We're off to a thrilling autumn at the Vegetarian Cookery School thanks in part to a line-up of fabulous guest tutors coming in to teach. The most recent was Urvashi Roe who taught a Gujerati Thali class last Sunday. Urvashi was a contestant on The Great British Bake Off, and her baking talents are equally matched by her mastery of Gujerati cuisine, food that she grew up with and has been cooking all her life.
Urvashi's food and cooking style is influenced by her Gujerati and East African ancestry as well as extensive travels around Japan and South East Asia where she lived for a number of years. On Sunday, Urvashi worked alongside our own Jo Ingleby to pass on what she's learned through her lifetime of cooking.
Urvashi started by explaining the essential spices, the core of which - mustard seed, cumin seed, turmeric, salt, chilli powder and a combination of ground coriander and cumin - she always keeps handy in her spice tin.
Cooking began with two types of chutney - coriander and coconut, and tomato and tamarind.
Urvashi showed us how to make these incredibly moreish dahl bahjia, a sort of Gujerati-style falafel made with black eyed peas that have been soaked over night, then blended with ginger, garlic, salt and spices. These were then deep-fried and served with our lovely chutneys.
With street food all the rage, Urvashi showed us how to make "chaat", basically a quick Gujerati snack made by simply combining a few key ingredients in a bowl to your taste - chickpeas, boiled potatoes, onion, tomato, tamarind, mango, coconut, chilli... all finished with crispy puffed rice and "sev", strands of deep-fried chickpea flour dough.
Urvashi then showed us how to make potato shak (Gujerati-style curry) and its endless variations depending on what vegetables you add to it. Groups of students were given the chance to create their own, working with ingredients like okra, guwar and tindoor - it was amazing how each group managed to make such widely different dishes using the same basic techniques, all of which were delicious.
Urvashi is an excellent teacher - the day was very much an open dialogue, a forum to explore this new world of ingredients, spices and techniques, many of which our students had never seen or heard of before. One of the best moments was learning to make rotli (chapattis); after a few attempts, almost everyone had mastered the technique, using Urvashi's special rotli rolling pins to form the perfectly round flatbread.
As ever, a great class is as much about the students as it is the teacher, and we had a wonderful group with us that helped fill the day with fantastic conversation and great energy. Amongst them was Silvana de Soissons from The Foodie Bugle, Jo from The Food Travel Company, Stephen of the blog Live Free and Eat Pie, and Monica of the blog SmarterFitter.
Like we always do at The Vegetarian Cookery School, we finished with a meal: a Gujerati Thali of dahl, shak, rotli and chutney, prepared by all of us, a delicious end thanks to the excellent tutelage from Urvashi and Jo.
To find out more about Gujerati cooking, visit Urvashi's Gujerati Girl website where you'll find loads of information about Gujerati cuisine and her recipes for traditional dahl, shak, rotli and chaat. You can also find her writing about food, baking, cookery books and more at The Botanical Baker. Follow her on Twitter at @GujeratiGirl and @BotanicalBaker.
Photography by Monica Shaw.