Sal’s Kitchen tries… Persian Cooking with Demuth’s Vegetarian Cookery School

Demuth's Vegetarian Cookery School

Anyone who claims to be a foodie in Bath will know of Rachel Demuth, a legend amongst gastronomes round these parts. Although she handed over the Demuth’s restaurant to her head chef a few years ago (it’s now Acorn Vegetarian, and very much worth a visit), she still runs the hugely popular Demuth’s Vegetarian Cookery School in a beautiful old Georgian house a stone’s throw from the Abbey. I’d always wanted to attend a class but somehow never gotten around to it, so when she kindly invited me along to write a blog post, I was absolutely delighted.

I won’t lie, it was nearly impossible to choose, but in the end I went for a Persian Cookery Evening with Simi Rezai, another amazing local foodie whose work I’ve always admired. Born on the silk route, as she always says, Simi is from the Azerbaijan region of Iran, and I absolutely love the way she cooks and approaches food, with a wonderful respect for her ingredients. She hates waste (as she says, think about how much labour is required to grow rice, or how many crocuses you need to make saffron) and squeezes every drop of flavour and goodness from everything she uses, with slow, gentle, patient preparation, very much informed by Iranian cooking traditions. Simi describes it as ‘cooking today for tomorrow’: in short, it’s what you might call a mindful approach to cooking, and it’s beautiful.

Simi's Kitchen
Queen of the kitchen, Simi, in full swing

The home of Demuth’s Vegetarian Cookery School is a lovely little Georgian house, but some care has been taken to fit a bright, airy, modern kitchen inside, with plenty of space to accommodate classes of up to 12 people. As well as your tutor (Demuth’s has an impressive roll-call of talented teachers) there will be several other members of staff including someone to do all the washing up – perfect. After a fortifying cup of tea, we started out with a demonstration from Simi on how to prepare havij polow, saffron rice layered with carrots and orange, before getting our hands dirty making lavash flatbread, with another of Demuth’s expert tutors, Helen Lawrence (another former head chef at the Demuth’s restaurant). Helen told us that once we’d mastered lavash and seen how easy it was, we’d never eat pitta bread again, and I have to admit I was definitely a convert…

 Demuth's Vegetarian Cookery School
Lavash-making in action

Next, Simi talked us through kookoo sabzi, which is like a fabulous frittata made with everything green – in this case, spinach and spring onions, but Simi uses an armful of whatever is currently growing in her little organic allotment – and studded with fat walnut halves and jewel-like barberries, which are a bit like unsweetened cranberries. Having watched and taken careful notes, we made our own kookoo, and then moved on to a quick salad masterclass with everything from fresh soft herbs (which in Iran are used as freely as lettuce leaves) to edible wild flowers.

With perfect timing, once we’d put the finishing touches on our kookoo, salads and most oh khiar (that’s yoghurt with fresh cucumber, thyme and dried rose petals to you – the thyme is a particularly gorgeous addition), the table was laid and we finished with a huge feast. Helen had dressed our lavash bread with olive oil, sesame seeds and herbs, we divvied up and tried each other’s kookoo, salads and most oh khiar, and for the crowning glory, Simi brought to the table two huge platters of havij polow, golden, steaming and fragrant. The combination of orange, carrot and saffron was just incredible – I can’t tell you how much I loved this dish, and I’ll definitely be making it again. Earlier, Simi had explained to us how it’s traditional to line the bottom of the pan with lavash or thinly sliced potatoes, to stop the rice sticking, and these became incredibly flavoursome and crispy during the long slow cooking process. Combined with fresh dressed salads and tangy yoghurt, and scooped up with lots of lavash, it was heaven.

 Demuth's Vegetarian Cookery School
Feasting together after all our hard work

I had an absolutely brilliant time, tried something completely new to me, got utterly converted to Persian food and would have no hesitation recommending Demuth’s courses to vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. Simi is a wonderful teacher and demonstrator, full of useful tips and fascinating details, and got us all laughing, learning and paying close attention. Although Demuth’s offer a huge range of courses, including full days and even weeks, I think the evening courses are particularly excellent value – three packed hours for just £65, including dinner and recipes to take home. If you love your food, you really must treat yourself to a visit to Demuth’s.

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