Warm, exotic Indian spices perfume the air starting at the door of Jyoti Mukharji’s Prairie Village home. For six years, Mukharji has taught Indian cooking classes in her kitchen.
“It all started when I offered an Indian cooking class as an auction item for the benefit of Head Start Shawnee Mission,” she says. “After the class was over, Jhulan, my husband, could see my passion for teaching and sharing Indian food. When I was a little girl, I would watch how food was prepared and would pretend to be a teacher, so doing this is like closing the circle for me.”
Mukharji, who is a physician by training, passes around jars of often unfamiliar spices such as cardamom pods, cumin seeds and fresh ginger as she extolls their culinary and medicinal qualities.
Foods from different regions of India have their own flavor profiles. Mukharji was born in the northern Uttar Pradesh, but her ancestral state is Punjab, where the cuisine is characterized by rich flavors and the use of the tandoor, a specialized clay oven. Her husband is from the state of West Bengal, where the cuisine is known for fish, exotic vegetables and lentils.
Mukharji goes beyond the most recognizable curries, drawing from nearly 200 recipes she has developed to demonstrate how to make such delicacies as pakoras (vegetables or meat coated in batter and fried), samosas (a savory triangular pastry), chutneys (a condiment made of fruits or vegetables with spices) and biriyanis (a spicy dish with basmati rice).
Every month, her list of recipes grows as Mukharji creates thematic menus — breakfasts, street food, tea-time menus, lunches, dinners, side dishes and various preparations of rice, desserts, drinks and lentils — for her classes.
Mukharji’s recipe for chole (or channa masala) is a specialty from northern India. The aromatic vegetarian garbanzo bean curry is paired with a fried bread called loochi (or puri), which features humble ingredients (flour, oil, salt and water) magically transformed in oil to create a bread that inflates like a balloon.
When students gather around “Mama” Mukharji’s kitchen island, strangers quickly become friends.
“It is a pleasure to have people learning and eating homemade Indian food in my kitchen,” Mukharji says. “But I also want people to have a taste of Indian hospitality.”
▪ Class fees range from $65 to $70 per person, including the cooking demonstration and a meal of the dishes prepared. To be placed on the Cooking With Jyoti Mukharji mailing list, email JMukharji@gmail.com. Look for her recipes posted monthly on kansascity.com/chowtown.
Mukharji’s Garbanzo Bean Curry (chole or channa masala) With Indian Fried Bread (loochi or puri)
Jyoti Mukharji shops for spices at Ambica Foods, 9054 Metcalf Ave. in Overland Park. For a faster way to cook the beans, see the pressure cooker note.
Makes 18 servings
For the curry:
2 cups dry garbanzo beans or chickpeas (kabuli chana)
12 cups water, divided use
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon garam masala
2 teaspoons Indian black salt powder
1/4 cups anardana powder (dehydrated pomegranate seeds)
1 jalapeno pepper, washed, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon cumin powder
2 (2.5-inch) pieces fresh gingerroot, divided use
1/3 cup oil
1 small sweet yellow onion, skinned, quartered and sliced, for garnish
2 tablespoons freshly chopped cilantro leaves, for garnish
For the bread:
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cups canola oil, divided use
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup water
To make the curry: Pour beans into a large glass bowl or the crock of a slow cooker and cover with 6 cups water. Allow to soak and soften for 4 to 6 hours, or overnight.
Pour contents of bowl into a colander. Rinse with cold water and remove any dark or discolored beans. Pour beans back into rinsed crock of slow cooker or heavy-bottomed Dutch oven.
Cover beans with remaining 6 cups water and add baking soda, garam masala, black salt powder, anardana powder, jalapeno and cumin. Peel a 2 1/2 -inch piece of gingerroot and grate over beans using a microplane grater. Remove fibers, allowing only pulp and juice in the pot.
Set slow cooker to low and place lid on top. If preparing over stovetop, bring mixture to a boil over high heat, then turn down to low, place lid tightly on pot and allow beans to simmer. Stir occasionally and skim any white foam off top. Allow beans to cook for 6 to 8 hours, or until they are soft and fork-tender.
In a separate heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, warm oil over medium heat. Peel remaining piece of gingerroot and grate over pot, only allowing pulp and juice to go into pot. Saute quickly, for about 1 minute, or until ginger becomes very fragrant.
Pour cooked garbanzo bean mixture into gingered oil. Using a potato masher, stir mixture, breaking apart only about 1/4 of beans to create a thickened curry. Turn heat to low and keep warm while preparing fried bread.
To make bread: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix flours, 1/4 canola oil and salt until oil is well incorporated. With mixer running slowly add water until a smooth ball of dough forms. Cover dough with a clean, damp towel and allow it to rest for at least 30 minutes.
In a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or wok, heat 2 cups canola oil to just below its smoking point of 400 degrees.
Divide dough into 18 equal parts and roll each segment into a ball. Place a piece of waxed paper on a countertop and, using a rolling pin, roll each dough ball into a circle about 4 inches in diameter. Place circle of dough on a platter lined with waxed paper. Continue rolling out dough balls and stacking 4-inch circles of dough, placing pieces of waxed paper between each.
After oil is heated, carefully place 4-inch circle of dough into oil. With a wide fish spatula, ladle a little bit of oil over top of dough and the circle will inflate like a balloon. Fry for about 10 seconds, then flip to fry 10 seconds more. Carefully remove the fried sphere from the oil and place on a tray lined with paper towels.
Repeat process with all other balls, and serve hot as an accompaniment to any curry.
To serve: Garnish curry with onion and cilantro before serving. Ladle curry into bowls and serve with side of bread. Using hands, tear bread apart and spoon curry on top to eat.
Pressure cooker note: After beans have soaked, you can also prepare them more quickly in a pressure cooker warmed over medium heat on stovetop. Once the pressure cooker starts to release steam, cook for additional 25 minutes. Turn off heat and allow pressure cooker to rest until all steam is released. Open pressure cooker. Beans should be fork-tender and ready for sauteing in oil and gingerroot.
Per serving of curry: 123 calories (39 percent from fat), 6 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 15 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams protein, 101 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.
Per serving of bread: 182 calories (75 percent from fat), 15 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 10 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 60 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.