Gayathri Chelvadurai, co-owner and head chef of Indus Modern Kitchen, is an advocate for healthy eating. To that end, she has started teaching private cooking classes on Indian cuisine.
One recent Thursday, she gave a lesson on making her style of "sambar," a nutrition-dense lentil soup, a "heavier dish, not so watery," she says, with lots and lots of veggies.
She had prepared a large bowl of chopped potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, onions, small round Indian eggplants and fresh green beans. To that she added a defrosted bag of sambar mix, simply more of the but with sambar seasoning. Then she added added a defrosted bag of "drumsticks," an Indian vegetable that is green and looks a little like okra.
"You can get these frozen veggies at an Indian grocery store," she said. "It makes making sambar easier. The drumsticks are rich in vitamin E. You have to chew the sticks and suck out the seeds inside them."
The secret to this vegetarian soup is its array of spices, including tamarind.
"You can make your own tamarind paste, but it is a long process," Chelvadurai said. "Buy prepared tamarind at the Indian grocery, too. And pick up Aachi brand sambar powder - it's the basis for the dish."
She recommends using yellow toor dal, which are harder than some lentils and take longer to cook.
"Soak them about 30 minutes and cook in a pressure cooker with just a little salt and turmeric," she said. "You can do this ahead of time. Let them cook and blend to make them smooth."
She had cooked the lentils the night before. So she continued the lesson by toasting mustard seeds in a little vegetable oil.
"Be sure the mustard seeds pop," she said. "Otherwise, they will make the dish taste bitter. You can use sesame seed oil if you'd like. It's more expensive, but it's healthier."
She sautéed the onions, then added the remaining spices, including a garlic-ginger paste she makes.
"I use equal parts garlic and ginger to mash into a paste," she said. "Garlic and ginger help with digestion."
She added the cooked toor dal and started playing with the seasoning.
"Be stingy with salt. Add a little at a time. Use just a little chili powder, because we have added fresh chiles, and it can become too spicy."
She started with three tablespoons each of the tart tamarind and of the sambar powder.
After letting it simmer to mingle the spices, she added three more tablespoons of tamarind and sambar powder.
"Once you get the seasoning the way you like, cover and cook until the potatoes and carrots are done," she said. "Then you are good to go."
She serves the sambar over rice cooked with cumin.
"Cumin is also good for digestion," she said.
Chelvadurai charges $50 for a private class, which includes eating or taking home the food you've made. She prefers 1-on-1 classes - "I like to talk and want to be able to answer everyone's questions" - but plans to offer group classes later.
Call 418-5504, visit indusmodernkitchen.com or friend the eatery on Facebook.
Indus Modern Kitchen - which she co-owns with BonMayuri Kalita and Mukesh Khatri - is at 12229 Voyager Parkway.