This past weekend I took a cooking class at the Queens home of Dolly, who is an instructor with League of Kitchens, a New York City-based organization that connects accomplished immigrant home cooks with anyone interested in learning about other cuisines and cultures.
I had wanted to take a class for years, but, as often happens with me, somehow never got my act together. (They fill up fast, life gets in the way, etc.) That finally changed this past weekend, when I was paid back for a favor done in the form of a cooking class. A few weeks ago, my friend and I compared calendars, and I crossed-referenced menus. The classes are very vegetarian friendly, but I wanted to make up for seven years of not eating meat. So curry goat and roti it was.
Dolly was born and raised in Trinidad and has lived in New York City for 15 years. She welcomed us to her home with a delicious and impressive homemade snack, then we got to work, making the standard Trinidadian seasonings used for three out of the four dishes we were going to make.
She turned bags of produce into quarts of herb puree, chile puree, and garlic puree, which was used to marinate the goat and to season the dal, channa aloo (chickpea and potato stew), and a snack of spicy green mango called mango chow. We learned you can turn any fruit into “chow.”
The goat, dal, and channa were quick to come together and simmered on back burners while we worked on the real star of the menu: roti.
Roti is a flaky flatbread eaten often (daily, in Dolly’s house) in Trinidad. It’s also a hangover favorite of mine, which I get from the roti place down my block, ideally filled with channa aloo. If you’ve never had roti, the class is worth the fee just to try it, let alone make it.
I don’t want to give any of Dolly’s secrets away, but let’s just say the secret ingredient is fat (it always is).
Five people from all over the New York City area spent six hours in the home of our magnetic and kind host learning about the history and culture of Trinidad, her life experiences in the Caribbean and as an immigrant, and a lot of cooking tips I will be employing in my own kitchen for years to come. It’s an immersion experience you can’t get in a sterile professional kitchen or cooking school. If you don’t live in New York City, bookmark League of Kitchen’s website for a future trip. I cannot recommend these classes enough, and I’m now looking at my calendar to try and find time to learn from the other instructors.