Coconut, dried fruits, nuts and rich spices are what make exotic Shahi cuisine fit for royalty – and for you and I.

 
Dishes created in imperial kitchens during the rise of the Mughal Empire (in the heart of northern India and on the now India-Pakistan border) echoed the deeply aromatic flavours of Persia.
 
The Mughals, known for their extravagance and majestic style, were no different to their eating habits. Rich sauces made with ground nuts, kebabs, koftas and kormas are some of the most delicious and popular bites to come from this era.
 
My recipe for Shahi Paneer Stuffed Okra is not a traditional Mughlai dish – it’s entirely my own creation cooked up during a 2am food fantasy. I’ve taken my inspiration from the delicious Shahi cuisine I love to indulge in a little too often.
 
By now you must know how I love contrasting flavours and textures, and if you do too, you need to try this. Juicy okra stuffed with homemade paneer which has been spiked with golden sultanas and heady fennel.
 
The individual okra are then drenched in a sweet and tangy sauce laced with cardamom and made creamy with ground cashews. This aromatic sauce is similar to the kind used in my recipe for Melt in the Mouth Paneer Kofta (which, to be completely honest, should be a part of the Mughlai banquet you’re hosting and inviting me to).
 
This is going to be so delicious.
 
 
Shahi Paneer Stuffed Okra
(serves 4)
 
Ingredients
 
500g whole okra, washed and dried (do not cut your okra before washing because they will become sticky and inedible)
 
For the stuffing:
 
350g fresh homemade paneer, crumbled (made from around 2 pints whole milk)
30g sultanas, soaked in hot water and drained
3 tbsp desiccated coconut
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 ½ tsp finely ground fennel seeds
-1 ½ tsp salt (or to taste)
1 very small pinch bicarbonate of soda (to help cook the okra and to keep the paneer light)
 
For the sauce:
 
60g cashew nuts, boiled until tender then ground to a puree
2 tbsp ghee or oil
1 tsp black cumin seeds (shahi jeera) or regular cumin seeds
4 large red chillies, minced (or to taste)
5 tbsp concentrated tomato puree
100g creamed coconut, grated
200ml milk
1 tbsp honey
½ tsp cardamom powder
Salt to taste
 
To garnish:
 
White poppy seeds
Desiccated coconut
 
White poppy seeds (khus khus)
 
Method
 
1. Cut the stems from the washed and dried okra, then split them lengthways, not cutting all the way through. Take your time, you don’t want the okra to fall apart. Set aside.
 
2. In a bowl, crumble together all the ingredients for the stuffing. Use your fingertips to lightly rub the mixture to make sure it’s well combined.
 
 
3. Stuff the okra with the paneer mixture and place on a tray. Enlist the help of a slave if need be.
4. Once all the okra are stuffed, you will need to microwave them in batches of three. Place a third of them in a microwavable dish and cook on high power for 6 minutes. Do not cover. Repeat another two times for the remaining okra. Set aside.
 
5. In a large non-stick pan, heat the oil or ghee and add the cumin seeds, chillies, cashew puree and tomato puree. Cook on a medium heat for 5-6 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and cook for a further 5 minutes. Place the mixture in a blender and pulse until smooth. If you’re particularly anal, sieve the sauce for an extra silky finish. Return to the pan to heat through until just bubbling.
 
6. To assemble the dish, pile the okra into a large dish, spoon over the sauce and allow to warm through in a moderate/low oven for 5-10 minutes. Be careful, you don’t want to overcook the okra. Serve sprinkled with poppy seeds and desiccated coconut.
 
 
I served my stuffed okra with aromatic turmeric basmati rice, but you can create your own Mughlai feast (the one I already decided you’re having) by pairing it with Peshwari naan and Shahi pulao, or apricot biryani (recipe coming soon). A bowl of creamy doodh vari sev (sweet noodles in cream) would be the perfect way to round off your royal banquet – no pressure or anything.

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