We Grill – Minal Patel
Minal Patel is the head chef at Prashad, an award-winning, family-run vegetarian Indian restaurant near Leeds in Drighlington. It is the only Indian restaurant in Yorkshire to have a 2 AA Rosette award. Minal has been head chef for 10 years working closely with her husband Bobby who runs front of house. Together the pair were finalists on Gordon Ramsay’s Best Restaurant TV series in 2010 and have published two cookery books – Prashad at Home and Indian Vegetarian Cooking.
Tell us about Prashad…
Prashad was started more than 22 years ago by my parents-in-law, Kaushy and Mohan Patel. It was originally a small deli, converted from a launderette, and has miraculously grown into an award-winning restaurant; now famous for its dhosas! It was a real labour of love to get the business off the ground and it’s amazing now to think about how far Prashad has come.
Where does the inspiration for the dishes come from?
Bobby’s family and mine were brought up as vegetarians in Gujarat on the west coast of India. The traditional recipes we use are over 100 years old. But although they are the foundations of our dishes, I also get inspiration from so many sources here in the UK- even from a trip to the suppliers!
Where and how did your love of cooking first develop?
Food is such an important part of our culture; a lot of love and time goes into preparing our meals and it’s a way that the family binds together – as every generation gets involved! Growing up in Gujarat, I watched my mother cooking with awe – it was an art within itself – and she was a huge influence on my cooking, which I started doing when I was just 12 years old. As I grew older, I began to experiment with dishes myself, and when I came to the UK when I was 22 it was an exciting experience to taste new ingredients, and see how the flavours combined to create new dishes.
What’s the best selling dish on the menu?
Our Lasan Paneer Tikka starter is one of our most popular dishes at the moment. Made with paneer cheese, red and green peppers and onion it has a lovely combination of flavours and is wonderfully aromatic. We chargrill it on skewers and serve it with a small green salad or our special Kakadhi Raitu (a special cucumber and yoghurt dip). For main, it has to be our Vegetable Kofta; a real Indian staple dish, otherwise known as vegetable patties in coriander, garlic and tomato sauce.
What is a good summer dish?
Chaat – it’s our most famous dish and an original from the deli days. Chaat is potato, yoghurt, chickpeas, chapatti flour, vegetable samosas and onion – but it’s the spices that make all the difference!. It has a real sweet-sour-savoury taste, with a bit of crunch.
How would you encourage someone to try a vegetarian curry?
I’d tell them that vegetarianism is good for the planet, your body and for animals – plus, it tastes terrific too!
Do you use local products?
Absolutely. We have a real mix of suppliers, from small artisan growers through to allotment holders for certain edible flowers and seasonal vegetables. Local produce is important to us in lots of ways, not just from a taste perspective, but also for reducing food miles and supporting the local economy. Naturally our spices come from further afield, but we still roast them in our ovens and then have them ground at a mill in Leicester.
How important is it to use seasonal ingredients?
It is the key to a superb tasting dish. You can really taste the difference, especially if it is also sourced locally. Already this year we’ve been including rhubarb in our recipes, and we’re now into fresh peas. Our daily vegetable delivery, especially in the middle of the growing season, is one of my morning highlights!
What are your favourite spices?
I love garam masala – we actually do our own mix by roasting 18 spices ourselves for about 50 hours which we then send to Leicester for it to be ground. We’ve been using the same mill for years, and they know just how we like it grinding. It’s such a staple but important ingredient for many of our dishes.
What’s the secret to a good curry?
Made with love – something I truly believe shows in the dish! If I don’t feel like cooking it, or don’t have a love for the dish, then I won’t cook it. Fresh seasonal produce is key for taste, and the spices have got to be perfectly prepared. Plus, always taste your dish no matter how many times you are used to making it because everyday is different.
What’s the best thing about Prashad?
The people! We get a variety of customers and there is a real warmth from each and every one. I love receiving their reaction to our food and then on repeat visits hearing about the recipes they have cooked at home from one of our cookery books. I also couldn’t live without my kitchen and front of house team who are all terrific. We have a real team spirit, which makes coming to work a real pleasure.
What are your future plans?
I want to keep developing our dishes, introducing new flavours and ingredients, while staying true to our Gujarati heritage. It’s still a journey of discovery; something I find very exciting. I also have a few thoughts on awards for the future… but I might not tell you, just in case they don’t happen!
How busy is your takeaway option?
Our collection service is really busy, especially at the weekend. We’ve certainly seen an increase though during the week. I think people lead busy lives, so if they want something different, this way they can collect dinner on their way home. The restaurant is certainly the busiest for us. The two sides of our business work really well together.