The moment we stepped into her Bay Ridge apartment, Afsari Jahan offered us puri and a cup of tea, just as she would in her home country of Bangladesh.
"We" were the handful of students taking Jahan's Bengali cooking class--and her welcoming gesture was only one of the things that made the day so memorable.
Jahan is an instructor for The League of Kitchens, a program in which immigrant instructors from Lebanon, Korea and elsewhere teach their native cuisine to small groups in their own kitchen.
It's an intimate cooking experience: During each five-and-a-half-hour class ($195 per person), students prepare a feast at the elbow of the teacher. We chopped bottle gourds (similar to zucchini) for shobji dal (see the recipe); rolled dough, stuffed it with cumin- and chile-flecked cauliflower and then pan fried the packets of gobi paratha (a savory stuffed bread); and helped Jahan make murgir mangsho--the "everyday" chicken curry of Bengali cuisine.
Working side by side with Jahan, we got a firsthand glimpse into the little tricks that make the dishes delicious: how she sautées whole dried chiles for flavor, not heat, for example, or measures out spices for a homemade masala mix for the curry.
Students help Jahan make Bengali chicken curry.
After hours of prepping, we settled down in Jahan's living room--now fragrant with coriander, turmeric and ginger--to enjoy the fruits of our labor. We were sent home with a detailed recipe packet, as well as a kit of ingredients.
It's one thing to take a class. It's another to see a cuisine through the eyes of an instructor who, despite having lived in NYC for more than a decade, continues to practice and perfect the dishes she grew up with. An afternoon with the League of Kitchens class is inspiring, fulfilling and filling.