Meet Haseen Muthalali, the dosa teacher

Following on from our interview with Loaf founder Tom Baker last week, we thought we’d get a bit more personal with all our cookery school teachers. Next up is Haseen Muthalali of Pop-up Dosa. Haseen has been running Dosa and Thaali classes with us pretty much since we opened on the high street a decade ago, bringing the cuisine of his native state of Kerala in southern India to the tables of Birmingham.

Can you tell us a bit about growing up in Kerala and learning these recipes?

Growing up in Kerala I was always fascinated with food and our various complex cooking methods. As a child, I always liked to hang around the kitchen and was just fascinated to watch the food be prepared. The different smells and fragrances of all the spices and how they fused together always attracted my interest.

Kerala literally means ‘land of coconuts’ and is on the southwestern coastal tip of India. So seafood, coconut, but also all the spices that make our cuisine really unique can be found here. Also, we have Muslim, Hindu and Christian communities each with their own special dishes. It’s such a unique part of the world, and the diversity and availability of spices and ingredients are reflected in the food.

What is Pop-up Dosa? How did that start?

I started Pop-up Dosa in Kings Heath, Birmingham as a supper club about 10 years ago. I made home-style dosa — a thin pancake made of rice and dahl — masala potatoes and chutneys. It’s a classic Kerala dish we eat at almost any time of day. It was a great success and we soon were doing streetfood events and kitchen takeovers at local cafes.

A Thaali dish

How did you first get involved with Loaf?

Tom Baker came to one of the early supper clubs and we discussed the idea of a class at Loaf. I would not be surprised if I am the only Kerala-born and raised person in the UK to teach Kerala cuisine in a cookery school.

What’s the most rewarding thing for you about teaching?

I love sharing Kerala cuisine with people, both those who have never had it before and those who want to make the foods they ate on a trip there. Also, the food is naturally healthy, with lots of veg and lentils. It gives me extreme satisfaction and joy to see participants enjoying nourishing food with no compromise on taste and authenticity. I make sure participants learn in a very hands-on way, ensuring they remember how to make the recipes at home easily.

Haseen Muthalali serving up

Can you tell us a bit more about a particular dish?

I have a hard time choosing just one dish! But I decided to teach how to make Dosa because it’s so popular and well-known. I teach how to make it with the spiced potato and vegetable stuffing (called masala), and also with sambaar, which is a soup-like vegetable curry that you dip the dosa into. Then we make the different chutneys to accompany it.

Dosa classes were selling out and seeing the enthusiasm and interest I decided to add a Thaali course involving multiple Kerala vegetable dishes. And we are soon starting a course making a coconut milk crepe called Appom with Kerala vegetables and seafood. But more about that later!

Thanks Haseen! We run each Kerala cookery class once a month throughout the year. You can book the current dates on our website or sign up to be alerted when new dates are released.

Photos by Jack Spicer Adams

Tom Baker returns to Loaf with Wholegrain Baking

As you may know, Loaf was founded in 2009 in Tom and Jane Baker’s kitchen, just up the road from our current home. A number of our customers (and at least two of our staff) were taught to bake there and the current Loaf teaching method — our pedagogy, if you like — can be traced to those early classes.

So it’s with great pleasure that we can announce Wholegrain Baking with Tom Baker, a new masterclass running approximately three times a year, and starting on Saturday 18th February.

We thought it would be nice to ask Tom what’s brought him back to Stirchley and to say a bit more about what the class will cover, besides making great bread.

What’s brought you back to Loaf?

Teaching was a big part of my role at Loaf, and the cookery school was the first thing I started. I never intended to start a bakery too, that just kind of happened! Anyway, since launching Rye and Roses Bakery, teaching hasn’t been part of my life, and over the last couple of years I have started to miss it.

I really enjoyed coming back to Stirchley for the Loaf 10-years-on-the-high-street anniversary in September. It was a great opportunity to formulate some plans to come back — to get back to teaching, to share some of my experiences of starting a bakery with a strong focus on wholemeal baking, and on a selfish level, to reconnect with my Stirchley family and visit some of the great places that have sprung up since we left.

Can you tell us more about bringing wheat growing back to the Dyfi valley?

Within a few weeks of moving to Machynlleth, we went to a Welsh-language folk gig in a local café (a very typical experience here!), and were introduced to a few other people who had an interest in doing some small-scale grain growing. We formed a loose collective and started a trial quarter-acre patch of wheat on one of the member’s land, doing everything by vintage tractor (ploughing), by horse (harrowing), or by hand (sowing).

Over the first couple of seasons we got a local vintage machinery club involved and invited some local farmers to the ploughing, harvesting, or threshing days. In 2020 one of them was inspired enough to go back to his farm and plough three acres for wheat. Over the last two seasons he’s provided almost all the wholemeal flour we use at Rye and Roses. The collective still runs some experiments at a small scale but wheat for the bakery is grown on two local farms.

Tom teaching one of the first bread classes at Loaf’s cookery school.
Tom teaching one of the first bread classes at Loaf’s cookery school.

Your new class will touch on some of the broader economic and political issues around bread. What are some of these?

Why is local grain often much more expensive than commodity grain? When white flour is produced, what happens to all the discarded other parts of the grain? With white flour being so cheap, who can possibly benefit? What is the impact on the environment of producing cheap commodity grain?

Food politics is something that has always fascinated me and something that we all subconsciously choose to either address or ignore at least three times a day. Bread is symbolic for much of the politics that surrounds food and by taking a closer look at a relatively short supply chain of seed — to farm, to mill, to baker — we can get to the heart of some of the bigger political issues that effect the food industry.

How does this fit into the ‘Tom Baker story’?

Before I started Loaf I was a nutritionist for the NHS, promoting healthy eating and good nutrition throughout Birmingham. Starting Loaf was in many ways a continuation of this mission for me, and this new course is yet another chapter in that story. I’m excited to be coming back to Stirchley a few times a year, and sharing some of my passions and experiences again.

Thanks Tom!

A field of freshly harvested wheat collected into bundles.
Harvest in Machynlleth.