REVIEW: Monkeying about with spice and rice is more than nice

By Michael Leventhal, January 3, 2013

SCHOOL: Spice Monkey
CLASS: Beginner’s

EXPECTATION: Idiot’s guide to Indian vegetarian dishes to save me from the charmless neighbourhood takeaway.

ON OFFER: A basic hands-on class demystifying Indian cookery. 

WHAT WE DID: A brief overview of Indian cuisine was followed by a crash course in the key ingredients and spices, or masalas. Teacher Nikita’s mantra was “Who’s got time for that?” — this class is about genuinely practical, simple skills.
Nikita, a contributor to Madhur Jaffrey’s next book, teaches from a cosy, bright conservatory in his home. His unflappable mother, Mrs G, toiled behind the scenes, occasionally checking our progress. The three-hour class was due to end at 2pm but an hour later we were still enjoying lunch.

WHO WAS THERE: Classes are limited to six. I was happily marooned with a gaggle of three merry, fun-loving ladies celebrating a birthday.

NOSH: A fresh, colourful two-course meal we’d helped prepare trumped anything I’ve bought in a UK Indian restaurant.

TAKEAWAY: A very full stomach.

VERDICT: A relaxed practical course. Nikita is experienced, well-informed and an elegant, warm host

TOP TIPS: Soaking almonds in water overnight brings out a fresh flavour. If you cook hot chillies early in the cooking process they lose their potency; the later you add hot, cut chillies the more fiery a dish will be.

KOSHER: No, but vegetarian options available and Nikita can buy kosher ingredients, let people bring their own knives, or even visit you.

RECIPE: Spice Monkey’s Potato and Coconut

Serves 4

3 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil
500g potatoes, skin on and chopped into bite size pieces
1 tsp each of mustard and cumin seeds
1 dozen fresh curry leaves, shredded
1 tsp each of garlic and ginger paste and turmeric
3 tbsp fresh grated (or desiccated) coconut
5g (small handful) fresh coriander


Heat the oil in a wok or medium pan on a medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and allow to pop.

After a few seconds add the cumin seeds and curry leaves. Stir in the pastes and cook for a few seconds until light brown/golden.

Spoon the turmeric into the oil, stir once and add the potatoes and salt. Saute for 3 – 4 minutes coating the potatoes until they start to turn translucent at the edges. Reduce heat to low medium and cook for 15 to 20 minutes more until soft, stirring occasionally.

Sprinkle with the coconut and garnish with chopped coriander.


    Last updated: 12:45pm, January 3 2013