Four days of incessant rain have brought with them a deluge of memories of monsoons back home in India. Pewter clouds, fecund greenery, cool caressing breezes, drenched afternoons reading romances, spindly-legged white cranes, ageing, moss-clad walls, swarthy silhouettes stealing kisses by the seaside and of course steaming cups of fragrant chai with pakoras ( fritters made with onions or a variety of vegetables dipped in a thick, spicy batter of chickpea flour). Having lived by the sea for most of my married life, monsoons by the coast hold a precious place in my heart. Somehow, despite the water logging, resulting traffic jams, wet laundry and omnipresent moisture in every surrounding surface, the rains have always evoked in me a sense of timeless longing, romance, nostalgia and renewed burst of urgency and inspiration to write and cook.
So yesterday, when I woke up to rain and reminiscences, I thought why not make a Sunday lunch that would fill my home with the smells of the Indian coast – seafood, coconut and spices. A Kerala-style prawn curry scented with kokum or fish tamarind (a tart fruit grown extensively on India’s western coast; it’s used to add a mellow sourness to fish and other seafood curries). Kokum, unlike tamarind has a less harsh acidic flavour and is an excellent digestive too. If you can’t lay your hands on kokum, tamarind pulp works too; just remember to use only a little since you don’t want the sourness to overpower the delicate sweetness of the prawns. The curry needs fresh grated, coconut but dried coconut flakes rehydrated in warm water for about 30 minutes would work equally well. The spices in the recipe are very easy to find and once you have made your spice paste or masala, the rest is a breeze.
This is a mild creamy curry, you can increase the heat if you like. It’s best eaten fresh with plain rice but we enjoyed it with dosas (crisp, South Indian rice crepes).
- 500 g medium sized prawns shelled and de-veined
- 1/2 a fresh coconut grated
- 4 shallots finely chopped
- 2 big garlic cloves finely chopped
- 1 inch piece of fresh ginger finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 11/2 tsp cayenne (chilly powder)
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 2 green chillies slit and de-seeded
- 2 pieces of kokum soaked in a little water or 1/2 tbsp tamarind pulp
- 1 tbsp vegetable or coconut oil
- 4-5 curry leaves
- 1 tsp black mustard seeds
- In a spice grinder, make a smooth paste with the fresh coconut,peppercorns, turmeric, coriander and chilly powders using a little water as required.
- Heat oil in a pan till hot and throw in the mustard seed and curry leaves. Reduce the heat to low and add the shallots, garlic and ginger and sauté till translucent, for about a minute.
- Now add the coconut paste and green chillies and fry for 2-3 minutes before adding a cup of water to get a thick gravy. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes on low heat.
- Finally, add the prawns and salt and cook covered for no more than 10-12 minutes till the prawns are done but succulent. Serve with plain steamed rice.