I couldn’t think of a better way to start my Easter weekend: gently bubbling aubergine curry, slight beetroot stains on my fingers and a heady mix of dried and powdered chillies. This was the setting for a great meat-free evening with vegetarian food writer, Deena Kakaya at the Central Street Cookery School. In between writing, raising a small child and lecturing, Deena also manages to find time to teach cookery classes. Her Indian inspired dishes should be enough to encourage even the most ardent meat eater to give vegetarian cooking a go.

Deena Kakaya Vegetarian ClassFollowing a short introduction and demonstration by Deena, we got into pairs and straight into cooking. The evening covered a filling 3 course meal: beetroot, feta and potato spring rolls; a hot and smoky aubergine curry; and a shrikhand dessert to finish things off. Having the giant communal island to work on made it easy to chat with other people on the course as we marinated aubergines, chopped onions and sprinkled spices. There was a mix of pescetarians (me being one of them), long-established vegetarians and some who were newly converted.

The starter which blended Indian spices, Chinese spring roll wrappers and Mediterranean feta, typified Deena’s creative approach to combining different food cultures. It’s been a while since I’ve deep-fried anything, so it was fun to plop the spring rolls into the hot oil and watch them bubble away. As they cooked so quickly, the spring rolls absorbed very little oil and were deliciously crispy. The hit of hot green chilli was balanced out by the mellowness of the potato, beetroot and feta.

A different type of chilli, guajillo, was added to the aubergine curry. This curry is definitely not for vampires with amount of juicy garlic we blended with the soaked chillies to make a paste. It was a straightforward and nutritious Deena Kakaya Vegetarian Classdish, with good chunks of yoghurt-marinated aubergine that slowly cooked down with the chilli paste and aromatic spices. Deena started her curry earlier so we could taste it to compare against our own and to see what to expect as the liquid thickened.

With the curries bubbling away, we got to work on the creamy shrikhand dessert. I’m not particularly expert on Indian desserts, so this was my first taste of shrikhand. Instead of the traditional strained yoghurt, Deena suggested using creamy quark, mixing in a couple of strands of bright saffron and a little rose water. This was topped off with a quick berry coulis and chopped pistachios; it was a pretty and palate-refreshing end to the class.

Fortunately I came well prepared with a container to take away my spicy goodies, most of which didn’t last the journey home (it was my dinner after all!). The dishes we cooked were simple and well-spiced, and straightforward enough to recreate at home. The class was good for people who like to get stuck in with cooking, rather than spending a class watching demonstrations. There were also clear recipe notes to guide us after Deena’s demo. Deena provides a great tasting argument for meat-free cooking, so if you’d like to read more, check out the recipes on her blog.


Deena Kakaya Vegetarian Class