Loren got me the best present for Christmas this year: cooking lessons for us to take together. After reading a bunch of reviews, he found The Natural Gourmet Institute in Manhattan. It is focused on making healthy, mostly vegetarian, largely ethnic cuisine. Loren and I decided to take a class called “Destination: Morocco” with Myra Kornfeld. Neither of us knew anything about Moroccan food, but we were intrigued by the idea of learning about new textures, spices, and ingredients.
The class was more than I could have hoped for. We took it on Martin Luther King Day, from 2:30 to 6 PM. It seems like a lot of time to cook, but we had so much to make that it went by really fast! We made: Roasted Red Pepper-Sesame Pesto on Toasted Pita Triangles; Green Leaf Salad with Shallots and Pomegranate Molasses Vinaigrette; Red Lentil Soup; Chickpea Charmoula Strudel; Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Onions, Cinnamon, Almonds and Cherries; Quinoa-Carrot Pilaf with Saffron, Mint and Harissa Spinach; and Olive Oil Semolina-Walnut Cake. (Sorry but I can’t post any recipes here — they belong to the instructor). Loren and I were a team of two and we made the chicken dish, the harissa spinach, and the quinoa pilaf. Everyone in the class made 2 to 3 dishes, which was great because we really learn a lot about using new ingredients and spices.
I took pictures when I could!
The beginning instruction:
Me, seriously hard at work… (making the filling for the chicken)
Me, happily hard at work…
The stuffed and breaded chicken. They were sauted in a pan and then baked in the oven.
Loren had fun stuffing and breading the chicken!
It was great to learn how to make little “pockets” in the chicken to stuff them with the caramelized onion mixture. I will definitely be trying to re-create this dish with different ingredients at home. I think goat cheese would be really great in it!
It was a lot of fun to play with new spices and herbs. To make the “harissa spinach”, we boiled some hot red peppers and let them sit in the water for 10 minutes before chopping them up and adding some jalapeno and spices. Then, we mixed this spicy plate with a whole lot of spinach.
Then, we had a presentation on how to use the filo dough, which we stuffed with a chickpea mixture and rolled up.
What’s interesting about filo dough is that you have to use a bunch of layers to create a nice crust. You also have to brush each layer with a little bit of olive oil. I’m usually really intimidated by ingredients like this, but after seeing how easy it was for us to make, I might try to play with it at home.
Once everyone had made their dishes, we got to the best part: EATING!It was really nice that the Institute also provided wine with dinner. For $110, the three and half hours of cooking, the professional instruction, the amazing food (multicourse dinner), and wine were more than I expected. EVERYTHING WAS SOOO GOOD!
We started out munching on a dairy-free red pepper dip and some freshly baked pita chips.
Then, we had the red lentil soup, which had a little bit of yogurt drizzled in it. YUM!
The salad came next. I wasn’t expecting to like this salad, but it was AMAZING. It had been described as kind of a “sweet” salad, which I dont usually like, but the dressing was very light and not overpowering at all. It was topped with crispy fried shallots, which were the perfect contrast to the maple syrup in the dressing and the pomegranate arils and juicy oranges. YUM again!
Next came the entrées and we got to try them all! I was a big fan of both the stuffed chicken breast and the chickpea/ filo dough roll.
I love the idea of rolling food together and then cutting along one side to make the presentation very beautiful. I never really cooked this way but it inspired me to spend a little more time thinking about presentation when I cook. The sides — the quinoa and the spinach — were very light. It may seem like we a lot of food but I didn’t feel stuff at all. I think that is because we use such healthy ingredients (i.e. we fried chicken in coconut oil instead of in heavy fats so it didn’t make me feel sluggish or weighed down).
I actually forgot to take pictures of the wonderful dessert- a semolina flour cake which was served with orange slices and vanilla ice cream. I don’t usually like dessert but it was ALSO so good- not too sweet at all!
All in all, it was a very fun day. The Institute definitely exceeded my expectations! (And as a full paying student, I am giving my honest opinion — I am not a paid blogger:) ) In fact, we already have plans to go back in the Spring!