ATUL Kochhar is turning his attention from Michelin-starred meals to making curries in minutes. He tells Taste why he learned to cook to get out of cleaning and how his son inspires his recipes…
Atul Kochhar is reminiscing about the day he became the first Indian chef to be awarded the gold standard for culinary expertise – a Michelin star – as head chef at Tamarind in 2001.
“I remember as if it were yesterday… A journalist from the Evening Standard called and said, ‘You have a Michelin star’ and I said, ‘No, no I don’t have a Michelin star’ and hung the phone up. Then he called back and said, ‘No, I was trying to tell you that you’ve got a Michelin star, you’ve been awarded one’ and I started shaking, I couldn’t believe it.”
Six years later, Kochhar, 47, was awarded a second Michelin star for his own restaurant, Benares.
Despite all the acclaim, however, he’s now turning his attention to slightly more simple fare in his latest book, 30 Minute Curries.
“Everybody expects me to write complicated books and I won’t deny it, I have done that. I wrote the Benares cookbook and each recipe has got six recipes in it. But I’m also a father and when I cook at home, I’m not cooking Michelin-starred food, I’m cooking everyday food.
“I’ve learnt shortcuts to put food on the table really quickly – there’s only so much time kids can hold out – so this book is to celebrate that. And also, [people say] Indian food takes forever, but it doesn’t. Anybody can do it, so I’m sharing my techniques of how you can do it very quickly. Every recipe actually comes under 25 minutes.”
His book is dedicated to his son (“my best friend”), 11-year-old Arjun, who inspires Kochhar to be inventive with food.
“Arjun has strong likes and dislikes… One of his pet hates is broccoli, so I keep making it in different ways. Last weekend, I made chickpea burgers, so I put broccoli in there and told him if he can find it then he can get some Lego. He couldn’t trace it.
“He believes that certain flavours work and certain ones don’t, so for example, I think carrot and ginger works and he says, ‘Little people don’t like ginger, it’s too stringy, too strong, there have to be better ways to use it’. So, he said, ‘Why don’t you make a paste of ginger?’ You get the flavour, but you don’t get the texture. It was interesting to hear this little person talk about food.”
His daughter, Amisha, 13, is very different: “She has an incredible palate and she’s quite a good critic as well. When they both eat at Benares, my maitre d’ never asks them how the meal was, because he knows he’ll get detailed feedback.”
Kochhar was born in Jamshedpur, India, and learned to cook from both his parents.
“We were a slightly unusual Indian family – boys are normally made to look like gods and they become couch potatoes, but not in my house. My mum said from day one, everybody lives in the house so everybody has to [help]. I paired up with my oldest sister, we always cooked together, and my other sister and younger brother were on cleaning duty. I hated it when I had to clean up, I still hate it. So that taught me how to cook.”
His favourite childhood food was a type of dumpling called Litti, which were stuffed with lentils and thrown in the hot ashes of a fire for a few hours: “You dust the ash away and then dip them in a nice potato curry. I absolutely loved it.”
He’s thrilled that Brits have long had a love affair with Indian food that is growing all the time: “I look at someone like Tom Kerridge, a quintessentially British chef, but he uses more coriander powder and cumin powder than I would ever use in my food. It’s heart-warming, it’s good to see that it’s opening up. I love it.”
Try out some of Kochhar’s quick curries…
GOAN SPINACH AND LENTILS (Goa Daal Palak)
(Serves 4 as a sharing dish)
50g toor lentils (toor daal)
1 green chilli
1 small onion
2tbsp vegetable oil
1tsp black mustard seeds
200g baby spinach leaves
3tbsp frozen grated coconut, plus extra to garnish
Bring a large covered saucepan of water to the boil and assemble all the ingredients and other equipment before you begin. You also need a sieve or colander, and a wok or a large saute or frying pan.
Rinse the lentils in the sieve with cold running water, then add them to the boiling water. Return the water to the boil and leave the lentils uncovered for 20 minutes, or until they are tender, but still holding their shape.
Remove the stalk from the green chilli, if necessary, then slice the chilli lengthways. Peel, quarter and thinly slice the onion. Halve and slice the tomato.
Heat the vegetable oil over a medium-high heat in the wok. Add the mustard seeds and stir until they pop. Add the green chilli, onion and tomato with a pinch of salt, and continue stirring until the onion is softened, but not coloured. Turn the heat down and leave, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until the lentils have finished cooking.
Rinse the spinach and shake off the excess water.
Drain the lentils, then stir them into the saute pan. Add the spinach and frozen coconut, season with salt and stir-fry until the spinach wilts. When you take the coconut out of the freezer, set aside a little extra for the garnish.
Adjust the seasoning with salt, if necessary. Sprinkle with a little extra coconut just before serving – it will thaw in the residual heat.
PRAWN AND COCONUT CURRY (Narkol Chengri Moli)
500g raw peeled tiger prawns
3 green cardamom pods
Fresh coriander leaves
1tbsp ghee or vegetable oil
1 dried bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
1tbsp onion paste (see below)
1/2tsp red chilli powder, or to taste
1/4tsp ground turmeric
250ml coconut milk
Assemble all the ingredients and equipment before you begin. You need a large saute or frying pan with a lid.
Remove and discard the prawn tails, if necessary. Lightly crush the cardamom pods to loosen the seeds. Rinse and chop enough coriander leaves to make about one tablespoon.
Melt the ghee over a medium-high heat in the pan. Add the cardamom pods and the seeds, the cloves, bay leaf and cinnamon stick, and stir until the spices crackle. Add the onion paste and stir it into the oil for 30 seconds. Add the chilli powder and turmeric and stir for 30 seconds to cook the spices. Watch closely so they do not burn.
Reduce the heat to medium and add the prawns and coconut milk. Season with salt and continue stirring for 30 seconds, or until the prawns turn pink on both sides. Take care not to over-cook the prawns.
Adjust the seasoning with salt, if necessary, and stir in the chopped coriander just before serving.
LAMB WITH CARDAMOM AND YOGURT (Lamb Dhaniwal Korma)
600g boneless lamb rump or neck fillet
2.5cm piece of fresh ginger
6 green cardamom pods
3 garlic cloves
1 1/2tbsp vegetable oil
3tbsp onion paste (see below)
1tbsp ground coriander
1tsp red chilli powder, or to taste
1tsp garam masala
1tsp ground turmeric
1/4tsp ground black pepper
250ml water, plus an extra 2tsp
Small pinch of saffron threads
2tbsp Greek-style yogurt
Fresh coriander leaves
1/2 a lemon
Assemble all the ingredients and equipment before you begin. You need a large heavy-based, non-stick saucepan with a lid.
Cut the lamb into bite-sized pieces, trimming and discarding any fat. Peel and finely chop the ginger. Lightly crush the cardamom pods to release the seeds. Peel and thinly slice the garlic cloves.
Heat the vegetable oil over a medium-high heat in the saucepan. Add the cardamom pods with the seeds and the cloves and stir until they crackle. Add the ginger and garlic and stir to flavour the oil, making sure the garlic doesn’t over-brown.
Add the onion paste and continue stirring for 30 seconds until it begins to ‘loosen’, again watching closely so it doesn’t burn. Turn the heat to very low and stir in the ground coriander, chilli powder, garam masala, turmeric and black pepper, and continue stirring for 30 seconds-one minute to cook the spices.
Stir in the lamb, increase the heat to high and stir until it is browned on all sides and coated in the spice mixture. It’s important to watch closely so nothing burns at this point. Stir in 250ml of the water and the saffron. Season with salt and bring to the boil, stirring.
Reduce the heat, cover the pan and leave the lamb to simmer for 10 minutes, or until it is tender. Top up the liquid, if necessary, so the lamb is always submerged.
Meanwhile, mix the yogurt and remaining two teaspoons of water together. Rinse and finely chop enough coriander leaves to make about two tablespoons. Squeeze two teaspoons of lemon juice.
When the lamb is tender, stir the yogurt mixture into the pan. Add the lemon juice and adjust the seasoning with salt, if necessary, then stir in the chopped coriander to serve.
(Makes about 600g)
2tbsp vegetable oil
500g onions, coarsely chopped
100g (about 6tbsp) ginger-garlic paste (see below)
1tsp sea salt
Heat the oil over a medium-high heat in a large saute or frying pan that is ideally non-stick. Add the onions, the ginger-garlic paste and salt, and stir frequently for 25 minutes, or until the onions are browned. Watch carefully towards the end of cooking so the mixture doesn’t catch and burn, which can happen very quickly. If they do burn, you’ll have to throw them out and start over – there isn’t any way to rescue them.
Transfer the mixture to a food processor while it’s still warm and blitz to a fine paste. Leave to cool completely, then store in a covered container in the fridge for up to four weeks, or freeze for up to three months.
(Makes about 225g)
2 large garlic heads, 75g each, separated into cloves and peeled
150g fresh ginger, peeled weight, coarsely chopped
Put the garlic cloves, ginger and water in a food processor fitted with a chopping blade and blitz, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary, until a paste forms.
This keeps in a covered container in the fridge for up to four weeks, or can be frozen for up to three months.
:: 30 Minute Curries by Atul Kochhar is published in hardback by Absolute Press, priced £26. Available on Thursday, May 18
Source : BournemouthEcho