Indian food can taste like a magical mystery tour of spices that seems even more perplexing to cook at home. The subcontinent is home to many regional cuisines, making it seem daunting to the novice cook.
To the rescue is Ayesha D’Mello of Ayesha’s Kitchen near Kendall. She has simplified the process, teaching home-style Indian recipes in her classes.
D’Mello loved blending spices when she was growing up in Surat, Gujarat, in western India, although her parents are from Goa, a former Portuguese colony. She earned an MBA in computer science from the University of Texas and headed to San Francisco for a corporate career in Silicon Valley. When her husband was transferred to Miami for his job, the family moved here.
I met D’Mello eight years ago through a mutual friend who knew about my travels in India. I wrote about her Goan home cooking in the Miami Herald, and there was such an interest she started hosting cooking classes. She teaches vegetarian and non-veg, including biryani, curries, kebabs, seafood, street food and Indo-Chinese plus sessions on Indian breads, chutneys and desserts.
On a recent Saturday, she led a vegan class for 10 students looking for healthier options. They sat in the kitchen and watched her at the stove and simultaneously on a flat screen for close-ups.
Everyone got copies of the recipes to take home and and learned about the health benefits of spices that make food flavorful, not hot (black pepper and chiles add heat). Turmeric is a decongestant when added to warm milk and sipped; fenugreek seeds detoxify and cardamom is a digestive, for example.
First, D’Mello made cashew fudge, then started on the potato and pea curry with mustard seeds popped in oil followed by garam masala, tomatoes and onions.
Next was rajma (red kidney beans) cooked in spiced tomato-onion gravy. When bubbling she tossed together chickpea and cucumber kachumber (salad) with lime juice, chat masala (made with black salt and spices) and dressed it with cumin seeds and curry leaves (from a backyard tree) tempered in hot oil.
Finally, all the students got hands on, mashing a potato and vegetable mixture by hand, forming it in logs, dipping them in batter and rolling them in breadcrumbs.
After frying they were served with cilantro and tamarind chutneys as the group assembled in a tiki dining space outside to enjoy a meal together.
All felt confident they could make the dishes at home, accomplishing D’Mello’s mission to make Indian food fun and accessible.
Linda Bladholm is a Miami-based food writer.