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.
Unable to accommodate those who were lactose intolerant for the lassi, we did adapt the lentil and mint kebab dish to accommodate those who were celiac. Some of the kebabs were made with corn crumbs rather than bread crumbs and although having different tastes and texture they were both delicious.
A hearty appetite, maybe even a growling stomach, was a definite asset when it came to our cooking class. As Shahnaz usually cooks in batches at home, she did the same for our class. All evening, we were working off recipes that would make servings for five people. We had four teams of four, making four dishes each. You do the math. There were a fair amount of leftovers after we had all finished eating, but none went to waste as some people took "doggy bags" home.
A sense of teamwork was needed because we were divided in to four sub-groups of four or five. Each "team" consisted of two of these sub-groups. At the beginning of the class we were told that Shahnaz would choose a "winning" team that would take home gift baskets of spices and Pakistani treats.
(Most of) the winning team: Sean Peters, Christina Wu, Shawn Smith, Eileen Knowles
Although my team wasn't the winning team, we felt like we had won anyhow walking out of the kitchen with a full stomach, some new friends and a sense of satisfaction from the unique experience.
How Fusion Kitchen began.
Chantelle and Sonam, two students from SFU, created Fusion Kitchen, a non-profit with the ultimate goal of developing transferable skill sets, and self-confidence of recent female immigrants through teaching cooking classes from their culture's dishes. The idea is that they experience will result in a feeling like you in the country eating a home-cooked meal. Classes are three hours long and are an opportunity to learn about the culture, meet new people and have hands-on cooking in small groups. Sonam and Chantelle feel that food is the best way to learn, cook, and connect.
“We combined our passion to create change, our desire to travel the world, and our hunger to experience different cultures into one idea. We are adventurists and givers at heart, and we hope you can join us in our next big adventure with Fusion Kitchen.”
The pilot project for Fusion Kitchen was held in December and featured a Fijian teacher. It was a success and after tweaking a few things they were ready for their debut, their most recent class, taught by Shahnaz from Pakistan.
Chantelle explained why Shahnaz was a good candidate for a Fusion Cooking class. “Since arriving in Canada, Shahnaz has done her best to adjust to the new environment and develop a social circle. While she is gaining credentials through such courses as the Canadian Early Childhood Education assistant program, she still faces obstacles in pursuit of securing full-time employment in Canada.”
This class was held at the Woodland Smokehouse & Commissary on Commercial Drive but they intend on having a bigger space once the ball starts rolling and they establish themselves in the community. Their goals are to have a large kitchen space similar to The Dirty Apron, where there are sectioned areas for each group. They hope to host cooking classes once a week in the near future, so keep up to date on upcoming classes on their site: http://www.thefusionkitchen.com/
For more high resolution photos check out my gallery.