Benares on a budget #michelin #indianfood #london

I had read about Benares’ reputation for the best Indian food in London, laying claim to having been the first Indian restaurant in London to receive a Michelin star and it has retained this star in 2019.

Having looked at the a la carte and tasting menu prices which are whopping by Australian dollar prices, we decided the lunchtime thali menu at £33 would be a great way to taste a range of their dishes and fit into our schedule nicely.

So after visiting the special Leonardo Da Vinci Life In Drawings exhibition, commemorating 500 years since his death, at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace we sauntered through Green Park, across Picadilly to Berkeley Square were Benares occupies a prominent position between the Rolls Royce and Bentley showrooms.

Our meal started with a traditional serving of papadums and chutneys and yoghurt. The papads had obviously been made at the restaurant were a tasty, crispy nibble to begin with.

The thali came with naan and turmeric spiced rice, a crunchy quinoa salad, a fabulous piece of lightly spiced sea bass, a delicious lamb Rohan Josh, a smokey Chicken tikka Masala, very interesting spinach and baby corn curry, dhal and yoghurt. It was all more than enough for one very hungry person and certainly too much for me.

The Thali was followed by a serving of Indian steamed yoghurt pudding with rhubarb and jelly and a sprinkling of nuts, followed by a special birthday platter of petit fours.

A great way to sample the renowned Indian food from Benares on a budget.

Indian Green Pork Curry with beans

This curry is inspired by Lamb and Spinach – another “green” curry that is a family favourite.

The mint and coriander meld with the pork and other spices to create a deliciously fragrant curry. I add green beans for additional “greenness” and serve sprinkled with shards of fresh ginger for added zing, with basmati rice and sweet mango chutney.

Prep time: 20 minutes Cooking time: 1 hr 10 minutes
Ingredients:

500g pork shoulder diced (with or without bones)
1/2 cup white vinegar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion diced
5 cloves garlic and equal amount ginger
2 fresh red chillies
Handful of curry leaves
2 sticks cinnamon (preferably bark)
3 cardamom pods
3 dried red chillies
1 teaspoon panch phoran (Indian Five Spice Mix)
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cummin powder
1 bunch coriander
1 bunch mint
1 teaspoon salt
2-3 cups water or chicken stock
Extra ginger cut into fine strips and coriander leaves for garnish

Method:
1. Place pork in a bowl and pour over vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon salt, set aside while you prepare other ingredients.

2. Crush ginger, garlic and fresh red chillies with 1/2 teaspoon salt in a mortar and pestle.

2. Chop coriander and mint together – I use a Mezzaluna – then add the ginger, garlic and chilli paste and continue to chop together to meld herbs with the paste.

3. Heat vegetable oil in heavy bottom casserole pot, add cinnamon sticks, curry leaves, panch porum, dried red chillies and cardamom and heat until fragrant taking care not to burn the spices.

4. Add onions and cook until soft and translucent.

5. Add cummin, turmeric to onion mixture and stir through cooking out spices for a minute.

6. Add pork, coriander and mint paste to the onion mixture and cook until pork is “sealed” stirring to avoid pork mixture sticking to bottom of the pot.

7. Add enough water or stock to cover pork and bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer and cover the pot with a lid. Cook slowly for an hour, until the pork is tender, adding more water from time to time if the mixture starts to stick.

8. Add green beans and cook for 10 minutes.

9. Check consistency to reduce liquid if required. Taste to see if extra salt required.

9. Garnish with shard of ginger and additional fresh coriander. Serve with basmati rice and sweet mango chutney and Indian pickles.

Vegetarian Rice Pilau

This is a quick and easy rice dish that is delicious just with Tarka Dhal, raita and pickles, or as a side dish served with Indian Hunter’s style roast lamb or curries. It is even better the day after and can be eaten cold like a rice salad.

Prep time: 20 minutes Cooking time:10-15 minutes
Ingredients:

1 cup basmati rice
4-5 cups water
1 brown onion finely diced
1 carrot diced
1 cup cooked corn kernels (canned is fine)
1 cup of frozen peas
1 tspoon cummin seeds
Handful of curry leaves (optional)
1 clove garlic and piece of ginger crushed to a paste
1/2 tspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cummin powder
Handful of coriander leaves chopped for garnish (optional)
2 teaspoons butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons salt

Method

1. Bring 4.5 cups of water to a boil, add 1 tspoon of turmeric, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 cup of basmati rice. Par-boil rice for 10 minutes until rice is half-cooked, strain and set aside.

2. Heat oil in non-stick pot that has a lid, add cummin seeds and curry leaves and heat until fragrant, add onions and cook over low heat until transparent.

3. Add ginger and garlic, chilli powder and cummin powder and mix through onion mixture until heated through.

4. Add carrots and half a cup of water and 1/2 teaspoon salt, simmer for 3-4 minutes until carrots soften, add corn and frozen peas and simmer for a minute or so, then add rice and another half a cup of water. Mix rice and vegetables, then cover with lid and simmer for 4-5 minutes, checking once or twice to ensure rice isn’t sticking or burning, add a small amount of water if necessary. Check that rice is just cooked and turn off heat.

5. Mix through 2 teaspoons of butter, check to see if additional salt is needed, cover with lid and allow to steam in own heat for 10 minutes or so before serving. Rice should be fluffy and full of flavour. Garnish with coriander and serve.

Ps. You can add other diced vegetables of your choice when cooking the carrots. potatoes and green beans work well, but might need slightly longer to cook, before adding corn and peas.

Black Pepper Prawn Curry

The sharpness of  black pepper, bite of the green chill and sweetness of the prawns are all melded together in buttery goodness, along with ginger, garlic, curry leaves in this simple curry.

Take the time to make the prawn stock as it really adds another dimension nod depth of flavour to the dish.

Prep time: 30 minutes (incl making stock) Cooking time: 25 minutes

Ingredients:
12-16 King prawns
2 cups water
2 cloves garlic, 2-3 small pieces ginger for stock
1 onion halved, then thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic and equal ginger, pounded to a paste
1.5 tablespoons ground black pepper (best freshly ground in spice grinder)
handful of curry leaves (fresh best but dried ok)
2-3 small green chillies sliced lengthwise – can omit, or deseed
100g butter
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt
Chopped  coriander and slithers of ginger for garnish

Method
1. Peel and devein prawns, leave tails on, reserve shells for stock.

2. Place prawn shells in pot and cover with water, add ginger and garlic, bring to a boil then simmer gently for 15-20 minutes until water is reduced to about 3/4 of a cup. Drain and reserve stock.

3. In the meantime, slice onions, grind pepper and pound ginger and garlic for paste.

4. Heat vegetable oil over medium heat, then add curry leaves and fry gently until fragrant, then add onions and cook slowly until transparent.

5. Add pepper and butter and mix through onion until butter is melted.

6. Add green chillies and then prawns. Stir to coat prawns in opinion mixture, then add 3/4 cup of prawn stock. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until prawns are cooked through and stock is reduced and a thickish sauce is created.

7 Taste to see if extra salt is needed.

8 Garnish with coriander and slithers of ginger. Serve with fluffy basmati rice.

Jackfruit, carrot and green bean curry

Growing up in South Africa we would often pass fruit sellers on the road selling these giant fruit. Although they look similar to stinky durian, jackfruit are not smelly and their fleshy texture is a great addition to vegetable curries. Full of great vitamins including Compex B vitamins and Vitamin A, jackfruit is great for your fibre intake. The humble jackfruit is becoming increasingly popular as a meat substitute for vegans and vegetarians, with it’s fibrous texture being used to replicate pulled pork and other meats. It is used in many Asian countries including  in Indonesian soups and curries – which I have enjoyed in Bali. Recently I discovered frozen green  jackfruit in an Indian grocery store in Sydney and made up this curry which was delicious! So, seek out frozen or canned green jackfruit in brine and try  it out!

Prep time: 15 minutes Cooking time: 25 minutes
Ingredients:

150g frozen jackfruit pieces
1 small carrot diced
100g Green Beans cut into pieces
1 onion finely diced
2 teaspoons ginger and garlic paste
3 green chillies sliced in half
1 teaspoon cummin seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
Handful of curry leaves
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon cummin powder
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
3 tablespoons vegetable or coconut oil
2/3 can coconut cream (about 300 mls)
Salt to taste
Coriander chopped for garnish

Method
1. Heat oil over medium heat in a saucepan or pot that has a lid. Add cinnamon stick, cumin seeds and curry leaves and heat until fragrant.
2. Add onions and mustard seeds and cook until onion is soft and transparent.
3. Add ginger and garlic and cook through for 1-2 minutes.
4. Add turmeric, cummin and chilli powder and mix through ensuring spices don’t burn.

5. Add carrots and jackfruit pieces and coat in spice and onion mixture.
6. Add coconut milk and simmer gently for 15 minutes, adding water if curry is drying out too much.
7. Add green beans and simmer for a further 5 minutes.
8. Taste for seasoning and add salt to taste.
9. Garnish with coriander and serve with basmati rice.

 

South African Indian Boneless Chicken Curry

A staple in any South African Indian family, my version includes a dollop of yoghurt towards the end which makes for a creamier sauce. This is perfect served just with a salad and rice for a very tasty but healthy meal.

Prep time: 10 minutes Cooking time: 25 minutes
Ingredients:

4 medium size chicken thigh fillets, any fat removed and cut into bite-size pieces
2 tspoons ginger and garlic paste (4 cloves garlic and equal amount ginger pounded into a paste)
1 brown onion, cut in half, then finely sliced
1 tomato cut into chunks
2 pieces cinnamon bark or 1 quill
Handful of fresh curry leaves
1 teaspoon cummin seeds
3 cardamom pods
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon cummin powder
1 tesapoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons Vegetable oil
1 tablespoon plain yoghurt
1.5 cup water or chicken stock
Handful of fresh coriander leaves, chopped for garnish

Method:

1. Heat oil in heavy based pot over medium heat, and then add cinnamon bark, cummin seeds, cardamom pods and curry leaves.

2. When spices are fragrant, add onions and cook slowly until translucent.

3. Add ginger and garlic paste and mix through.

4. Add cummin powder, turmeric powder and chilli powder. Stir until fragrant but be careful not to burn.

5. Add chicken pieces stirring until chicken is sealed and beginning to change colour.

6. Add salt, tomato pieces and water to just cover chicken.  Simmer for 20 minutes or until chicken is cooked and liquid is reduced.

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7. Add a dollop of yoghurt and mix through. Bring back to simmer for 5 minutes.

8. Taste to see if extra salt needed. Garnish with coriander leaves.

Serves 2 as main dish

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