Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Tea and Memories


When I was in India Zannie and I took a cooking class.

This was no ordinary cooking class.

With eight, young, excitable female tourists from all sections of the globe, and a lovely, timid Korean guy who was overwhelmed by all the female attention, we set about to learn, create, understand, improve and more importantly, eat.

The class was held in the tiny, haphazard kitchen of Shashi, a hardworking woman who is a school teacher by day, tourist cooking teacher by night. Perched on a cobblestone lined, bustling street high up in the city centre of Udaipur she made sure her home became our home. With two sons, a murdered husband and harsh ostracisation from her family and community, her life story was enough to bring tears to the hardest of hearts, but she made it clear that was not the point of the evening. She was going to teach us how to make Indian food like a true Rajasthani, from simple pakoras to stuffed paranthas.

Class began with a steaming hot, humongous cup of chai. No dodgy tea bag or powdered sugary stuff, this was the real deal and I was blown away by its flavour. Punchy ginger, spicy pepper and soothing cardomom infused into a strong, milky and beautifully sweet tea. It was the most perfect cup of tea I've ever had.

Our cooking journey went for at least 5 hours - we started rolling and smoothing out rotis at 6pm and a few hours later were finally able to truly appreciate the term midnight snack.
We ground up the whole roasted spices for the chutney, we left the chapati bread to rest and rise, and we even were taught how to drain milk to make paneer cheese. There were no shortcuts, no pre packaged sliced onions, no fancy contraptions to mince garlic, just a mortar and pestle and our hands. Shashi wouldn't have it any other way, and I loved her for that.

Halfway through class we were distracted by the loud wedding procession outside. A hundred or so strong crowd marching through the cramped streets below, loud drums and music blaring and sparkling, obscenely bright coloured saris and suits to match. All of us crowded onto her tiny balcony, it is one of those memories I often think about when I'm thinking about nothing.

Shashi made sure each of us were well fed; nothing was left on the plate and we shovelled it in, hungry from all our hardwork and excited to taste the fruits of our labour. With the tiny table groaning under the weight of huge plates of onion, vegetable and paneer pakoras, coriander and mango chutney, rotis, chapattis and paranthas, cheese naan with tomato, eggplant and tomato masala and chickpea curry and vegetalbe palau, we left the class satisfied, bloated and beaming.

It was the most perfect evening spent in the most perfect city and now I offer you the most perfect recipe for Masala Chai... enjoy.



Masala Chai
makes 2 huge cups

2 cups milk
1/2 a cup water
3 heaped teaspoons of sugar (I use raw)
1 tablespoon black tea leaves, loose leaf not tea bags (Shashi recommends Darjeeling but any would be fine)
6 whole cardomom pods
4 whole cloves
6 whole pepper corns
2 cinnamon sticks
1cm knob of ginger

Lightly bruise the cardomom, cloves, pepper and ginger in a mortar and pestle.
Add this mixture, along with the milk, water, tea, sugar and cinnamon into a saucepan and bring to the boil over a high heat. Once boiled, simmer for a further 4 minutes stirring occassionally to dissolve the sugar.
As Shashi said, the chai should turn to a coffee brown colour and you should start to smell the cardamom and other flavours of the Masala.

When it's ready, pour the tea through a strainer to remove the tea and spices and serve in a huge mug.



  1. YUM! i've been craving something like this to warm me up all day. I think I may attempt to brew a cup now, does chai keep you awake though I wonder...?

  2. there would be some caffeine in the tea leaves although i wouldnt think such a small amount would keep you awake

  3. but its so soothing i promise it will put you to sleep :)