By Merle Exit
As the old adage goes, nothing beats a home-cooked meal.
But then, nobody ever said it had to be your home.
Now would-be foodies and gourmands can participate in League of Kitchens’ classes, where an immigrant chef opens her home up to six individuals and walks them through the steps of preparing an ethnic meal.
The group cooks together, eats together and learns about each other cultures together.
Founded by Lisa Gross, the League of Kitchens offers a variety of edible experiences right here in Queens, as well as Brooklyn.
Gross, the daughter of a Korean immigrant and Jewish New Yorker, was raised on her grandmothers’ home-made soups — doenjang-guk, a Korean concoction of cabbage and soy bean paste, and matzoh ball.
The League of Kitchens was born out of Gross’s passion for the city, her love of cooking and her connection to the immigrant experience. Gross found a group of women from diverse backgrounds, who were willing to welcome strangers into their homes and teach them how to cook.
During a recent Greek cooking lesson, Despina Economou opened her East Elmhurst home to Sharon Ruwart and Tom Melchem from Manhattan, Leslie Koch from Brooklyn and Laurie Ferreira from Elmhurst.
League of Kitchens offers two types of workshops.
There are the “Taste Of” ones, which provide an hour and a half of cooking instructions, a small meal and a booklet detailing the recipes of everything served. The longer “Immersion” workshops, consist of 3 1/2 hours of instruction, a full dinner and the recipe book.
Economou’s lesson begins with an orientation session, where the group introduces each other and the chef talks about her life growing up in Chalcis, Greece — the main town on the island of Euboea in the Euripus Strait.
During this time, the class snacks on a salad of chicken with mushrooms and brown rice. It is all washed down with herbal tea.
Economou explains to the class the importance of using fresh ingredients when cooking. She also believes when you cook from scratch, you know what you are eating.
As the class finally gets underway, Economou begins with dessert.
Kourampiedes, Greek almond cookies, take the most time to bake and cool, so they are made first.
Economou makes these traditional Christmas cookies by mixing slivered almonds, butter, sugar, flour, baking power and vanilla extract. Although at this point the class does more watching then doing, everyone gets to help shape the dough before baking.
The student cooks finally get busy when preparation for the spanakopita, spinach pie, begins. Knives get cracking on chopping onions, scallions, leaf spinach and dill. The feta cheese is then broken by hand into small bits.
As the class rolls on, participants spend time in the kitchen or around the dining room table prepping ingredients for the rest of the dishes.
The menu includes Xoriatiki salata, Greek salad, of tomatoes, English cucumber, red onions, feta, Kalamata olives and a dressing of olive oil and red wine vinegar.
Other dishes include keftedes with tzatziki, meatballs with cucumber yogurt sauce, made with minced onions and fresh mint. To prepare the tzatziki, the cucumber needs to be grated, then placed in a cheesecloth to remove the water.
The final entrée, shrimp with tomato and rice, was extremely labor-intensive, so Economou did the dirty work of peeling and deveining the shrimp prior to the start of class.
The booklet prepared for each workshop includes all of the recipes and an in-depth shopping guide for each meal. One of the best parts about these workshops, other than eating the food, is that students are encouraged to bring containers to take home the leftovers.
Besides the Greek class, other Queens workshops offered are Indian in Kew Gardens, Trinidadian in South Ozone Park and Argentinian in Forest Hills. Most of the teachers offer a vegetarian workshop of each class as well.
“Taste of” workshops cost $95. The full “Immersion” ones run about $145.
The League of Kitchens website, www.leagu