A harmonious blend of cultures and traditions instructs the craft of cooking teacher Kiran Ramgotra Sancious. She seems part-Canada, part-England, part-Kenya, part-India and in ways surely part-Woodstock, where she now lives. With a world of influences from the places that have touched her, she sun-dries limes, she pickles, she fire-roasts and she blends spices, but most of all imparts her creative and talented spirit through teaching others how to cook simply and deliciously – sometimes with her own creative twists, integrating her family traditions with the place and time in which she lives.
With her warm and hospitable nature, serene and lively beauty and wit inflected with the barest hint of a British accent, she shows enthusiasm for her métier and her pupils. You find yourself wanting to know her secrets, how her hot masala chai can be so perfectly, complexly aromatic; how her smooth, mossy-hued mint chutney can tingle the palate so nicely without burning; how dishes can be so creamy and sweet without dairy or sugar.
“We have an epidemic,” she says, of problems caused by sugar, which is so abundant in so much food because it’s cheap and brings out flavor. Kiran admits that food needs a balance of sweet and tangy – but by bringing out the natural sweetness of foods, not by adding sugar. Although she is able to translate many dishes to vegan or gluten-free (she tries to be gluten-free when she can, as it makes her feel better), she is said to fire-roast a delicious lamb in her outdoor oven.
Kiran invited me, her very lucky guest, to a private high tea in her home near the top of Overlook Mountain. The steep climb and pouring rain were forgotten as she welcomed me to the serene setting with the delicate scents of spice blends wafting in the air. First she served me her fragrant, soothing masala chai, a blend so perfect that Lazy Crazy Acres Farm & Creamery in Arkville uses it to flavor gelato, including a divine chocolate version (see www.lazycrazyacres.com). Part of the secret to her masala chai is tiny rosebuds, orange rind and clove, with almond milk at the end.
We had homemade crackers, speckled with fennel and a bit of heat, with mint chutney/poodina and a bit of cheese for creamy balance. There was an irresistible carrot sweet called garajela that was heady with the crunch of pistachio and almond and sweet with currants and fig. The complexity of the spice blend, with cayenne added, made it a grown-up carrot cake: entirely vegan with naturally sweet soymilk, so no sugar needed, and tasty indeed. A shortbread, khathi, wheat-free with Cup4Cup flour substitute, along with some chickpea flour and cream of rice for a delicate crunch, was rich and moist, topped with almond slices and perfect with the strawberries and white peach slices alongside it.