Aruna Menon just had a feeling that there was an appetite in St. Louis for learning how to cook Indian food.
An operational risk consultant (someone who helps ensure regulatory compliance) by day at Wells Fargo Advisors, she decided to try teaching on a whim. She comes from the Kerala state on the southwestern tip of India and grew up and went to college in Bangalore, the largest city in Karnataka, the state just to the north of Kerala.
“I contacted local cooking schools, and I was surprised when they quickly asked me for my details,” Menon says.
She now teaches at Kitchen Conservatory and the Dierbergs School of Cooking, as well as operating Indofusion Catering.
Indofusion serves many regional Indian styles but also, as far as Menon knows, is unique in offering the seafood-rich cuisine of her native Kerala state.
One of Menon’s classes teaches students how to re-create several basic Indian-restaurant staples: Butter Chicken, Palak Paneer (spinach and cheese), Peas and Jeera Pulao (cumin-flavored rice), Thadka Dhal (yellow split peas) and Cucumber Raita (relish).
“Most Indian restaurants here have an assortment of dishes with mainly north Indian influences, although some have some of the more-familiar items from the south, such as dosas,” Menon says. “This menu is all north Indian.”
The recipe for centerpiece of her restaurant-meal-at-home, Butter Chicken, includes some tricks she learned from a friend who runs a restaurant.
“When you simmer it, you want to make sure that all the oil floats to the top,” Menon says. “That tells you all the spices have blended into the tomato purée.”
“What really makes the difference, though, is the secret ingredient: honey.”
Aruna Menon will teach “Date Night for Couples: Coastal India” at Kitchen Conservatory April 13. The class is sold out; call the school at 314-862-2665 to inquire about wait lists or future dates. Menon will teach “Specialties of Northern India,” featuring the recipes included in this article, at 1 p.m. April 28 at the Southroads Dierbergs School of Cooking. Cost is $35; call 314-849-3698 for information.