Nothing prepares you for India” is what I was told before I left for a trip to Rajasthan a couple of years ago—and it was true: India was unimaginable in all its shock and glory. But if you want to learn the basics of Indian cooking, there’s another way to go: a few intensive weekday classes with author and food historian Julie Sahni. Classes, held in her lavish, sun-filled apartment, are long, intense, and limited to three people, but there is no better way to pick up the nuances and techniques of one of the world’s most varied cuisines. We cooked xec-xec, a spicy shrimp dish from Goa that exploded with so much flavor I couldn’t put my fork down. We turned out dozens of dosas, the fermented rice-and-bean crêpes from India’s far south, and a classic Punjabi chicken tikka, marinated in yogurt and spices before grilling (we added the leftover meat to a gingery tomato-cilantro sauce for an instant tikka masala, tucked deliciously into pita pockets with thin-sliced cucumbers). Julie also led us to Queens, where we learned to navigate an Indian supermarket, picking up produce, spices, and all kinds of products I’d never seen before—invaluable for anyone who wants to cook Indian at home. (866- 809-5111; juliesahni.com; $1,295 for two days; $1,795 for four, including meals)
What I Learned
How to make Tamil-style coffee and just how far to take spices when roasting (they should be very dark but not burnt). How to make ghee (I’ll never buy it again) and then toss some fresh curry leaves into the remaining golden bits and sauté until crisp, for an unbeatable topping on naan—or any bread, for that matter.
You can heat good packaged naan over a gas flame until slightly charred to coax out the same flavor you’d get from a tandoori oven, which, let’s face it, no one has at home.
Before You Go
Be prepared to take a lot of notes so you don’t forget anything from these busy sessions. Go with an appetite and leave with leftovers (take along some empty containers and a bag).
Where to Stay
New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge (800-228-9290; marriott.com; from $259). Finally, there’s a good hotel in downtown Brooklyn, now New York’s hippest borough. And it’s just blocks from Julie Sahni’s home.