Looking for a new date night idea? Or a fun and structured activity in which there's potential to meet new people and make new friends? Or maybe you're just in search of some kitchenly inspiration?
Enter: Whole Foods' Salud! Cooking School.
The Whole Foods near us just recently reopened after a huge renovation, and as part of their renovation, they added a little cooking school to the mix. We visited said Whole Foods soon after it reopened and a brochure for Salud! caught our eyes. We'd always talked about going to a cooking class together, but never found one that was both affordable and easy to make happen. That is, not until we crossed paths with that Salud! brochure. We looked at each other, both said, "Why not?" and soon logged onto their website to find a tasty sounding class.
And classes they have!
From knife skill classes, to sushi making, Indian cuisine, French pastries, hands-on or demonstration style, date nights, kids classes, and ladies' nights, plus many, many more, they've pretty much got it all covered. And with prices ranging from $25 to $60 per person, it's well worth it, especially considering most classes come with a full, gourmet meal at the end.
While it took us a while to sort through the many awesome options, we eventually agreed that the hands-on Taste of Morocco class was perfect for us. It was really the menu that sold us...
Moroccan Flat Bread with Roasted Red Pepper SpreadCous Cous SaladTagine Chicken with Cracked Olives & Preserved LemonsZalabia with Honey GlazeMoroccan Mint Tea
My mouth was watering for weeks leading up to it. And I'm happy to say, for the most part, the class and food did not disappoint.
We were the first to arrive and don the hyper fashionable white aprons and red-bordered name tags. The instructor told us to hang out at the dining table, but not to get too comfy, as we'd be on our feet prepping and cooking in no time.
John was put on lemon rind and juicing duty, while our other classmates chopped all the other things.
And an aerial lemon shaving shot...
After the ingredients were prepped, we walked over to the cooking area and got cookin'! I volunteered to sear the pre-marinated chicken thighs in the pan.
And after a few minutes, John took over to get some practice too.
The instructor taught us to sear at a high heat and let the chicken sit in the pan until it releases easily. No tugging at it to flip it. The longer it sears (without burning, of course), the easier it'll be to lift from the pan and flip. I never knew!
After searing most of the chicken, John handed over the tongs and let our classmates continue the hard work.
Once all the chicken had a golden brown sear...
... it all went back into the dutch oven and our prepped ingredients were thrown on top.
(Side note -- I pushed the instructor aside to get the picture below. I probably annoyed her a bit, but I just had to get a picture of all this yum!)
Our instructor showed us how to make the dough, kneaded it using a Kitchen Aid mixer, and then we got our hands super messy by forming the dough into rectangular flat breads. I wasn't able to get a picture of the messy fun because... messy. But here's a picture of what our station looked like right before the mess began.
We set those aside for grilling a bit later and moved on to recipe number 3: Cous Cous Salad.
Our instructor gave us a short lesson in how extremely easy it is to make Cous Cous, then we chopped more ingredients, I made the dressing, and...
... a classmate mixed it all together.
Then we tasted it to make sure we had the flavors right and... oh my word. Let's just say it was my favorite part of the meal.
My second favorite part was probably the Moroccan Mint Tea, though we didn't actually make it that night. Instead, the instructor prepared it before we arrived, since she knew we'd spent all our time on the way more complicated recipes. Lucky for us, she sent us home with the recipe. Look at this golden liquid beauty.
I barely had a minute to take a few sips before we were back in action.
One of our classmates grilled the Flat Bread while our instructor plated the Tagine Chicken and Cous Cous.
And then, the moment we had all worked and waited for...
Perhaps it was because we had spent over two hours prepping and cooking, but I was HUNGRY.
So hungry, in fact, that I couldn't wait for it to stop steaming to get a better picture.
I snapped pictures as quickly as I could, and then devoured this beauty.
You want to eat it through the screen, dontcha?
And as we ate, the instructor fried up dessert for us: Zalabia with Honey Glaze.
Also SO GOOD.
The class ended around 8pm, and with full bellies and new favorite recipes in hand, we headed home.
A lovely date night if I do say so myself! And we're already talking about signing up for another class.
While I loved the food and the experience, I would be lying if I said it was perfection. One big thing rubbed me the wrong way, and that was the advertised menu not entirely matching the menu we cooked that evening. Three things stood out:
1.) The Tagine Chicken was not cooked in a tagine. I can excuse them for that one since the dutch oven was a great substitute, and buying tagines just to teach this one class would have been silly of them. But, it was a bit of false advertisement.
2.) The full name of the chicken dish was Tagine Chicken with Cracked Olives & Preserved Lemons. "But where were the preserved lemons?" you may wonder. Well, since the Memphis Whole Foods doesn't carry preserved lemons, we just used regular lemons in the recipe. While the dish was wonderful with regular lemons, one of the reasons we chose the Moroccan class was because cooking with preserved lemons intrigued me, so I was sad it didn't happen.
And 3.) This one bummed me out the most. The preserved lemons were one thing that drew me to the class, but the Roasted Red Pepper Spread even more so. In fact, that spread was the recipe I was most excited about. So, you can imagine how bummed I was to notice when we first arrived that the recipe wasn't in our recipe packet. And soon after our instructor announced that she didn't get a copy of the recipe from Salud! headquarters, so we just weren't going to make it. Enter: sad panda Stephi.
Alright, enough whining from me. Clearly, none of these nitpicky things were enough of an issue to scare us off. At the end of the day, the food was great, we learned a bunch, and had fun in the process, so all-in-all, despite the missing tagine and preserved lemons and recipe, it was worth it. We're not signed up for another class just yet, but will definitely do so in the near-ish future.
Also, I think it'd make a great birthday or wedding gift for friends! Or even a great Christmas gift for loved ones who like to cook. Just throwing that out there.
I should also mention that the class was taught at a beginner level, so even if you are scared of the kitchen, these classes would work for you too!
Unfortunately, there's one big snag for probably most of you. So far, Whole Foods only offers these cooking classes in Memphis and Nashville, TN; Charlotte, NC; and two locations outside of Atlanta, GA. Wohoooo if you live near these cities!! Though, if you don't, there's no need to pout. I suggest doing a little research and finding a cooking school near you, as I'm sure there are other great options out there! You could also always write to your local Whole Foods and tell them how they just need to start offering cooking classes because your social life and belly demand it.
Finally, for those of you who've made it this far, I give you a treat! Here's the recipe for my favorite dish of the night, the Cous Cous Salad.
Moroccan Cous Cous Salad
1 cup + 2 tbsp water
1/2 tsp olive oil
1 pinch course sea salt
1 cup instant whole wheat cous cous
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup toasted slivered almonds
1/2 cup dried cranberries
3 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
1 orange, zested and juiced
1 tbsp good balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp good red wine vinegar
Combine water, olive oil, and salt in saucepan and bring to a boil. Place cous cous in a large bowl and pour hot water mixture over the cous cous. Stir to completely combine. Immediately cover with plastic wrap and let set for 5 minutes.
Remove plastic wrap and fluff cous cous with fork to make sure it is not stuck together. Stir in tomatoes, almonds, cranberries, 2 tbsp of mint leaves, and orange zest.
Combine the orange juice, balsamic and red wine vinegars and stir in the cous cous. Sprinkle the remaining mint on top of the salad.
Can be served immediately or refrigerated until ready for service.