A taste of Pakistan with Fusion Kitchen
Sure you can cook hamburgers, lasagne, and chicken wings -- but can you cook squash sabzi, or peas pulao? Vancouver is abundant in ethnic restaurants, with sushi being as common as North American cuisine. But how often do you see Pakistani food? And have you ever tried making it yourself?
With Fusion Kitchen's cooking class, I had the opportunity to not only cook authentic Pakistani food, but to learn how from a woman originally from Pakistan. Shahnaz Asfar, our instructor that day (in the photo above) , emigrated to Canada just over two years ago and is working to make Vancouver her new home.
She has been in the education industry for over 25 years but still finds time to cook and considers it one of her favorite hobbies. She was there that day to enlighten us on Pakistani culture and cuisine, offering us tidbits of information and cooking tips as she donned a traditional Pakistani woman's dress, a Shalwar Kameez.
Upon arrival, we were warmly greeted and offered some Pakistani pakora to snack on and mango, guava, and passionfruit juices. The pakora were quite different than any I have ever had before and tasted like mini savory pancakes with green chilis; they packed a little punch. It was a good start to the class to be offered a traditional appetizer while we learned about Pakistan, the sovereign country of South Asia.
As Shahnaz explained culture and cuisine in Pakistan everyone eagerly listened, interjecting periodically with questions related to the recipes we were about to test out.
Shahnaz's zest for trying new recipes was clearly reciprocated in those attending the class that day.
Normally Shahnaz strays from recipes when cooking and you can tell as she often changed what was on our recipe cards, tweaking things as she circulated the room. This was slightly frustrating at times, but for the best of the dish as anyone who cooks knows that recipes are merely a guideline.
We made five dishes that day: peas pulao, chicken mahkni, lentil and mint kebabs, squash sabzi, cumin potatoes and a strawberry lassi. Our dessert dish was a semolina based sweet with almonds called Sooji Ka Halwa, and was made prior to the class by Shahnaz.
I determined that all it took to "succeed" in this Fusion Kitchen cooking class was an open-mind, a desire to learn, a sense of teamwork and a hearty appetite.
An open mind was needed to try food outside of our regular regime. Although I saw many similarities between Indian and Pakistani food, Shahnaz explained to me that "in Pakistan we use less cream and have certain dishes they don't have in India, like chicken makhni, and lentil and mint kebabs."
Although many in the class seemed to favor the squash sabzi and lentil and mint kebabs, my favorite was the chicken makhni because it was loaded with chicken chunks swimming in a sapid cashew, chili and spinach sauce. Chili was a consistent ingredient in most of the dishes, and even when the heat did not strike at the beginning, it often lingered in your mouth at the end. This was particularly the case in the lentil and mint kebabs. To combat the spiciness of the dishes the lassi came in hand; it was creamy, loaded with strawberries, and heavy with cumin flavour.