I signed up for a cooking class with Beit Sitti, a cooking institute in Amman after reading about other peoples’ excellent experiences. Beit Sitti translates to “Grandma’s House” and that is exactly what the place feels like — it is a gorgeous home with a killer patio over looking the citadel.
History of Beit Sitti
Started by a pair of sisters, Beit Sitti is an initiative that brings traditional Jordanian cooking into the hands of foreigners. Maria, one of the founders and leaders, greets you right when you walk in with the warmest smile and highest energy level imaginable. She is a classically trained chef that left the kitchento start her own cooking company after her grandmother died several years ok. She is the perfect face to a company, and I can see why she has been so successful with Beit Sitti.
Class Structure & Menu
It is a group style cooking class. More people began to filter in from other small groups, and once everyone was there, we had a group of 30 people ready to test their hands in a Jordanian kitchen.This was an ambitious endeavor with 30 of us, but Maria took it in stride and had us all laughing and smiling within a few minutes.
On the menu was a salad of Cucumber & yogurt salad, a smoked eggplant dip similar to Babaganoush, fresh pita bread, Musakhan (spiced roast chicken over caramelized onions and pita) and for dessert, a syrupy pastry similar to Baklava.
We started with the basics, learning how to properly cut onions, cucumbers, and garlic. Then we cleaned up the raw chicken, using a mixture of vinegar, lemon, flour and salt. This helps break down any bacteria and that slimy layer that gets on the meat. Then we marinated it in a mixture of Middle Eastern spices including turmeric, cardamom, sumac, curry, garlic and pepper. The smell, even then, was so delicious.
Once the chicken was ready to braise in the ovens, we prepared the rest of that dish. We diced the onions with our new knife skills then caramelized them in a pot on the grill. We also started to work on the quick pita breads. She showed us how to mix all the ingredients together. Maria says that Jordanians don’t measure and they just “guess by the look and texture”, which is a totally different way of baking than what I’m used to. We all took our time kneading the dough, and pounding it out into nice little circles for our pitas. Then into the oven they go!
Next on the menu was preparing the eggplant dish. This was the coolest part of the process for me, and certainly where I learned the most. First we cleaned and scrubbed the eggplant, then threw it onto an open flame grill. It grilled for about 20 minutes until the skin started to burn and the inside was really soft. We peeled the sharred skin off, leaving a creamy smooth inside.
After the skin was removed, we all pounded out the eggplant until it formed a paste like consistency. It was then thrown into a mixture of pure tahini, raw garlic, salt, pepper, yogurt and stirred together. It creates this hummus like dip which is super smokey and perfect on top of a little pita bread. Even though I’m not much one for smokey flavor, this just tasted so much better since we had worked hard to cook it!
And finally came the dessert. We honestly didn’t do a whole lot of work for this course, mainly just ripping up the angel hair past which forms the base for this super sweet dessert (I wish I could remember the exact name now.. grrr.). It was then laid in a large sheet pan and toasted. Then the angel hair pasta was covered in simple syrup and an creamy custard and baked again.
Enjoying the Fruits of Our Labor
Once all the components of the meal came together, we got to sit down for a beautiful and social dinner. It was really nice being with a group of total strangers in a fun and welcoming environment, because we all got know each other a bit. I sat with a group of girls here to study Arabic from London, Australia and Russia! Also at my table were a group of Americans living and working in Jordan at the King’s Academy. Hearing about their experience while chomping on our creations was really a pleasant way to spend the night.
But the food was certainly the highlight! The chicken came out suuuuuper tender and moist, with a delicious set of spices. Served over the onions (aka my favorite vegetable) and pita, made for a tasty bite. And the cucumber salad complimented it nicely because it helped cool down some of the spice from the chicken. I already talked about the eggplant dish, and the dessert, while super sweet, was served in small portions making it the perfect way to finish off the meal.
I must say, this was one of the most enjoyable and fun travel experiences I have ever had. Maria’s energy and enthusiasm for food is infectious. Her 5 ft 1 stature just makes her all the more adorable, and while she runs around telling little jokes and kitchen secrets, you just smile and feel good about yourself. I learned a lot of neat tricks and new recipes, that I can’t wait to take home and try. Plus at the end of it all, you get to eat an incredibly delicious and authentic Jordanian meal! I highly recommend a cooking class at Beit Sitti and I think it is a must-do activity in Jordan!