since June, but I already knew that Dolly’s channa and aloo would be the first dish out of my dutch oven.
Channa (Hindi for “chickpeas”) and aloo (Hindi for “potatoes”) is the Trinidadian spin on a traditional north Indian curry. The name might not seem Trini at first blush, but the dish is full island. The chickpeas are marinated in habanero and cilantro, and then stewed with madras curry powder and tumeric, for a hearty, spicy stew. It is fantastic over rice (and even better leftover for lunch the next day), but absolutely tops cooked into an omelette for breakfast.
Flashback! One year ago on Leighto-Greato: Chicken Parm Meatballs with Sauteed Spinach
- 1 lb. dried chickpeas or 2 cans cooked chickpeas
- 2 T. salt, divided
- 1 lb. russet potatoes (usually either one really big potato or two smaller ones)
- 1 habanero pepper
- ½ bunch cilantro (stems and all!), plus a few more leaves for garnish
- 4 cloves garlic
- 5 T. vegetable oil
- 5 T. madras curry powder
- 1 T. tumeric
- Rice, for serving
- Rinse the dried chickpeas in a colander, picking out any rocks or weird looking beans.
- In a large pot with a lid, cover the dried chickpeas with about 4 inches of water. Bring the water up to a boil and allow to cook at a full rolling boil, uncovered, for 2 minutes, skimming any nasty stuff that floats to the top.
- Turn off the heat (but leave the beans on the still-warm burner) and cover. Allow to soak for about 2 hours.
- After the beans are done soaking, add 1 tablespoon of salt to the water and boil for 45 minutes, until the beans are mostly cooked through.
- Drain the beans, reserving the liquid to add back into the stew later.
- Drain and rinse the canned chickpeas.
- In a food processor, blend the habanero, cilantro and garlic with ¾ cup of water until smooth. Pour the puree over the chickpeas to marinate and set aside.
- Rinse, peel, and chop your potatoes into 1- or 2-inch cubes.
- Blend the curry powder, tumeric, and 1 tablespoon of salt into ½ a cup of water until dissolved.
- In a large, heavy-bottomed dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the spice slurry and cook for two or three minutes, stirring occasionally, until the raw taste has cooked out and you can really smell the curry powder. You want all of the water to boil out of the spice mix -- the bubbles will look big at first, and then they will get smaller and the bubbles will be more rapid. That's when it's delicious.
- Add the marinating chickpeas to the spices, and stir well. Cook for 5 minutes.
- Add the potatoes to the chickpea mix, and stir well. Cook for 5 more minutes.
- Add 4 cups of water to the chickpea and potato mix. If you reserved any cooking liquid from the chickpeas earlier, use that here. If you didn't, or if you didn't save the cooking liquid, plain water will be fine.
- Bring the liquid up to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer. Allow to cook for 1 hour, stirring regularly. The curry is done with the potatoes have sort of melted into the stew and made a starchy, spicy, thick stew.
- Serve over rice, garnished with a few cilantro leaves.