A visit to Durban inevitably involves a conversation about where to find the best curry. There are a couple of hidden gems, but in many cases the curries are produced by rotating staff who follow the instructions of a front-of-house boss.

Shakila Bisner
Shakila Bisner

It is a rare treat — a Golden Treat, in this case — to find the actual chef and creator stirring the pots. Shakilla Bisnath's kitchen at the Durban Hindu Temple is a realm of dishes worthy of the deities.

This historic landmark is one of three temples built for 1860 Indian indentured labourers, but is the only one still standing. Given the location, the culinary focus at Golden Treat is strictly vegetarian — but, Shakilla whispers, she makes the occasional meat dish through her off-site catering facility for big events.

What are your earliest memories of food? I grew up on a farm on the North Coast of KwaZulu-Natal. When I was a little girl, I loved helping my mum cook and watching her in the kitchen. She taught me how to make different types of curries, roti and breads. When I was mature enough, my dad arranged my marriage and when I got married, I didn't know how to make a good biryani, as it is not from our culture. My mum-in-law taught me how to make a good mutton one. I learned that the secret is in using a good butter ghee.

What did you make for us? Bhindi (aka okra or ladyfingers) with onion, cumin and mustard seeds, dried chilli and curry leaves, and butter paneer made with milk solids, fresh cream, pureed tomato, lots of onion and cinnamon sticks. The base is made into a chutney. We fry out the milk solids, put it into the chutney and garnish with coriander. The rice is a sela basmati rice, which is boiled with clarified butter and salt and we add almonds, curry leaves and onions and garnish with fresh mint. I like to serve it with four pickles: a bitter gourd; green chilli pickle in a tamarind sauce; a vegetable pickle with sour plum, carrots, cabbage and fig, and a lime pickle soaked in vinegar. Ladyfingers are so tasty and they're also good for you, because they contain vitamins A, C and K, calcium, iron, zinc, copper and dietary fibre.


BHINDI
Serves 6

INGREDIENTS:
2l water
5 tbsp oil
1 tbsp salt
2 cups basmati rice
1kg okra
1 large onion, chopped
4 dry chillies
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp mustard seeds

METHOD:
Boil water with two tablespoons of oil and salt. Wash rice and add to the rapid boiling water. Boil for about 15 minutes, then strain.

Wash and cut okra in ½cm pieces. Dry on a paper towel for an hour.

Heat the rest of the oil, add onion and chilli, then add cumin seeds and mustard seeds. Once the mixture has turned glassy, add okra and fry for 15 minutes. Add salt to taste.

Serve bhindi with rice.

Bhindi
Bhindi
Image: Naashon Zalk

BUTTER PANEER
Serves 5

INGREDIENTS:
20 tbsp ghee
500g paneer or homemade
Ricotta cheese, cubed
1 large onion, chopped
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp mustard seeds
2 cinnamon sticks
500g tomatoes, liquidised
1 tbsp mixed masala powder
1 tbsp turmeric
250g fresh cream
Fresh coriander, for garnish

METHOD:
Heat 16 tablespoons of ghee in a pan on medium heat and fry paneer until a light golden colour. Then, heat four tablespoons of ghee in a pot and add onion, cumin and mustard seeds and cinnamon, then add tomatoes with mixed masala and turmeric to make a chutney. Allow to simmer on medium heat for 15 minutes. Add fresh cream and fried paneer and garnish with coriander.

Butter Paneer
Butter Paneer
Image: Naashon Zalk

This is an extract from ‘Cooked in South Africa', an initiative of Wish Upon A Star, a non-profit fund-raising charity (Reg. No 2013/038478/08). Cooked in South Africa is about memories and journeys around food and will be on sale in leading bookstores from mid-November with all profits from the sales going to children living with disability. Photographs courtesy of Naashon Zalk and Cooked in South Africa.

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