Monday, March 7, 2011

Food: Kurry Guru

Mukta Joshi is the Kurry Guru of Kalamazoo

As you enter a little, gray brick building on a quiet side street off a busy Portage Road, your nose is filled with the scent of exotic spices wafting in the air mixed with the luscious smell of onions and garlic. 

This is the home of Kurry Guru, a catering and ready-to-eat meals business that also offers classes for people interested in Indian food. 

The buffet table is empty now but it won’t be for long once participants learn how to cook a curry meal of gobhi gajar matar masala (cauliflower, carrots and peas), paneer makhani (a mild non-melting cheese with creamy blended vegetables), a desert drink called lassi (blended yogurt, mango and mint leaves) and a side of papad (a crisp flatbread) served with chutney (fresh and pickled vegetable and spice mix).

The kitchen glistens with its steel tables and storage racks full of rice, lentils, onions, potatoes, spices, olive oil, ghee and plastic carryout containers.  But the “altar” of this space is the gas stove with its many frying pans and spatulas waiting to prepare an uncommonly delicious meal.

Participants attending today’s class are here for a number of reasons:  curiosity, a desire to cook something different and a way to build onto their collection of vegetarian meals.  One woman is planning a trip to India and wants to know more about the food.  Another wants to complement her yoga practice by eating Indian food.

Mukta and her husband, Himanshu Pant, teach classes together.
But first, Mukta Joshi and her husband, Himanshu Pant, graciously invite participants to sit around a small coffee table in order to explain the history of curry, its role in Indian culture and cuisine and the health benefits of the spices used to make it.   

Pant has been cooking since he was seven but Joshi really learned to cook when she came to the United States 11 years ago.  She missed home-cooked Indian food and realized that the only way to get it was if she made it.  As she prepared various dishes, friends recognized her talent and encouraged her.  Last year she decided to start Kurry Guru in the Can-Do Kitchen. 

“My good friends who are chefs in the food industry inspired me and really pushed me hard that I should be doing it,” said Joshi.  “And this is how it all started.”

As a special feature of the business, Joshi and Pant work together as a team to provide cooking classes.  Pant’s job as a computer IT specialist makes him very busy but he enjoys talking about Indian food so much that he and Joshi plan classes around his schedule.  In this way couple can do something together that they greatly appreciate:  cook Indian food and teach others how to do it as well. 

Yvette Noble, Lillie Wolff, Steve Kamerling and Rita Klavinski 
The class begins with a brief but thorough interactive discussion of the cuisine.  Then Joshi ushers participants to the kitchen. 

She first prepares the lassi, a refreshing drink, served in a stainless steel cup with different-colored straws.  It goes down smoothly with a firm, full flavor and texture and is an instant hit with everyone.

Pant warms up some papad in the microwave, breaks it apart and offers it to the participants.

“Please eat while we cook,” he says as he continues a discussion about different Indian breads.

Then it is time to make the two different curries. 

Like a Food Channel chef, Joshi has already cut up the onions, tomatoes, cauliflower, carrots, peas, garlic green chilies, ginger and cilantro and put them into small bowls.  As she empties the ingredients one by one into the pan, she explains why each step is important.  But the magic of the dish is the spices, which have been freshly ground for the greatest flavor.

Joshi also shares shopping tips for the ingredients while participants share some of their experiences with Indian cuisine. 

gobhi gajar matar masala, rice, and paneer makhani 
After the curries are finished, Joshi lays out a spread on the buffet table. 

Food is served on stainless steel dinner plates, as it is done in India, and Joshi shows participants how to mix the rice and the curry.  Although forks are used in this class, she points out that Indian people eat with their hands by making a cone out of a small piece of bread and scooping up the food to their mouths.

The class samples gobhi gajar matar masala and paneer makhani

Joshi and Pant again ask participants to sit around the coffee table, this time to sample the sumptuous meal.  Their verdict is a unanimous A+ for presentation, texture, flavor and all-around goodness.

“What I liked about the class was that it was well organized, small sized,” said Steve Kamerling of Kalamazoo.  “It had good handouts with basic recipes and was taught by people with good communication skills who grew up eating this food. I especially liked being in the kitchen watching and smelling the recipes develop.”

“I took the class because I have enjoyed Indian food for a long time and wanted to know how to make authentic dishes at home,” said Yvette Noble of Kalamazoo.  “I have cooked the recipes we made during the class at home and was surprised how easy it was to do.”


Classes are held on one Saturday per month.  The next scheduled class is on “Breadmaking” and will be held on Saturday, March 12 from 10-12:30 p.m.  Cost is $45.  Registration is limited to five participants.  Check Facebook for future classes:

Kurry Guru’s ready-to-eat gourmet Indian vegetarian foods and snacks are available at Bronson Hospital Cafeteria (601 E. John St.), Harding’s Friendly Market (3750 W. Centre, Portage), Natural Health Center (4610 West Main), People’s Food Co-Op (436 S. Burdick), Sawall Health Foods (2965 Oakland Dr.).  Meals are made with fresh vegetables, 100 percent extra virgin olive oil and all natural wholesome ingredients without flavor enhancers or preservatives.

For more information about Kurry Guru, call 269-978-8035, or

See a video on Kurry Guru

Short History of Indian Cuisine

India is a big country and its geography can impact food differences as close as 100 kilometers (62 miles).  Every region and state in India has  its own culinary history and cuisine. Generally, however, southern Indian food tends to be spicier than northern food thanks to more generous doses of chili pepper.  And, because the north is so far from the ocean, seafood doesn’t play as central a role as it does in the south.  Southerners prefer steamed rice while northerners eat more roti, a bread made with stoneground wheat flour.  Also, the north has more fried foods like samosas, a triangular pastry stuff with a savory filling that may include spiced potatoes, onions, peas, coriander, and lentils, or ground chicken or lamb. 

The five key spices to Indian cooking are turmeric, coriander, cardamom, chili pepper and the “magical” spice:  garam masala, which is actually a combination of cinnamon, cloves, cardamon, black cumin, coriander, bay leaves and black peppercorns. 

“Buying whole spices rather than powder makes them fresher and tastier,” says Joshi, “especially if you use them within six months.”

Curry was really a British invention concocted by those who had served in India (when it was part of the empire).  They missed the country’s fine cuisine when they returned home to England. 

The basic curry is a rich gravy of onion, diced tomatoes, ginger, garlic and spices.  However, what differentiates one curry from another is what you put into it.  Northern Indians generally use cream, yogurt, and cashew paste while southern Indians add curry leaves and coconut milk or grated coconut  minus the yogurt. 

Indians regularly eat curry or another dish, dahl, which is a thick stew of dried lentils, peas or beans that have been stripped of their outer hulls and split, said Pant. Indians are mostly vegetarian as they follow the Hindu religion, which teaches non violence.

Indians began using spices 3,000 years ago and have acquired a bounty of them over the centuries through trade with the Chinese and Persians.  During European colonialism, the Portuguese made their mark on the cuisine in Goa with meat dishes like vindaloo, a fiery-hot, mustard-laced dish. Traditionally, vindaloo is made with pork, but there are many variations prepared with chicken or lamb.  The Portuguese have also contributed to dishes with coconut, vinegar and chili powder.

Turmeric has special significance for India as it is used in most of the Indian cooking.  According to recent medical studies, it has high medicinal value for anti-inflammatory conditions, colitis, cancer and even as a preventive for Alzheimer’s disease.  As a child, Joshi’s mother used to give her a glass of raw milk with a pinch of turmeric for her good health.  Many Indian people still take a daily dose of turmeric in this way.

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