Chow Town

Learning the art of Indian cooking with Jyoti Mukharji

Curried garbanzo beans with mushrooms
Curried garbanzo beans with mushrooms Special to The Star

This wasn’t the first time I had indulged my love of international cuisine by attending a class offered by Jyoti Mukharji, one of Chow Town’s newest bloggers. Offered in cooperation with Slow Food Kansas City, 15 students recently gathered with her for the “Art of Indian Cooking: A cultural journey through food.”

Such is the nature of classes that Jyoti has expertly and effortlessly offered in her expansive yet welcoming home kitchen for more than five years. She teaches a wide variety of regional Indian cooking classes, from a focus on high tea, to goat meat dishes, street food, and other offerings.

Word-of-mouth has been her primary source of new students.

When a dear friend invited me to attend my first class with Jyoti several years ago, the experience re-introduced seasonings and flavor combinations which I had grown to love decades earlier, while living in an international dormitory with our own kitchen. One bite of Jyoti’s fresh, authentic cuisine immediately sent me back in time to those amazing meals. I was thrilled to be back at one of Jyoti’s classes — where she pairs delicious food with family stories and culinary education.

She purchases Indian spices at Ambica Foods, a Southeast Asian grocery store in Overland Park, but says any Indian grocery store is also a good source.

“The spices are fresher and cost less at Indian stores,” she said, while pulling out one of numerous coffee grinders that she uses to grind herbs and spices. Most of Jyoti’s ingredients were fresh; on this day a small can of tomato sauce helped to create a smoother curry sauce.

The menu featured Vegetable Pakoras with Cilantro Chutney; Rogan Josh — a dish generally made with goat meat but created with chicken this time; Curried Garbanzo Beans with Mushrooms, and Sprouted Moong Bean Salad. Curried Watermelon was a refreshing dessert.

“I run every menu by my husband, who is very good with his palate and with color,” she said, noting that her physician-husband is also an artist. A physician herself, Jyoti stayed at home while raising their sons. As they attended The Pembroke Hill School, what began as Jyoti’s annual donation of an authentic Indian meal for an auction item later evolved into auctioned cooking classes. That was more than five years ago and Jyoti is constantly busy.

Her pakoras become crisp and golden brown in a deep pot of canola oil. She places a blue ceramic bowl full of spicy-sweet cilantro-mint chutney atop a large blue platter and ladles on the first batch of pakoras. Cumin, green coriander, cilantro and jalapeno create complex flavor in this classic Indian appetizer.

As Jyoti finely chops onions for her curry sauce, she says it’s important to cook them a lot because “raw onions in curry taste really bad.” Within minutes, onion aroma perfumes the air.

“Fennel seeds are great for digestion,” Jyoti said. “They’re used instead of mints in Indian restaurants.”

She demonstrates how to scrape, rather than peel, fresh ginger root; notes that mace comes from the outer cover of nutmeg; and says turmeric is the most widely researched spice in the Western world for its health benefits. We learn that ginger is anti-gas producing and antibacterial, and mango powder makes Indian dishes tart.

Three hours fly, and everyone gathers beside the kitchen island. We fill our plates high with rice, red-tinged Rogan Josh, Jyoti’s signature and seductive Curried Garbanzo Beans, and a salad composed of multi-colored pepper bits, chopped cucumber, dark sliced grapes and moong bean sprouts. Curried Watermelon fills small bowls with sweet fruit flavor and pungent seasonings.

As the hallway fountain gurgles, Jyoti directs us to the beautifully dressed dining room table. Conversation and wine brought by various students flow easily until every plate is empty. The true test of another successful class? Several first-time students reserve a spot in Jyoti’s next class, before departing for the evening.