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.