The Ginger Whisk cooking school opened its doors in Chiswick earlier this year. Classes range from Christmas canape cooking to pasta supper classes and cheese making, and they feature a range of guest chefs. This is hardly interesting for beef lovers, but if you are a vegetarian, you might like it.
I attended a vegetarian cooking class with guest chef Jo Pratt this September. Jo Pratt is a television chef and has authored several popular cookbooks, including her latest ‘The Flexible Vegetarian’ (you can read more about Jo Pratt in our interview with her here).
At her class we made two dishes from her latest book – Chinese potstickers (also known as Japanese gyoza) and Malaysian red lentil, squash and courgette rendang.
Jo first demonstrated both dishes before we got to give them a go ourselves, and as she did she dished out some useful cooking tips. We started with the potstickers, Jo began by sautéing mushrooms with spring onion, garlic and ginger and as she did so she explained that you should never wash mushrooms but rather brush off any dirt, to avoid them from absorbing any excess water. She also deftly demonstrated that a piece of ginger is best peeled with a teaspoon, which avoids the large amount of wastage you get with a knife or peeler.
Water chestnuts, bamboo shoots and coriander were then added to the mix before laying out the wonton wrappers.
I’ve tried making a similar dish before and I tried to make my own wrappers with salt, water and flour but getting the consistency and the thickness right proved to be quite tricky so I think I’ll go with shop-bought from now on. Most Chinese supermarkets stock them and they were much easier to work with than home-made skins.
The mushroom mixture was placed into the centre of the wonton wrappers and, with a little water, crimped into a dumpling shape. The potstickers were then fried in a pan with oil until the undersides were golden. Then by adding water the dumplings were steamed through to give a lovely soft texture.
Jo made a dipping sauce by combining soy sauce, rice vinegar, caster sugar and chilli flakes and scattered the potstickers with toasted sesame seeds before we got to sample them. The flavours of shitake mushroom and sesame oil sung through the most while the water chestnuts and bamboo shoots provided a satisfying crunch.
Jo explained that the mushrooms could be swapped for minced pork or chicken to make a meat version of the potstickers, which is the very essence of her latest book – recipes that you can easily substitute one or two ingredients with meat to make a non-vegetarian version. The book is ideal for occasional meat-eaters, vegetarians who needs to cook for meat-eaters, but also dedicated veggies.
Next, Jo demonstrated how to make the Rendang curry. She made a curry paste by blending lemongrass, garlic, shallots, ginger, galangal, turmeric, chillies, tamarind and oil, which, she explained, could be kept up to a week in the fridge, until needed.
She then explained that the hottest part of the chilli is the membrane that clings to the seeds (I’d always assumed it was the seeds themselves) and how, by rubbing oil on your hands before handling chilli, you can stop it from burning your skin.
The paste was fried in a wok with cardamom pods, cinnamon, cloves and lime leaves before Jo added large chunks of butternut squash, chopped red pepper, lentils and coconut milk and left it to simmer.
Jo cooked some rice, and fried some coconut flakes with maple syrup to add a crispy sweet topping to the curry, and added some courgette to the Rendang. After further simmering she served and we sampled.
The curry was deliciously flavoursome and the chunky vegetables gave it a good bite. The lentils could be substituted for chicken or prawns, Jo explained but, personally, I enjoyed the comfort-food element provided by the lentils, it made me think of a hearty Indian dal.
If adding prawns, Jo went on to explain, add a pinch of sugar and salt to them beforehand to enhance the flavours.
Next was our chance to try out the recipes on several small stoves in the large West London kitchen.
The potstickers were a great dish to learn, and quite easy to make after Jo’s demonstration. If making for friends I’d probably have them all made up and ready to fry before anyone arrived.
The curry was simple to make too, once the paste has been made and the vegetables chopped the recipe demands nothing more complex than simmering.
The best bit of the day was sitting down to enjoy the food we’d just made. I was surprised at how much I liked the vegetarian dishes, the curry in particular is a lovely hearty dish that’s perfect for a winter evening and I would certainly make it again. It’s also nice to now have a rehearsed dish to cook if catering for vegetarian friends.
In all, it was a great half-day class, I was very well fed, had plenty of leftovers to take home and I picked up some useful tips along the way.
I was lucky enough to be invited to Ginger Whisk Cooking School on a complimentary basis. The views and opinions in this article are all my own.
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