Short-form: This is a unique experience to go inside the home of an Indian family and gain hands-on experience preparing authentic food.
Raul and his wife Harsha were attentive, gracious and knowledgable hosts during our cooking class. Raul was easy to understand. Harsha gave us plenty of opportunity to participate in the cooking.
Their home, located in the Dharavi slum, was a 45 minute drive from the cruise ship terminal, but it was very interesting to see the city out the window. The transportation was comfortable and Raul was in close communication with us from the time of booking. They welcomed us with bottled water then taught us how to make the masala chai which seems to be the favorite beverage in Mumbai.
Over three hours, Harsha demonstrated how to prepare chicken tikka masala, panneer and chapati. Our cooking lesson began by sautéing tomatoes, red onions, garlic, green chilies, and ginger in grapeseed oil. As the mixture cools, we prepare the dough for the chapati. Harsha prepares this bread three times per day for her family.
Allowing the dough to rest, we return to the sautéed vegetables, which are now cool enough to blend to a paste which forms the base for the masala sauce. We divide the sauce into two pots and add seasonings: coriander, cumin and chili power in the pot for the chicken and chili powder and garam masala in the pot for the paneer. Later we add the cubed chicken and bones to the pressure cooker pot and the cubes of paneer – which resembles a firm cottage cheese similar in texture to tofu – to the other pot. In between, Harsha prepares a sweet dessert with boiled milk, cardamom, cashews and almonds. She presses it into a tart pan and chills it before turning back to the chapati dough. She teaches us how to roll it wafer thin, exerting just a bit of pressure on a mini rolling pin. We slip the flat disks into a dry hot pan to cook, flip it, then finish it directly on the burner, which makes it puff up like a balloon. She plucks it from the burner with tongs, stacks it on a plate and brushes it with ghee (clarified butter). We cannot resist the samples she hands us!
When the food is almost ready, Raul asks if we will be comfortable sitting on the floor. The family usually eats here on the floor to avoid carrying the food and plates up the steep stairs to the second floor. Harsha serves the food in rimmed tin plates. Raul brings each pot to us, trying to spoon more food onto our plates and Harsha cooks fresh, hot chapati to sop up the delicious sauce. These people are generous and kind in sharing their way of life and I am grateful for the experience.