Malai curry is a quintessential Bengali dish of prawns cooked in coconut milk (in this version, with potatoes). It involves very few spices and is very easy to make. Doubtless, there are many variations among Bengali families. This recipe is from one of my aunts, one of the most redoubtable cooks in the extended family (my mother’s version is far less canonical). In Bengal it is common to make this with larger, head-on prawns. Head-on prawns/shrimp are always better because a) the more shell the more intense the prawn flavour, b) the texture of the meat is always better and c) the roe and other goo in the head both improve the flavour immeasurably and give the gravy a richer, red colour. I do make malai curry with head-on shrimp from East Asian stores from time to time but I try to avoid that as far as possible: given all the dubious stuff surrounding the harvesting of seafood in the region—from environmental concerns to the maltreatment of workers—without more knowledge of provenance it’s an ethical grey area. If only stores that did supply the provenance would stock head-on shrimp! Anyway, when I do succumb to temptation it’s usually for malai curry. Continue reading
I made this squash “bisque” with Indian spices for a dinner party recently and it turned out quite well. I put bisque in quotes because traditionally a bisque has shellfish or shellfish stock in it and this doesn’t. I was planning to deploy dried shrimp for that purpose but it turned out we were out. The Korean corner of the pantry, however, had some dried anchovies and so I used that instead. It came out very well. The picture here has mussels in it because when I heated up the leftovers a few days later, I brought it to a boil and threw in a pound of mussels. That made it even better. But it’s pretty good without the mussels (and would be very good with shrimp too) and, indeed, the recipe can be very easily adapted to make it vegetarian or even vegan (see below). Continue reading
I’ve posted a number of recipes that use my friend Steve Sando’s Rancho Gordo beans. I think his beans are great and I haven’t had better. But I’ve secretly always thought that the best thing he carries might actually be a vinegar. Specifically, banana vinegar. It’s made from fermented bananas on a plantation in Mexico, and costs a lot, but it smells like heaven and tastes pretty good too. I can’t bring myself to cook with it; I can’t even bring myself to make a vinaigrette with it: instead, I just pour glugs of it over things so I can get that aroma. This summer I’ve been making a number of warm salads that use it to impart a tang with just the right amount of fruity sweetness. Here is a recent version that came out quite well. It features “baby” octopus along with another great Rancho Gordo product, their incredibly fresh garbanzo beans. If you don’t have octopus at hand or it’s not to your taste, you can just as easily substitute shrimp; you could even make it vegetarian and go with potatoes instead. Continue reading
A few weeks ago I posted a recipe for something I called “Hot and Sour Shrimp Curry“. Well, you could call this one “Hotter and Sourer Shrimp Curry”, or “Shrimp Curry in a Kerala Style, Generally Speaking”. I prefer to call it “Prawns of Doom”. It’s really quite hot, you see; but it’s also very balanced: you don’t feel the full force of the heat till you breathe out; the richness of the coconut milk lulls you and then the heat hits you. And despite the coconut milk it’s also quite sour—unlike the previous recipe, which used tomatoes, the sourness here comes from tamarind and quite a bit of it. It’s a slightly fussy recipe, ingredients and preparation-wise but if you like hot food, give it a go. As noted above, it’s in a very general Kerala/Malayali style. That is to say that the core of the dish is a mash up of some recipes in Vijayan Kannampilly’s Essential Kerala Cookbook and Mrs. Mathew’s Flavours of the Spice Coast, but there are a couple of twists of my own in there. It ends up tasting very much like a Malayali/Kerala dish but it’s not following a traditional recipe. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
It’s been a while since I’ve posted an Indian recipe. And the one I have today may please those, like my friend the bean king, who complain that my recipes call for too many esoteric ingredients that most non-Indian cooks don’t have lying around the kitchen. This is a very simple recipe that produces quite delicious results. And it’s healthy to boot, packed as it is with veg. I guess it’s a Bengali’ish recipe. It’s in the style of a general way of making shrimp/fish dishes that my mother and a couple of my aunts follow: lots of potatoes and veg and only ginger, turmeric, red chilli powder, green chillies and whole garam masala to flavour the sauce/curry. Following my mother, I use a lot of tomatoes and some garlic too, and this is not very traditionally Bengali. But traditions, you know, are always on the move. At any rate, this is simple enough to make, and you might give it a go. Continue reading
I was in Costco the other day and purchased, as one does at Costco, a five and a half pound bag of mussels. This seemed like a good idea as the problem—how to dispose of five and a half pounds of mussels—is one that can only have delicious solutions. I cooked half of them the evening of purchase: I made a quick tomato-garlic sauce with sliced onions and tossed the mussels in for the last five minutes while the pasta was cooking. It turned out quite well and in an unexpected turn of events both boys asked to try the mussels and quite liked them. And so tonight I reversed course on my original plan for the second half of the bag, which had been to improvise a South Indian style spicy seafood stew with coconut milk, and went back to the pasta pot. I didn’t have any good canned tomatoes at hand, however, and so threw this together instead with stuff that was in the fridge and pantry. It came out quite well, if I do say so myself, and the boys gave it the thumbs up too. So there you have it: two small children with dubious taste have endorsed this dish. I’m throwing this recipe up here so I can remember what I did if they ask for it again.