Participants in Dr. Neena Thomas-Eapen's recent class at Gourmet Chef were thrice-blessed.
They were educated about medicinal properties of many foods, enticed with the fragrance of spices from India, and had the opportunity to sample the foods she produced.
The native of Kerala in southern India, she is a doctor of integrative medicine, combining Western medicine with the wisdom of using spices and foods that assist people to keep or regain health.
Cleo Cantlon/MDN - - Dr. Neena Thomas-Eapen adds saffron to her Pulao with Morels. Saffron adds color, fragrance and flavor to Indian dishes.
Cleo Cantlon/MDN - - Dr. Neena Thomas-Eapen felt the rice, basis for many Indian meals, needed a bit more salt.
Cleo Cantlon/MDN - - Sauteed Mushrooms with Onions and Green Beans, left, and Mushroom and Sweet Potato Stew were two of Dr. Thomas-Eapen’s creations.
"Mushrooms are wonderful additions to meals," she said. "They are versatile, delicious, low in starch and loaded with proteins."
She added that some varieties like shiitake, maitake and oyster mushrooms have medicinal properties that give support to the immune system and have antiviral and anti-cancer properties.
She also hailed such spices as turmeric, mustard, black pepper, cloves, ginger and others to the very expensive saffron. She noted saffron spice is the hand-picked stamens of a tiny flower.
Thomas-Eapen also taught the class to make cashew milk, which has a better fat profile than the more fat-laden coconut milk. She said cashew milk could be substituted in many dishes. She made it by grinding 1/2 cup raw cashew nuts in a blender to a fine powder, then adding 1-1/2 cups of water and blending well.
The teacher said recipes she shared were "Indian-inspired," much like the spicy dishes common to southern India, with their complicated ingredient list and long cooking times.
She noted stew in India is a curry dish made with coconut milk, a signature recipe for Syrian Christians.
Each of the dishes she prepared, including Pulao with Morels and Mushrooms baked in Parchment Paper, would be a main dish, served with rice and pita bread. She noted morels are prized, expensive mushrooms that grow only in the wild, often in France.
The Mushroom in Parchment dish, which started with finely chopped portobello mushrooms, would have been wrapped in banana leaves in India. She said banana leaves can be found in Minot. Sweet potatoes are a much healthier food than other potatoes, she noted.
Mushroom and Sweet Potato Stew
3 tablespoons canola or high-oleic safflower oil
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
Medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 or 2 green chilies, sliced lengthwise into fourths, with seeds
Fresh ginger root, 2 inches by 1/2 inch, finely chopped
Large garlic clove, finely chopped, about 2 tablespoons
Large yellow sweet potato, peeled, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
5 to 10 curry leaves, optional
1/4 teaspoon yellow turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon garam masala powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup raw cashew nuts
1 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water, to make 8 ounces or 8 to 10 fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
2 quartered medium tomatoes
1/2 cup thick coconut milk
2 to 3 cups water
To make cashew milk, grind cashews in blender to fine powder. Add 1-1/2 cups of water, blend well. Set aside.
Heat a thick-bottomed pan over medium high heat. Add canola oil; when it is hot, add mustard seeds and cover until seeds start popping well. Then add onions, chilies, ginger and garlic. Saute for five minutes or until lightly brown. Add potatoes; continue sauteing when edges of onions start browning, about 5 to 10 minutes.) Add turmeric, garam masala and salt. Saute for a minute. Add mushrooms; mix well. Add 1/2 cup of water. Add cashew milk to pan; cover; cook on medium heat about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes; cover; stir occasionally. Cook until potatoes are soft. Switch off stove; add coconut milk; mix well and keep pan on low.
Serve as a side dish for flat breads or as a sauce for rice.
Sauteed Mushrooms with Onions and Green Beans
1-ounce packet dry oyster mushrooms. Soak mushrooms in hot water for about half an hour, drain, and squeeze well.
1 medium onion, sliced
Tender green beans, cut in two after removing ends
1 green chile, split into half in the middle
1 pinch of ground turmeric powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 cup water
Heat heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium heat. Add beans, onions, chile and water. Cover well; cook until beans are dark green, stirring occasionally. When water is absorbed, add mushrooms, turmeric powder and salt. Stir well.
Cover and cook about 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Open cover and add oil. Cook on medium-low heat another 5 to 10 minutes.
Serve as a side dish or as stuffing for pita bread.