We found ourselves in Delhi with a couple days to kill and not much of a desire to sight-see, so we signed up for a South Indian cooking class. The class was taught in the home of our teacher Jyoti, a fast-talking and down-to-business expert chef.
First, we learned about the main spices and ingredients used in South Indian cooking.
Starting at 1:00, going clockwise and ending in the middle, we have: dried mango powder (a souring agent, dried tamarind or pomegranate seeds can be used as well), salt, ground coriander seeds, a red chili powder similar to paprika and cayenne, turmeric, Kashmiri red chili (for color, not spice), and cumin seeds.
Starting at 1:00, going clockwise and ending in the middle, we have: black cardamom, red chili, cinnamon bark, cloves, nutmeg and mace (the flower around nutmeg), green cardamom, and black pepper.
South Indian cooking involves a lot of lentils, rice, coconut, potatoes, tomatoes, curd (yogurt), and coriander (both the leaves--which we call cilantro-- and the seeds-- which we refer to as coriander). It is lighter and more vegetarian than some of the heavier, more meat-based North Indian cooking, which has assimilated characteristics of many of the cultures that invaded and co-habitated the region. In contrast, South India, being geographically more protected, has remained more insular, and its cuisine is still very much based on what is locally available and fresh.
We then cooked a huge meal, starting with potato balls and vada (a type of light, airy, lentil-batter donut), which could both be viewed as snacks or appetizers. Then we made masala dosa. Dosa is a pancake that is often served with a few sides; masala dosa is the classic version, where the dosa pancake is served with masala potatoes, sambar dal (a type of lentil stew), and chutneys, in this case coconut and tomato. The same batter used for dosa can also be used to make idli (spongy, steamed rolls) and uttapam (closer to an American pancake, complete with veggies on top, making it pizza-like). As if this wasn't enough food, we also made yogurt rice and malli char, a coriander-based curry (we made ours with chicken). For dessert, we ate semolina halwa, a thick porridge-like pudding dessert, which we waited too long to eat, so it was more solidified than it should be.
Overall, the class wasn't as hands-on as we had hoped for, but the food was absolutely delicious and we're hoping we can recreate some of the easier dishes back at home!