Butterfly Pea Flower (Chiang Mai, Thailand)

The butterfly pea flower is an edible flower that’s good for natural blue coloring and anti oxidants.

It can – and should – be used for everything. Tea, salad, cocktails, garnish…

Plus, it’s magical. With a little bit of lime juice it turns from blue to purple. :O Te possibilities are endless!

Cooking class with Benny (Chiang Mai, Thailand)

Learned how to make some traditional Thai dishes at Benny’s home cooking in Chiang Mai.

1. Chicken satay (okay, okay, this isn’t Thai)
2. Tom Yum Kung
3. Pad Thai
4. Khao soi (with homemade Curry paste!)
5. Steamed coconut cake
6. Fresh salad

Spicy, herbal, fish sauce bliss 😋

Making empanadas (Medellín, Colombia)

Learned how to make empanadas! …by which I mean I learned how to wrap empanadas, since the filling was pre-made and they didn’t trust us with the frying. But the corn flour wraps fall apart super easily, it was harder than it looked!

Cooking Class at Amal Women’s Center in Marrakech

Cooking chicken tagine at the Amal Women's Center in Marrakech, Morocco

What better way to learn about Moroccan cuisine than to cook it?

Online I found several cooking classes offered, but I went with the Amal Women’s Center because it benefited a nonprofit organization. For 300 dirham ($30), we would learn to cook and later eat a Moroccan meal of chicken tagine, Moroccan salad, and Moroccan mint tea.

The facilities of the Amal Women’s center were beautiful:

Cooking class at the Amal Women's Center in Marrakech, Morocco

They had all of the ingredients prepared for us, all we had to do was put it together.Though the chicken tagine involved multiple spices, the recipe is surprisingly easy. Honestly, all we did was chop onions (under pretty close scrutiny, because there were about 4 kitchen helpers for just the three of us in the class) and spoon ingredients in the amounts specified. We were done in about 10 minutes.

Cooking class ingredients at the Amal Women's Center in Marrakech, Morocco

We covered our tagines and took them outside to little individual charcoal grills. They had us use bellows to get the fire going – these things are quite effective! A few spurts of air, and you get a little crackling fire.

Cooking chicken tagine at the Amal Women's Center in Marrakech, Morocco

The chicken cooked for about an hour or so, with two breaks in between: one to flip the chicken and put the oil in (it goes in later so that the chicken has a chance to absorb the spices), and another to add some more water.

While we waited for the chicken to cook, the staff told us a bit about the women’s center and the work that they do:

Amal Women’s center

The mission of the women’s center is to empower women by training them for and helping them find sustainable employment. Kitchen jobs are the target, a big industry in Marrakech and an easy transition for women as they likely already have cooking experience. For six months, the center trains the women in technical skills and soft skills like punctuality and cleanliness, and then they are responsible for helping the women find a kitchen job after the program. But their main goal is to teach and show the women that they can be independent; they don’t have to be dependent on anyone.

They primarily focus on women from four disadvantaged groups:

  • Single mothers: often ostracized by society and even kicked out by their families for having premarital sex
  • Widows
  • Divorcees: divorce is still not very common, and it is frowned upon. Women legally have the right to get divorced, but few exercise it. And if a man divorces a woman, it means that she was a bad wife.
  • Orphans: receive help from the state until they are 18, but then afterwards they are on their own without much support.

While women in morocco legally have a lot more rights than they did before, culturally and socially, they still face a lot of issues that hold them back. It is undesirable for a woman to seem too independent, and there are problems with education.

There is no sex education, so many women do not even know the basics about their bodies and sex. Some women who already gave birth to children don’t know what it was that made them pregnant – it sounds ludicrous, but if nobody tells you, how do you know? Abortion is also illegal, and some women die because the try to abort the baby themselves. Alternatively, their family might take them out of the country, where they have the baby and leave it there. But some men still abide by the age-old test of checking if the hymen is intact to determine virginity.

Anyway, a very good cause!

And a very good meal:

Cooking chicken tagine at the Amal Women's Center in Marrakech, Morocco

I’m not sure if I’ll be able to reproduce the meal on my own, even though I have a recipe list. But I got more than just culinary knowledge from this class. Thank you Amal, and keep doing the good work!

I also learned a neat tidbit: locals serve Moroccan mint tea by lifting the teapot high while pouring, and there are a couple of reasons for this. (1), it cools the tea a bit on its way to the cup. (2) the more sugar there is in the tea, the more foam there will be when you pour the tea up high. Sugar was a precious commodity, so this was a way to demonstrate to guests e was sugar in the tea before they even tasted it.


Chicken and Preserved Lemon Tagine:

Ingredients:

1 1/2 tsp ginger powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley and cilantro
1 pinch saffron
1/2 tsp ras el hanut
1/4 preserved lemon pulp
1/2 lemon juice
1 small oninon, finely choped
2 chicken breast and legs
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 handful olives
1/2 preserved lemon peel, thinly sliced
water

Instructions:

  1. Combine all spices into mixing bowl
  2. Place chicken into mixture and coat well
  3. Spread onions evenly in tajine
  4. Place chicken on top of onions
  5. Pour rest of spice mixture over chicken
  6. Cover tajine and place on low heat for 1 hour
  7. After onions have browned, pour oils
  8. After 10 minutes, pour water in tajine up to lid line
  9. Check periodically to add more water to the lid line
  10. 10 minutes before finishing cooking, place olives and lemon peel on top of chicken

Moroccan Salad

Ingredients:

4 tomatoes
1 cucumber
onion to taste
2 tbsp parsley and cilantro
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil

Instructions:

  1. Chop everything
  2. Mix!

Cooking class at Matey Hut

The finished meal from the cooking class at Matey Hut, Ella, Sri Lanka

Up to now I’ve mostly stumbled across restaurants or asked for local recommendations, but in Ella, for the first time, I decided to check TripAdvisor. The top rated restaurant was one called Matey Hut, which looked like it had authentic local cuisine and was also reasonably priced. Because most of the other restaurants in Ella looked more touristy, I went to check out Matey Hut for dinner.

That dinner, which consisted of okra curry, pumpkin curry, coconut sambol, and paratha, was easily the best I’ve had in Sri Lanka so far. Somehow, miraculously, it was also one of the cheapest! For the first time, I considered returning to a place simply to revisit a restaurant.

By chance, my table was right below a hand painted sign that read “Cookery classes.” When the bill came, I asked for details. The owner explained that they offered the classes in the morning at 9am, for only 2000 LKR ($13.33). In class, you learn how to cook 6 dishes and then have them for lunch afterward.

Cookery classes at Matey Hut, Ella, Sri Lanka

I was so there!

The next morning I arrived as they were setting up shop. For a moment I was worried that they might have forgotten that I had signed up for class, but after a few minutes, I was beckoned into the small, dark kitchen.

This is where the magic happens! A roughly 8×4 ft space with three burners.

The kitchen at Matey Hut, Ella, Sri Lanka

The kitchen at Matey Hut, Ella, Sri Lanka

I was surprised to find that I was just me, essentially shadowing the cook (whose name I now realized that I never got, but she is the wife of the husband and wife owners). The class was less formalized, and I guess not set up to scale – but given that only one other person max could have squeezed in the kitchen with us, scaling would certainly be difficult.

The cook had the teaching part down pat, though. She first showed me all the ingredients that we were going to use:

Ingredients for the cooking class at Matey Hut, Ella, Sri Lanka

Spices for cooking class at Matey Hut, Ella, Sri Lanka

And then had me help to prepare them. I shaved a coconut with a hand-cranked shaver, cut up the onions and garlic, and cut up vegetables whenever she directed me to.

These are the four essential ingredients that we used for every dish: (1) chopped onions, (2) chopped garlic, (3) rampe leaves, and (4) curry leaves:

Ingredients for the cooking class at Matey Hut, Ella, Sri Lanka

Somehow, miraculously, we churned out 6 dishes in 2 hours, with 3 burners in a space where we could barely squeeze past one another. Meanwhile, it usually takes me 2 hours to cook 1 meal for the week, for which the only real seasoning I use is salt or soy sauce. I am in complete awe. It was masterful coordination! She knew exactly what to start prepping while what was cooking and how long everything would take.

The three burners at Matey Hut, Ella, Sri Lanka

Here is the final result, which I cooked! …kind of. I admit I might have spent more time scribbling down recipes than actually doing the cooking. Because there are SO MANY ingredients. No wonder why Sri Lankan food is so flavorful!

The finished meal from the cooking class at Matey Hut, Ella, Sri Lanka

The finished meal from the cooking class at Matey Hut, Ella, Sri Lanka

Curries, coconut sambol, and daal from cooking class at Matey Hut, Ella, Sri Lanka

Without further ado, the recipes, in the order that we made them:


Pumpkin Curry

Ingredients:

150g pumpkin, cut in chunks
Handful chopped onions
Handful chopped garlic
Handful curry leaves
Pinch of rampe leaves
Pinch of cinnamon
Chili powder to taste
1 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp tumeric powder
Few fenugreek seeds
Salt to taste
1 tsp coconut oil
2 dried red chilis
1 cup light coconut milk
1 cup thick coconut milk
1 tbsp blended roasted rice/coconut

Instructions:

  1. Heat wok on medium heat
  2. Add handful chopped garlic, handful chopped onions, handful curry leaves, pinch of rampe leaves, cinnamon, chili powder, curry powder, tumeric powder, fenugreek seeds, salt, and light coconut milk
  3. Cook until liquid dries up
  4. Add coconut oil, dried red chili, more chopped garlic, chopped onions, curry leaves, and rampe leaves
  5. Cook until the mixture is golden brown
  6. Add thick coconut milk, blended roasted rice/coconut
  7. Add pumpkin
  8. Cook until pumpkin is soft, able to stick a fork through without much pressure

Mango Curry

Ingredients:

3 small mangos
3 cardamom seeds, chopped
Pinch of cinnamon, chopped
5 cloves, chopped
1 tbsp coconut oil
Handful chopped onions
Handful chopped garlic
Handful curry leaves
Pinch of rampe leaves
1/4 tbsp mustard seeds
chili powder to taste
2 1/2 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp tumeric
salt to taste
1 cup water
1 tbsp sugar
Dash of thick coconut milk

Instructions: 

  1. Peel mangos (we used small ones, about the size of my fist, but any size is okay)
  2. Heat wok on medium heat
  3. Add coconut oil, wait until oil is hot
  4. Add all ingredients except mango, water, and coconut milk
  5. Cook until slightly brown
  6. Add mangos and water, and coconut milk
  7. Cook until liquid is dried up and mango is soft, able to stick a fork through without much pressure

Green Bean Curry

Ingredients:

2 cups green beans
Handful chopped onions
Handful chopped garlic
Handful curry leaves
Pinch of rampe leaves
2 small tomatoes
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp mustard cream
1/4 tsp tumeric
Salt to taste
1 cup thick coconut milk
1 green chili, sliced

Instructions: 

  1. Break ends off green beans and break green beans into roughly 1in chunks
  2. Chop tomatoes into quarters
  3. Heat wok on medium heat
  4. Add handful chopped garlic, handful chopped onions, handful curry leaves, pinch of rampe leaves
  5. Cook for 1-2 min until brown
  6. Add rest of ingredients
  7. Cook until liquid is dried up and green beans are soft, able to stick a fork through without much pressure

Eggplant Curry

Ingredients:

2 small eggplants
2 small potatoes
Green chili to taste, sliced
Handful chopped onions
Handful chopped garlic
Handful curry leaves
Pinch of rampe leaves
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp tumeric powder
Pinch of chili flakes
2 cardamom seeds
1/4 cup thick coconut milk
2 tsp jagri, honey, or brown sugar
Oil to deepfry

Instructions: 

  1. Cut eggplant into vertical strips about 1/4-1/2 inch wide
  2. Deep fry egg plant in oil until golden brown
  3. Remove egg plant from oil
  4. Heat wok to medium heat
  5. Add all ingredients except eggplant, jagri, and coconut milk
  6. Cook for 1-2 minutes until slightly brown
  7. Add eggplant and coconut milk
  8. Add jagri
  9. Cook until all liquid is dried

Daal

Ingredients:

100 grams lentils
1 cup loose coconut milk
1/2 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp chili powder
Pinch of cinnamon
Salt to taste
Handful chopped onions
Handful chopped garlic
Handful curry leaves
Pinch of rampe leaves
Green chili to taste, sliced
1/4 cup thick coconut milk
Oil to deepfry

Instructions: 

  1. Wash lentils and soak them in water for 10-15 minutes
  2. Heat pot on high
  3. Add lentils, loose coconut milk, tumeric, chili powder, cinnamon, and salt
  4. Cook until water is reduced, then reduce heat
  5. Add handful chopped garlic, handful chopped onions, handful curry leaves, pinch of rampe leaves, and green chili
  6. Cook until the water is all gone
  7. Add thick coconut milk
  8. Stir and turn off heat
  9. Slice a handful of onions and garlic into very thin slices, deep fry very briefly
  10. Deep fry curry leaves by just dipping them in the oil
  11. Sprinkle fried onions, garlic, and curry leaves on top of the daal

Coconut Sambol

Ingredients:

1 cup scraped coconut
1/2 small onion
1 small tomoato, sliced
Pinch of curry leaves
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp chili flakes
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp pepper
1 small green chili, sliced
1 lime

Instructions: 

  1. Add all ingredients in a bowl
  2. Mix with hands, no heat required!

The talent behind the delicious food:

The owners of Matey Hut, Ella, Sri Lanka

So glad I happened to check TripAdvisor and had enough time to participate in the cooking class! I really wish more people knew about it (and that they charged more for it – just the ingredients themselves had to add to up 500 of the 2000LKR). But so fortunate to have caught it when I did.

Now to try to reproduce these dishes at home…I’m sure that will be a whole separate adventure.