It was my birthday last weekend and a few days before the day of, I found out there a there was a reservation in my name at the chefs table at Atul Kochhar’s Michelin Star Benares Restaurant! I was so excited…what a birthday treat. I had been wanting to go to Benares for the longest time, especially after interviewing Atul himself. The concept of contemporary Indian cuisine has always intrigued me and I was hoping for an inspiring visit. Upon arrival at lunch time, we were seated and served champagne in the beautiful bar area. The interior of the restaurant is modern and stylish; cream walls, dark wood, warm lighting and features Indian inspired furnishings.
It was not long before the assistant manager of the restaurant, Francis, greeted us and showed us to the chef’s table located inside a private dining room featuring glass walls so we could look into the Benares kitchen and watch the chefs as they prepared our meal. I was trying to remain quite calm and cool as I walked in but I was so excited underneath!
In this exclusive interview, I speak with Atul Kochhar-one of the few Chefs in the world to be awarded two Michelin Stars. He was the first Indian chef to receive a Michelin star during his time at Tamarind and then went on to receive his second after opening his own restaurant, “Benares” which showcases a modern Indian menu. He is also author of several highly successful Indian cookery books which have gained him a high profile reputation. In this interview, we talk about how Atul came to make a successful career in Indian food and the various dimensions of the cuisine.
Okra is an interesting vegetable! It’s usually known as a veggy that people either love or loathe. I personally love it but for those who aren’t too okra happy this recipe is known to have converted those very people into okra lovers. The spiced paneer stuffing compliments the okra and really enhances the overall taste. My Mum and I recently made this dish at a recent supper club evening. I was initially a little apprehensive as I wasn’t sure how it would be received by our guests but everyone enjoyed it and it was actually the first dish to finish! Check out the recipe and let me know how it goes for you..
Serves approx 3-4
What we need:
20 medium sized okra, washed and dried
90g fresh crumbled paneer
1 1/2 tsp coriander powder
1 1/2 tsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp amchur
3/4 tsp garam masala
3/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
Handful fresh, chopped coriander
For the masala:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp kalonji (onions seeds)
1 tsp mustard seeds
Pinch of asafoetida
1 onion, diced
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp salt (or according to taste)
1 big tomato cut into 8 pieces
Handful fresh, chopped coriander
How we do:
-To make the 90g of home made fresh crumbled paneer please see here
-In a bowl mix the paneer with the coriander powder, paprika, garam masala, amchur, salt and fresh coriander.
-Cut the tops of the okra off and carefully make a verticle slit in each okra.
-Stuff each okra with the paneer masala and place on a plate. (You may have to do this in two batches). Drizzle the oil evenly over the okra and cover plate with cling film. Cook each batch in the microwave for 3 minutes.
-In a non stick pan, heat the oil. Add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds, asafoetida and kalonji. When they begin to sizzle, add the chopped onion.
-Cook until slightly golden and add the turmeric powder and salt.
-Now add the stuffed okra and gently stir together for a few minutes.
-Add the fresh tomatoes and gently mix well.
-Sprinkle on the fresh coriander.