Time to Explore!
I rolled over in a sleepy daze, my eyes gradually adjusting to the morning light. I slowly pried my lids free and fixed my gaze out the window extended before me. Was I dreaming? I sat up and focused my eyes as the green blurs morphed into the beautiful Himalayan mountain range sitting right in front of me. A smile stretched across my bed sheet imprinted face. I was not dreaming. I was in Dharamsala!
Waking up to the mountain side view was a whole different feeling. Yesterday, the steamy clouds and the scattered rains made it a perfect day for relaxation, something I desperately needed after running the gamut of India. Today was different. Today was a day for exploration!
I took no time at all getting ready and rushed out to see the sights. We opted to bypass the taxi and make the hour-long walk down to McLeod Ganj. It was well worth it. The views were amazing and stretched far as your eyes could see.
The trees engulfed the mountainside leaving no room for anything but green. My pace slowed to a crawl as I took in the beauty around me. The air was clean, crisp, and fresh.
I took long deep breaths as I gazed down the mountain, through the trees. My eye focus racked from one tree to the next and so on. I was stuck.
I had started a love affair with Jimmy’s Restaurant the previous night, and the lust was still bubbling hot. As I was ordering dinner last night, my eyes caught the breakfast section of the menu. They had waffles! Just a day ago I said that I would give anything for a big gooey Belgium waffle. I hadn't seen a waffle in months and Jimmy’s had a whole waffle section on the menu! I ordered a waffle with bananas, chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream. For breakfast? Yes and boy did it hit the spot!
I walked around for a while just observing life around me. The vibe was different here. It was peaceful. No one was hassling you to buy anything, the streets weren't crowded, it was a completely different India. The debris and beggars had been replaced with robed Buddhist monks sporting Doc Martin boots. The energy was good and the people were as warm as fresh baked cookies.
We walked along the wavy mountain roads, between souvenir shops, yoga classes, tea houses and massage studios. Max decided it was time for a haircut and ducked into a local barber shop for a trim. I peeked into a beauty parlor and treated myself to some eyebrow threading. The beautician did a great job and I needed it. After almost two months without any beauty pampering, I was starting to look like a woolly mammoth, uni-brow and all!
As I was waiting for Max to finish primping, I wandered past a sign advertising an Indian cooking class. I ventured inside to inquire about times and prices and ended up signing us up for a class that afternoon.
After Max's makeover we headed into the class. Having no idea what to expect, I imagined a classroom with personal cooking stations and ingredients laid out for use. I was a little surprised when I walked into a small yellow room lined with a semi-circle of people facing a single rectangular table.
Atop of the table sat a small double burner stove similar to Coleman camping cookware. Behind the table, a world map hung on the wall and on the adjacent wall was a poster board list of ingredients written in big bold letters. I felt like I was walking into my first day of kindergarten. Armed with a pen, paper, and a hearty appetite, I was ready for some cooking.
Our instructor, Nisha, introduced herself along with several key ingredients we would be using in today's lesson.
She passed around a container with fenugreek, green and black cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and coriander seeds.
I am an avid chef at home and proud to say that I've excelled beyond mac and cheese with hotdogs but fenugreek and cardamom were new to my vocabulary.
The first dish we started with was rice pudding, a dish I am a fan of, but wasn't as exotic as I was expecting. As the rice was cooking, we moved onto dish number two, Choley Masala. Choley is the Hindu word for chick peas and Masala means mixed spices. This dish, which may seem bland, as you would expect from chick peas, is actually rather flavorful.
We made vegetable pulao, which is basically white rice with small chunks of boiled vegetables. This dish is just as unglamorous as it sounds.
We made raita, which is a cousin to tzatziki sauce and a favorite of mine. This yogurt dish contains cucumbers and onions along with a handful of spices and was surprisingly easy to make. Unlike the Greeks who use tzatziki sauce as a garnish, Indians serve raita in large bowls and will mix it with other foods or enjoy spoonfuls by itself.
The next yummy we made was stuffed parantha, another favorite of mine. Parantha is tortilla-like bread that is on every Indian menu. It can be served plain or stuffed with potatoes, cheese, or meat. Today we learned how to make potato stuffed parantha, which is definitely something I will whip up in my kitchen back home.
The last thing we made, and the highlight of the class, was samosas. Samosas are triangle shapes dough stuffed with a variety of ingredients and deep fried. They can be eaten alone but most of the time they are dipped in a sauce, in this case a green chutney sauce. These are the perfect snack food and they will most definitely be featured at my future football Sundays. Samosas can be stuffed with a wide array of goodies; ours included potatoes, peas and spices. This was the highlight because we actually got to help make them.
The rest of the class was spent taking notes as she explained and demonstrated each dish, but this part we got hands-on. She demonstrated the first two, showing us how to roll and cut the dough, fold it into a cone shape, stuff, seal, and fry it.
Then it was our turn. I wet the edges of the dough so it would seal.
Then was the hard part, forming it into a cone without it caving in on itself.
Then it was time for the stuffing, the triangle seal, and viola!
You have yourself a samosa ready to be fried. I really enjoyed the class. She was a very articulate Indian woman and there was no language barrier at all.
She clearly explained the processes and would walk around and show us each dish through the different preparation stages. At the end of the class we feasted!
The class fell silent as we devoured the food we spent three hours smelling.
Everything was delicious. As I was leaving, I thanked her for a great class and told her that I'd give her a plug; you can find more information and recipes at indiancookingcourse.com. A+
We had planned to be in Dharamsala for three days, return to Delhi for two days and then fly out to Nepal, however after only a day in Dharamsala, it was clear that this plan was flawed. We were enjoying ourselves way to much in this chill mountain town and Delhi was the last place we wanted to be. Although we enjoyed what we'd seen of Delhi, and it was one of the nicest big cities in India, we had had enough. We needed this crisp air, this laid-back atmosphere and the thought of leaving this diamond in the ruff to go back to searing, sweaty Delhi, was the last thing I wanted to do. We went to the closest travel company and cancelled our train ticket, giving us an extra day in Dharamsala. Score!