When most of us think of Irish cuisine, it’s doubtful the first thing to strike us is Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fare (falafel, baba ghanoush, pita bread, etc.). But, in a business park on the outskirts of Dublin, Silk Road Kitchen (the folks who run the Silk Road Café at the incomparable Chester Beatty Library) offer a host of classes under the banner of the Silk Road Kitchen Cookery School. And, although I’d never been a huge falafel fan, on an ordinary weeknight last winter, I was fortunate enough to take their Vegan & Vegetarian Mezza class, and promptly mended my ways.
By the end of the night I was a full-blown falafel evangelist. As with many/most things in the kitchen, I have to say there’s nothing like making your own falafel (felafel), or at least eating someone else’s when they are freshly made with quality ingredients.
Ours was a very, “mixed” class, with a wide range of participants. with a very broad range of experience levels. Some of us had taken other classes at the Silk Road Kitchen Cookery School, or from other cooking schools. Others had never taken a cooking class at all. A few had received the class as a gift, and had no idea what to expect. All of us were eager and hungry.
After our class of 10 had all selected their places around a table kitted out with neatly organized and well-appointed student workstations), Abraham, our chef/instructor, and his assistant Brahim, asked for food preferences (“would you like to make this or that tonight”, etc.), and had any allergies (which we’d been asked about at sign-up) reconfirmed.
Once our menu for the evening was established, techniques were thoroughly, slowly, and visually explained at every step. As Abraham modeled each technique, he was careful to adapt them for home kitchens, complete with ingredients suggestions targeting Dublin markets (e.g. “you can get good, fresh pita at these local stores”, etc.).
Abraham made a point of stressing the importance of presentation. And, as dishes made their way from cooktop to table, he and Brahim showed us how to elegantly and efficiently plate each one. The goal, they said, is to ensure that each dinner guest gets to try everything, and the table as a whole looks thoughtfully prepared.
As a testament to our instructors’ presentation skills I must admit that my stomach got the best of me. At one point, Brahim presented me with a falafel and tomato nibble for photographic purposes. It looked so amazing that my journalistic restraint went right out the window, and I took a big honking bite before someone reminded me to photograph it.
Our “student desk” table was ultimately topped not just with falafel, but with a wide array of mezza (small plates that often serve as starters, or can be an entire meal by themselves), dips and spreads (baba ghanoush, etc.). And at the end of the night, we were sent home with recipe sheets, and offered a good price on powdered sumac (notably hard to find in Dublin, and popular in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking) from the school’s larder.
Overall, the Vegan and Vegetarian Mezza class from Silk Road Kitchen Cookery School delivers a well-balanced blend of socializing, fun, instruction, and tasting. I believe we all left with the confidence to test our classroom skills back in our home kitchens, and the bravery to be more adventurous when scanning Middle Eastern and Mediterranean menus.
Text and photos by Glenn D. Kaufmann
The Silk Road Kitchen – Cookery School
K.C.R. Industrial Estate, Kimmage,
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