The Chef's Cookbook: Poorni Peth, Banana Leaf Indian Cuisine
Poorni Peth has been whipping up delicious Indian cuisine since her childhood days in India. Growing up, she was surrounded by family and friends who introduced her to the authentic fare from her home country.
"From festivals to wedding celebrations, huge feasts were common, and it was here that I fell in love with the sights, smells and celebration of food," she said. "After graduating in commerce, my heart followed the passion of becoming a chef."
After moving to the U.S., Peth and her husband Shan opened up the beloved Banana Leaf food truck in 2011. Peth pulled from her knowledge of authentic Indian cuisine and experiences from trips to countries like Singapore and Malaysia to build the menu. Since then, Banana Leaf has expanded to a brick-and-mortar restaurant housed in the Simmons Building in downtown Little Rock.
"[The] greatest accomplishment in my career was growing from running a food truck to starting an Indian restaurant in 2015," she said. "Above all, I was able to create some unique and healthy dishes, which were appreciated by many of our customers."
Peth’s day is busy from the minute she enters the restaurant. Once she arrives around 10 a.m., she slips into her chef’s coat and checks the kitchen inventory, makes lists and heads out to purchase fresh vegetables, meat and spices.
"I personally select all the vegetables," she said. "They are an important part of the dish and can really change the way a dish tastes. Creating and tasting happens in a cycle so that each dish is perfect."
Once the lunch crowd arrives beginning at 11 a.m., Peth’s attention is devoted to serving customers. Peth checks plates and garnishes on every order before it goes out. After the lunch service is over, Peth has her own lunch, then it’s time to plan tomorrow’s menu and do it all again.
Guilty-pleasure food: French fries and a chocolate milkshake
Favorite celebrity chef: Sanjay Thumma
Go-to meal when you're short on time: Avocado/salsa sandwich
Secret recipe you’ll never share: Chicken biryani
Favorite vegetable: Beets
Go-to kitchen gadget: Electric knife sharpener
Coffee or tea? Tea
Favorite meal of the day: Dinner
HEALTHY CHICKEN BOWL
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 2 tsp. garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. ginger root, minced
- 2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1 tsp. turmeric powder
- 1 tsp. chili or paprika powder
- 1 tsp. coriander seeds powder
- 1 tsp. garam masala
- 3 tsp. canola or olive oil
- 2 limes, juiced
- 1 red and 1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
Roasted Onion and Tomato Chutney
- 2 cloves fresh garlic
- 1 onion, roughly sliced
- 2 tomatoes, roughly sliced
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/2 cup black beans
- 1/2 cup corn
- 1/4 cup shredded cheese of your choice
- 1 lime, sliced into wedges
- 1 tsp. cilantro, finely chopped, to garnish
- Add all ingredients except the chicken and peppers into a bowl and mix well.
- Slit the chicken breasts in few places (so that the marinade gets into the meat), and place the chicken breasts in a large Ziplock bag. Pour the marinade over the chicken and let the chicken marinate overnight.
- Cover a tray with parchment paper, place chicken on the tray and pour the remaining marinade on top.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. Grill the chicken approximately 8-10 minutes per side; do not overcook. Check chicken with fork for tenderness.
- Place peppers over the chicken during last five minutes of previous step.
- Let chicken cool, slice and set aside.
- For the chutney, caramelize onions, garlic and tomatoes until brown. Add salt and blend for at least 30 seconds.
- Serve the chicken and grilled peppers over brown rice. Add tomato chutney over the chicken.
- Add black beans, corn, shredded cheese and lime wedges on the side, and garnish with chopped cilantro.