The last time I shared food with Alfred Prasad, everything BUT Indian food was on our menu. Touring Taste of London together, we ate plates from Jerusalem, Peru-via-Japan, Spain and even good old Blighty – harissa, aji amarillo, pimenton and borage standing in for South Asian spices.
Coming from the likes of The Palomar, SushiSamba, José and The Drapers Arms, all those dishes were delicious, but this time round, I’m mighty delighted to be keeping the same company at an Alfred-led event where Indian food is the focus. The eats of the streets is the topic for this particular – and particularly mouth-watering – masterclass, and it quickly becomes clear that there will be little opportunity to idle over idlis. If we want to get our hands on the spoils, we’ll have to get our hands dirty.
But first, we have to get ’em clean. The Cookery School at Little Portland Street has a great hygiene rating, and captain of this tight ship Ros isn’t about to let standards slip. Accordingly, we’re warned to wash hands often and well; to take care carrying knives; and that for those who double-dip a tasting spoon, There Will Be Consequences.
First up, Alfred shows us how a bit of batter can make things better; turning out a trio of pillowy idlis. With their spongy structure and tangy flavour, I always advise that those who go crazy for crumpets will relish these lightly-fermented, steamed South Indian dumplings. Although you can buy the rice-and-lentil batter ready to use, there’s nothing to compare to the real deal. And, as Alfred explains, making these authentic items doesn’t have to be overcomplex – it just requires patience in order to allow that batter to bubble.
But when it does, it does double duty. It’s not only ideal for idlis; that batter also does for dosa. After Alfred’s presented us with plain idlis served with potato masala, ‘gunpowder’ idlis whose name comes from the addition of a piquant masala called ‘milagupodi’, and an irresistible turmeric-hued, multi-spiced Kanchipuram version, he dishes up a dosa to the gluten-free member of our group… and we all insist he slings out a few more.
He agrees, but also insists on enlisting various individuals to attempt to master the notoriously tricky art of conquering the crispy crepe-like creations. And it’s testament to his tuition that, without exception, the dosas turn out exceptionally well. We gobble them greedily with potato masala left over from earlier in the evening. Many of us already know this as the classic masala dosa filling, and for those who don’t, the combination proves to be love at first bite.
There’s no place for the carb-phobic in this class. Next on the menu is pav bhaji – a widely-available, universally-adored street snack. A well-spiced, multi-veggie hotchpotch might sound healthy, but once one has witnessed the amount of white butter that’s beaten into the bhaji during cooking, they’ll be swiftly and entirely disavowed of that innocent initial impression – yet more so once they learn it’s served with toasted, brioche-like pav and crowned with yet another big blob of butter.
Alfred’s version is slightly more slimline; enriched with just a fraction of the fat typical of the original, but still full of flavour. Accompanied on this occasion with brioche baps, each of us tailor it to taste with chopped coriander, red onion, and a good lug of lemon juice.
There’s been plenty of talk of chaat – that wide-reaching term covering a whole category of multi-textured, many-flavoured, lip-licking – or ‘chatpata’ – dishes; but it’s not until the penultimate plate that we get to try some. During his thirteen-year tenure at Tamarind, Alfred’s blueberry-laced papdi chaat proved immensely popular, and it’s every bit as much of a hit here. We pile up roughly-crushed papdis – flat, fried wheat biscuits; chickpeas tossed with tangy tamarind dressing; sweet yogurt; blueberries; herby green chutney; and top the lot with a thick thatch of gram-flour-based, deep-fried, crisp nylon sev – its strange name simply referring to an ultra-fine grade of extruded noodle.
In case our stomachs weren’t sufficiently stretched, Alfred’s class culminates with kulfi. Creamy, cool and really rather rich, this ice cream-like affair is a dense and unaerated frozen mix based on slowly- and heavily-reduced full-cream milk. Popular traditional flavourings include in-season mango purée, pistachio paste, rosewater and crushed cardamom, although these days, anything goes.
The kulfi we sample is a quick and clever condensed milk-and-whipped cream version that’s nutty, rosy, and slightly salty. The latter characteristic traditionally comes from the mixture being frozen in earthenware ‘matka’ pots, but here it’s simply from the addition of a smattering of seasoning. A selection of summer berries provides a bright and beautiful accompaniment.
And then, with the last clicks of cameras and licks of lips, the evening is at an end. The night might have finished on a fabulously frosty note, but Alfred’s been a wonderfully warm host-with-the-most from start to finish. Roll on his own restaurant opening in London, and roll on the next #GBCCookSchool.
- A big thank you to Great British Chefs, Alfred Prasad, and the wonderful team at Cookery School at Little Portland Street for hosting the entire affair
- For a brilliant Great British Chefs ebook containing all these Alfred Prasad recipes, click here
- Images courtesy of food photographer Alice Griffiths
- To read more about South Indian food, click here
- To read more about all things ‘dosa’, click here
- To read more about idli, dosa, and other ingenious Indian uses for rice, click here
- To read more about all kinds of Indian desserts and sweets, click here