This is one of my favourite prawn recipes. My Firecracker Prawn 65 is inspired by the the undisputed big daddy of Indian bar snacks – Chicken 65. This crimson-hued, deep fried, hot and tangy chicken dish even has its own (ever-growing) lore woven around its intriguing name. Why 65 you ask? Well, the straightforward stories speak of 65 chillies in the marinade, other tall tales tell us of a marination period of 65 days and some even more imaginative ones say the age of the chickens has to be 65 days – no more, no less! But the real story is a little more staid – Mr.Buhari, the enterprising owner of Chennai’s iconic Buhari restaurant created this cracker of a dish, which appeared on their menu in 1965.
Sitting here listening to the roaring downpour and the powerful percussion of the waves outside, it’s hard to imagine the winter days we left behind just a few weeks ago. That world, life on another continent, seems strangely within touching distance and yet unreal, like a hazy dream. There, when the dark chill hushed the streets, we sought cheer in front of the fireplace, playing board games, catching up on movies and eating hearty, winter-warming meals. At the end of a cold day, we looked forward to the comforting embrace of those family dinners. And what better than classic, old fashioned French onion soup to infuse our tired bodies with gentle warmth, like a mother’s hug.
Finally, a rain-spattered Sunday. The perfect kind of day for hot chicken wings. Clouds like floating African elephants hang low over my windows, threatening to crash down any moment. Think of a water filled plastic bag, ready to burst. Love it. All summer, burning eyes peeled on the dry blue skies, we waited for the faintest sign of moisture. Exhausted by bright, hot sunshine, spirits withering, we endured the blistering days. So waking up to drama in the sky puts a spring in my step and I make plans to watch the rain with something hot and spicy on my plate. Crispy, juicy chicken wings crimson with chilli paste and sticky with sweet caramelised bits, I know will hit the spot.
On a beach somewhere, sand between my toes, salt on my lips and the sea breeze teasing my hair, I’m lulled into a gentle somnolence by the blue rhythm of the waves. A tall, cold glass, a meaty slider and a book keep me company and I don’t know what time it is. Truth is, I’m in the middle of a heatwave, bored by chores, plotting an imaginary escape plan. I do that sometimes, don’t you? When reality bites hard, we all seek a cloud to float away on. But I tire quickly of too many clouds floating away, leaving me behind. The heat, I realise is shutting me down – making me complain about the weather and stifling my spirit. I need to cook something I could eat on that beach. Maybe a slider since I was daydreaming of one.
Fresh corn on my kitchen counter for making easy muffins triggers off memories from years ago. Standing tall over the hedge, silk glinting in the sun, the cobs perched like trapeze artists tantalised my greedy little hands. I remember our tiny but bountiful kitchen garden keeping its secrets in a corner of our main garden, behind the hedge. But it could never hide the towering corn reaching for the sky, as if meaning to borrow some yellow from the sun. Those few maize plants among the eggplants, tomatoes and okra on that small plot couldn’t have been more generous. Armfuls of corn were frequently shared with friends and neighbours.
You can be a breast person or a leg-lover. A few may even be wingmen or women. But you can be sure nobody wants to be a friend to chopped liver. This delicious, nutrient-packed and inexpensive part of a chicken has always been treated like the ugly step sister. I think chicken livers deserve a second chance. It’s time to push aside the pates and bring on the pepper. Spices can make chicken liver sing. Paired with the potent mix of pepper, green chillies and curry leaves, they become delightful savoury morsels, slightly charred and fiery outside and soft and fragrant inside. This quick, South-Indian style stir fry is unbelievably simple and is delicious eaten with plain rice or even toast; but serve it as an appetiser with ice-cold beer and you will proudly declare yourself a liver lover.
Rain on the phone in another continent, leaks into my ear, a hypnotizing drip-drip slowly flooding my brain. Drowned memories float up. Striped paper boats born from ripped pages of school notebooks, plastic raincoats smelling like a wrestler’s underarms, wrinkly toes squeaking in brimming school shoes and earthworms sneaking in through bathroom drains. In a different time, cups of coffee, seaside strolls, hormones and anticipation in the theatre of the monsoon – all drama and moist poetry. Many monsoons later, I still succumb to the scent of monsoon mud vicariously inhaled through phone conversations.
Butternut squash is the king of autumn vegetables and I love it when it’s simply drizzled with olive oil, oven-roasted and seasoned lightly with salt and pepper. This gives it a sweet and caramelly
Auburns, rusts and sepias are seeping into the landscape, slowly and surely painting over the greens. The purple-flowering Pride of India outside my kitchen window has a carpet of fallen leaves at its feet. Like slow tears, it sheds leaves all day and soon its white branches will be quite shorn of their proud plume. As much as I love summer and mentally resign myself to the inevitability of winter, the warm colours of autumn always manage to touch me. Every time I drive past the maples lining the streets, I sit up and admire their deeply blushing beauty, trying to spot the most stunning of them.
“Nice day for a white wedding…” drawled Billy Idol in his black voice on my phone as I wrestled (like I do everyday) with the lunch menu for a warm Saturday afternoon. His words lit the end of a long fuse in my brain, exploding in a star-burst of an idea to make a cold, white soup I’d seen in my newest cookbook – Fresh Spanish by Sergio Vasquez gifted to me by a friend. Simple, classic and elegant, this soup is ‘different’ and stylish enough to wow guests at a celebratory or casual lunch. With no butter, cheese or meat, it’s as healthy as they come; packed with the goodness of almonds, garlic, olive oil and grapes.