Cooking with fresh ingredients – produce, in particular – makes any dish better. At this time of year, though, fresh produce can be hard to come by in New England. But as Sri Chalumuri has discovered, it’s not impossible.
Chalumuri, chef and owner of Shree’s Kitchen in Keene (which specializes in Indian cuisine), prides herself on being able to find and use the freshest ingredients available from as many local farms and retailers as possible. She is a long-time vendor at the Brattleboro Area Farmers’ Market – there, she not only offers her authentic, homemade Indian cuisine, she also is able to snag some of the freshest ingredients.
“With ingredients like turmeric and ginger, there are a lot of health benefits in Indian foods,” she said. “And I really like to support local farms.”
In addition to the Brattleboro market, Chalumuri has utilized Stonewall Farm in Keene, which cultivates organic crops, dairy products and livestock. On Feb. 27, she will be hosting the first Farm to Table Culinary Series there. While attendees enjoy a homemade meal, Chalumuri will demonstrate how to make paneer (Indian cheese) using milk from Stonewall’s organic dairy herd. She will then use the cheese to make Palak paneer – a traditional Indian dish that uses the cheese to make a curry in creamy spinach sauce with ginger, turmeric and spices, which will be served over a bed of Jeera rice (fragrant cumin basmati rice). The spinach used will be harvested from Stonewall’s greenhouses.
“This [Farm to Table series] will introduce people to how food is grown and provide an opportunity to learn how to cook with fresh ingredients,” said Julie Davenson, executive director of Stonewall Farm. “It also gives people an opportunity to learn how to use a variety of spices and techniques used in Indian cuisine.”
Chalumuri, who in the past has offered cooking classes for adults at the Keene Community Education center, will present the Farm to Table series at Stonewall to focus on “Indian cuisine throughout the seasons,” meaning she will use seasonal ingredients on the farm depending on the time of year. In developing the series, Chalumuri first talked with Stonewall Farm to determine what fresh produce and other ingredients are available at which times of year; “I created the menu based on that.”
“We hope participants will gain an appreciation for local food and develop a deeper connection and more mindful connection to eating,” Davenson said. “It also provides an opportunity for people to connect with each other and share a meal, [which is] ever more important in a world where digital connection seems to overwhelm personal connection.”
This first Farm to Table Culinary Series event will be held on Thursday, Feb. 27, 6:30 to 8 p.m. The cost is $55 per person, which includes dinner.
A second event in the series will be held in March, featuring two meals: chicken curry with sweet potatoes and lentil dal. Attendees will enjoy these meals, which will use vegetables from Stonewall, while Chalumuri prepares them. This second workshop is $60 per person, which includes both meals.
“I feel like Indian cooking is not as difficult as some people think,” Chalumuri said. “I want to help people learn and use what’s around [them] to create healthy foods.”
For more information about the Farm to Table Culinary Series with Shree’s Kitchen, and for tickets, visit Stonewall Farm on Facebook or call (603) 357-7278.