Here is a shrimp version of a dish I’ve been riffing on ever since we got back from Delhi in early February. It is loosely inspired by a shrimp dish I ate at Coast Cafe in Hauz Khas Village, but it is based not on any recipe but on following taste memory. It’s reasonably close to that dish in some of my versions but it’s not the same. That was a canonical Kerala/Malayali dish, this one is not—though, for all I know, it may be close enough to someone’s traditional, family recipe. I’ve made it with fish as well—whole and fillets—and there’s probably no reason you couldn’t also try to adapt it for pumpkin or tofu if you wanted to make a vegetarian or vegan version.
It’s a slightly fussy recipe but yields a delicious hot and sour curry tempered and rendered rich by coconut milk.
- Shrimp, 1.5 lbs, no more than 21-25 ct/lb
- To coat the shrimp: 1/2 tspn turmeric, 1/2 tspn mild chilli pwdr and salt.
- One large red onion, sliced
- Ginger, 1 tspn, grated
- Garlic, 1 tspn, grated
- The following ground to a coarse powder: 1/2 tspn cumin seeds, 1/2 tspn coriander seeds, 1/2 tspn black peppecorns, 4-6 hot dried red chillies, 1/2 tspn turmeric
- Tomatoes, diced, 1 14.5 oz can or equivalent fresh
- 1 cup thick coconut milk (Aroy-D tetrapaks are best in the US)
- 2-3 shallots, minced
- Curry leaves, 1 sprig
- 2-3 hot green chillies, slit (Thai is best)
- Vegetable oil
- Water, 1 cup
- Coat the shrimp in the turmeric, mild chilli pwdr and salt and set aside while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Heat the oil and when very hot add the marinated shrimp. Stir-fry for 2 minutes or so and remove the shrimp to a plate with a slotted spoon.
- Reduce the heat to medium and in the same oil saute the onions till they’ve begun to wilt and brown.
- Add the ginger and garlic and saute for another minute or so.
- Add the powdered spices, mix well and saute for another minute or two.
- Add the tomatoes and the salt and cook over medium heat till the tomatoes have broken up (about 5-7 minutes).
- Add the water, mix in thoroughly and cook down over medium heat, stirring regularly, till the water has mostly evaporated again.
- Transfer the contents of the pan to a blender and make a coarse puree.
- Return the puree to the pan, bring back to a high simmer.
- Add the reserved shrimp and their juices back to the pan, mix in and return to a high simmer.
- Add the coconut milk, mix thoroughly, bring to a boil and bring back to a high simmer.
- While the curry is simmering, heat a little more oil in a small pan and add the minced shallots, curry leaves and slit hot, green chillies to it. Saute till the shallots have begun to brown.
- Pour the contents of the small pan over the curry and serve with steamed rice.
- Though I made it with tomatoes as the souring agent on this occasion, I actually prefer it with tamarind. If you have block tamarind, soak enough of the pulp in a cup and a half of hot water to produce a thick paste and use that.
- As always, I highly recommend Aroy-D’s 100% coconut milk in tetrapaks—it’s far superior to canned coconut milk.
- You can make this hotter by using more dried chillies, but I don’t recommend making it too mild. The pleasure of the dish is the interplay between the hot and sour notes which are mellowed out by the rich coconut milk before the heat emerges again at the end.
- You could make it less fussy by omitting the blender step but I think this dish works really well with a smooth-textured gravy.
- If you can get your hands on head-on shrimp (look in Asian markets) the flavour of the gravy will be much richer.