Fharzana Elankumaran, who moved to the United States from Bangladesh in 2000, is the instructor and founder of I Heart Curry, Indian cooking classes she offers in her home. Elankumaran said she studied chemistry at the University of Maryland, College Park, and used to do full-time marketing for a large company until she decided to follow her passion: cooking and what she calls "food investigating," her study of the ingredients to make sure there are no unnatural additives.
"I felt so strongly about doing something on my own, doing something I look forward to every day," she said.
She quit her marketing job and taught her first I Heart Curry class on Nov. 30 last year.
To celebrate the first anniversary of I Heart Curry, Elankumaran is offering a special four-hour class on Dec. 4, longer than her typical three-hour classes. During the anniversary class, she will be teaching more time-taking recipes: potato samosas and roshgolla from scratch, including making the cheese used in it, and goat rezala.
Elankumaran announces her classes two to three weeks in advance on her website, iheartcurry.com. She said she is currently planning her Christmas/holiday class.
Her classes usually include lessons on cooking three dishes: two appetizers and an entree, or a three-course meal. Elankumaran said she makes sure her students get a full meal they can enjoy and make again outside of her class. Occasionally, she offers a two-hour course where she teaches how to make two appetizers or desserts.
She says she starts her classes by offering students a warm cup of chai tea while everyone gets acquainted. She said she treats all of her students as if they know nothing about Indian food, so that everyone is taught at the same level.
Elankumaran said she makes sure that her students have fun while they learn in her class. "I actually go through great pains to make sure my house feels like a get-together as opposed to a classroom."
During her classes, Elankumaran keeps her kitchen, living and dining room open so that class registrants feel invited and can get acclimated. Her home is able to accommodate up to 15 students per class. She also offers private lessons.
Recently, she said has been getting requests for larger classes and is figuring out how to teach in a bigger location that offers the same kind of environment as her home. She said she has a variety of people register for her classes. Students come in for date night, birthday or wedding presents, company team events or family classes.
Saying that Elankumaran is an advocate for healthful eating almost seems to be an understatement. She calls herself a "food nerd" and refuses to use any canned or frozen food. Even when she was in college, she said, her grocery trips would be hours-long because she would have to read the ingredients on every item and then research the ingredients she didn't know.
"All of us should pay attention to what we eat, even the smallest detail," Elankumaran said.
In her classes, Elankumaran explains every detail of how she cooks her meals. She describes why each individual ingredient goes into the recipe and why substitutes will not suffice.
"That's just going to sacrifice the integrity and taste of the dish," she said.
Elankumaran said she is against using any shortcuts while preparing food. "The original, awesome recipes from our grandma's time are just getting lost," she said.
To her, it is crucial to know exactly what is going in your body and to use the purest and most natural ingredients. She said she loves teaching people how to eat better and to see improved cooking and eating habits from her students.
"I want to really find the relationship between food and you — it's getting lost," Elankumaran said. "It's my small effort."
Roasted Savory & Spicy Peas
1 cup whole Kabuli chana (white chickpeas) or chana daal (yellow chickpeas)
oil for deep-frying
salt to taste
red chili powder to taste
1. Rinse the chickpeas three times and soak them for eight hours or overnight.
2. Drain and allow the chickpeas to stand in a sieve for 30 minutes. If the peas are still wet, pat them dry using a paper towel.
3. Heat up the oil on medium heat. Deep-fry the peas until golden. Uncooked peas sink to the bottom of the pan and as they are done cooking, they float up. Be sure that the oil is not too hot; otherwise the peas will burn on the outside and not get cooked on the inside.
4. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the deep-fried peas to a paper-towel lined bowl. Sprinkle some salt and red chili powder over them. Cover the bowl with a lid or plate, and shake gently.
5. Serve hot or at room temperature as an appetizer or snack.
Phoolkopi Aar Daal Torkari (cauliflower with splitpea curry)
1/2 cup split chana daal
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 medium onion, finely diced
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 cauliflower, cut into florets
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup hot water
1/4 teaspoon coriander powder
1. To cook daal: wash the daal four times and soak for an hour. Combine daal, water, salt, and turmeric powder in a saucepan. Cook for about 20 minutes on medium heat. You need the daal to be al dente. You also may use a pressure cooker to cook the daal. Set it aside.
2. Heat up oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add fennel and cumin seeds. Once you smell the spices' aroma, add onion and saute for four minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Stir in turmeric and chili powder. Add cauliflower florets and stir well. Saute for one minute.
4. Add hot water, cover the pan, and cook on medium-low heat till the cauliflower florets are al dente, stirring occasionally.
5. Add daal and continue to cook for five more minutes. Remove from heat.
6. Garnish with a sprinkle of coriander powder.
You can either serve this as a curry or process it to a coarse/smooth consistency using a food processor and serve it as a soup. This curry goes well with rice, roti, or simply by itself.
Serves two to four people.
Info: I Heart Curry classes offered by Fharzana Elankumaran range from two-hour, two- course lessons for $50 per person to three-course classes that cost $60 for vegetarian menus, $75 for poultry and $90 for seafood and red meat. For details, go to www.iheartcurry.com.