Ready, steady… cook
Whether your cooking style is simple or show-stopping, you'll love this home-based Indian cookery school that takes the mystery out of cooking a curry.
I love cooking, and can turn my hand to most kinds of cooking – Italian, stir-fries, roast dinners, even baking – although I’d describe my style as more slap-dash than show-stopping. I’m not brilliant at following recipes, almost always substituting something for something else. And sometimes I just make stuff up – admittedly with mixed success.
But when it comes to cooking an Indian curry… well, I just don’t. And instead I order a take-away to satisfy my curry cravings. What puts me off most is the long list of ingredients – many of of them spices that I can’t even pronounce, much less know what to do with.
Enter, Breech Lane Curry House, a home-based Indian cookery school in Walton-on-the-Hill, between Epsom and Reigate, that promises to demystify Indian spices and teach students how to cook authentic Indian dishes. I signed up for a class quicker than you can say chapati.
Breech Lane Curry House is run by Jaya Malani, who was born and raised in north India. She moved to England with her husband about 10 years, and just under two years ago – after several years working in the corporate world – decided to leave the rat race to indulge her passion for cooking. She’d always found that curries in England were quite different to the simple, rustic and healthy food she was used to back home and wanted to share her family recipes, as well as the techniques she’d learned over the years.
Jaya has a broad repertoire of Indian dishes, a fusion of her northern Indian roots and her husband’s south Indian heritage. She makes everything from scratch using quality ingredients, many of them sourced locally.
Classes are held in Jaya’s kitchen at her cottage on Breech Lane, with scheduled classes running for three hours on a Friday evening and a Saturday morning, each with a maximum of four students. Jaya also offers bespoke group classes and one-to-one tuition, and is also happy to offer classes in your own kitchen.
She keeps class sizes small. And Jaya provides everything you need, including aprons and take-away containers. If you’re the type to likes to have a glass of vino while you cook, you can bring your own.
ON THE MENU
Jaya customises the menus to take into account the likes and dislikes of the participants. I went to one of Jaya’s Friday evening classes along with sisters Jacqui and Alison. We made a paneer tikka and coriander chutney, a dahi (yoghurt) chicken curry, and Indian parathas.
WHAT WE DID
After donning our stripy red aprons, Jaya took us through the spices used in her cooking – some like turmeric and garam masala, I was familiar with, but others like kasoori methi (dried frenugreek leaves) and asafoetida, I’d never come across before.
After this introduction – which includes a bit of sniffing and tasting – we start on our first dish, the paneer tikkas with fresh coriander chutney. Jaya took us through each of the steps, starting with a traditional marinade for the paneer, and ending with delicious grilled skewers of this Indian cheese.
After taking a quick break to taste-test our masterpieces (which got a unanimous thumbs up) we moved on to make the chicken curry. Jaya keeps things moving along at nice pace, but there’s also time for chatting and banter. I liked the informality – and although I didn’t have a glass of wine on hand – it would have fitted well with the evening.
For our second dish, the chicken was also marinated in a blend of Indian spices and yoghurt. It wasn’t overly complicated – as long as you know which spices to use and how much of each one you need, which was all on a printed recipe sheet that Jaya gave us to take home. We prepared and cooked the base, added the chicken, cooked it some more and the result was sublime.
Our final dish of parathas – the perfect accompaniment to the chicken curry – was surprisingly straightforward, requiring only a few ingredients, a bit of kneeding, some rolling and then frying on a tawa (a type of Indian frying pan). I took some of the dough home to make some fresh the next day, and still managed to make them successfully.
The atmosphere was friendly, jokey and relaxed – and the whole experience was wonderfully tactile: we measured, mixed, and sliced our own ingredients, taste tested along the way, and then took home our creations – or those we didn’t greedily demolish on the night.
1. When chopping an onion, don’t chop the root.
2. Don’t be afraid to use salt in your dishes.
3. Use fresh spices where you can. Jaya buys fresh spices and roasts and grinds her own. She has also created some spice blends, which she sells. We’re a particular fan of Jaya’s chickpea curry blend.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Anyone who enjoys cooking and wants to learn the tricks to making authentic Indian curries. As Jaya’s classes are small, they’d be great for groups of friends. I think couples would also enjoy doing the class together.
Not for: It’s probably pretty obvious, but if you’re not a fan of Indian food, I’d probably steer clear.
The damage: The three-hour scheduled classes cost between £80 and £90 per person and include all ingredients and everything you’ll need to use on the night. Jaya even does the washing up.