If You Give Them Spices, They Will Cook!

Six years ago, I made my first trip to India. I joined six people on Diane Seed's gourmet tour, which included cooking lessons, spice markets, and a lot of delicious spicy food in restaurants and tandoor huts on the beach. Two years later, I toured further north in New Delhi where I rode around with my friend, Vaibhav Chauhan, for five days eating in his favorite restaurants and the ancient markets. He also watched me cook in his friend’s home, and then helped eat the fruits of our labor. Since those two visits to India, I’ve taught half a dozen Indian cooking classes in my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and I’ve made Indian food a priority when developing menus and dinner parties. But I’ve noticed that the people I teach don’t go home and make the food they’ve learned in my Indian cooking classes. I know it can be intimidating learning a new cuisine, and the number of spices typically used in Indian food can be costly and take up a lot of space in the spice rack. So, I decided to stop teaching it for a while and throw an Indian dinner party. 

I invited some of my favorite friends in the Tulsa food scene who would (hopefully) appreciate the effort and talk about the food for months to come. I was coincidentally fortunate to meet Lesley, an Indian man from New York who moved to Tulsa a few months ago. He and I started cooking together and I decided to let him in on my dinner party idea. 

We spent hours designing the menu, and days practicing and honing our dishes with loads of ingredients and spices we had both collected. In the end, I counted over 65 different ingredients used in the entire menu, which consisted of 18 dishes. I hired a friend to set up and decorate the tables in my backyard with Indian fabrics and pillows. The weather turned out to be perfect on the mid-October night, and the twinkling lights and live music made for an Indian celebration no one would forget. Thirty-five people attended our little party, and I wore one of the Indian dresses I had bought in New Delhi. I fired up my tandoor to make naan bread while Leslie finished the curries, and my assistant Lori kept us organized according to the lists she had made to keep us on track.

By the end of the night everyone was full and happy. The dishes of curry were empty and the chutneys were nowhere to be seen after being consumed on the breads and papadums. We finished the night with orange cake made by my friend, Barbara. I was asked many times when I would teach another Indian food class. My reply was that I wouldn’t teach again until I figured out how to convince people to actually make it at home. 

Well, it didn’t take long to come up with a plan. I decided to advertise a cooking class where I would teach six Indian dishes, and let everyone go home with a box containing seven small jars filled with different spices needed to make the recipes they had learned. It took a lot of time to label and fill those jars, but I was ready to try something new. I advertised on Facebook and by email, and the first class sold out in a day. I offered a second class, and it sold out in an hour. Both classes were huge successes and everyone was thrilled to take home their spice box. I even offered to let them come back for refills since I had bought the spices in bulk from our local Indian grocer. It didn’t take long until I started receiving texts and emails from people saying they were using the spices and making the recipes they had learned. 


The takeaway? If you give them spices, they will cook! I’m already starting the process of planning my next trip to India, but I'll only go when I’m sure that I’ll gather more recipes for my Indian repertoire. In the meantime, I’m deciding on the theme of my next dinner party.

Izza Wei-Haas