South Indian Cooking

by Richa Chaturvedi ’18 and Caroline Gentile ‘17

It’s always fun to venture to the other side of the table are cook rather than consume. For Caroline and me, the Food Literacy Project’s South Indian Cooking Class was definitely a voyage into the unknown. South Indian cuisine always reminds me of color, flavor, and, above all, danger. The dishes were classic: chapatti, raita, all of the makings of a good South Indian meal. Our only mistake?  Forgetting to always watch your back in the kitchen – constant vigilance.

The cooking class was divided into teams, each one tasked with making coconut chutney and sambar.  The coconut chutney was made with no complications.  My main task was to cut up green chilies, which is something I have seen people in my family do since I was a little kid. I carefully replicated the proper technique: cut the top off, use the back of the knife to slide the seeds out, and then cut into smaller pieces.  Caroline helped with the chutney itself, slowly stirring it over a low simmer until the coconut smell filled the room.

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Coconut Chutney

Up next was the sambar, a classic South Indian lentil dish that’s infused with spices and vegetables.  Now experts at our crafts, Caroline and I cut up the onions, bell peppers, and chilies that were cooked in an oil with spices, which really enhances the flavor of the dish.  I took a break to brag to my parents about my killer chef skills and, a split second later, heard an unusual shriek – Caroline had gotten green chili in her eye, which is literally so painful.

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PSA: do not handle green chilis (pictured) and subsequently touch your eyes…

After a quick Google search, we had Caroline pouring milk in her eye (it actually works, something about neutralizing the chemicals in the chili – check out this sick Life Hack if you don’t believe me) and she recovered gracefully.  Now having really earned our meals, we returned to the class to finish what we started.

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A heaping plate of sambar and coconut chutney

The food turned out great, mostly due to our friends that really carried the team during our little crisis.  We made plates of rice, sambar, chapattis, raita, and fried chickpea snacks.  People always say that it’s more satisfying to cook a meal than to just eat one.  In this case, I would have to agree.  We fought with sweat, milk, and tears for our food.  And it really was worth it.

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Heart-shaped chapati