Now that it's the dead of winter, I can't help but reminisce of the summers spent in India. They brought with them long visits to my maternal grandparents home, evenings spent with my aunt's, eating roasted peanuts from our favorite Bhaiya down-the-street; cricket with my uncles in the hallway between the balcony and living room; afternoons spent with my grandfather and his tales of King Cobras and tigers in the jungles of Matheran; and bushels of silvery Pomfret, fresh crab, delicate creek fish and my absolute favorite – the mustachioed, salmon-pink Mr. Prawn.
Baba Ajo, as I called my grandfather, hand-picked him from the fish market, every weekend. It was a custom at my grandparents – Ajo would wake up earlier than usual, dress up in a crisply ironed, cream-colored shirt, paired with his favorite tan-colored pants, and set off with his cloth bag, apropos the very color of fish curry.
As for me, I would wait.
By their fourth-floor window ledge overlooking the street, biding my time. As soon, as I saw my grandfather's familiar salt-and-pepper head emerge around the curve, I would run and open the main door. No sooner would he walk up the stairs, the tangerine bag would be whisked, and I would soon be chased around the house by my grandmother, Nanima, a very pale prawn hung on, meanwhile, by his whiskers in my hand.
We followed this tradition absolutely unfailingly. Every single summer holiday.
Finally, my grandmother would pretend to give up and I would be tricked into handing him over. Usually, Ajo got the delicately flavored Pomfret, pre-cut by the fish-monger into medium steaks. At other times there would be the meaty king fish, some cartilaginous Bombay-duck and the hearty Bangda, or Mackerel for company. Nanima, would then systematically divide the fish steaks for shallow frying, and steaming. The less-interesting bits, like the head and tail, would be reserved for curry or saar. She would then call her daughter's for shelling Mr. Prawn.
That was my least favorite part. To see him being skinned off his clothes, armor and whiskers.
He looked so much happier and handsom-er hanging by his thin, long bristles.
Amidst, gossiping women sitting on the kitchen floor, and chuckles of laughter, he would be disrobed, his tracts cleaned of lurking dark veins, then massaged in grainy salt, summery and fiery spices, a touch of green cilantro paste, coated with fine rice flour, and fried crisp to a beautiful titian with the rest of the sea-fish.
Soon after, we would all sit down to a very elaborate Sunday meal. I would always sit between Baba Ajo and my father, the others crammed around the corners of the modular table. My grandfather would cut the fried fish into little pieces, the bombay duck especially, with its tiny bones; while Dad would scoop them in between morsels of chappatis and feed me. Those lunches, were seriously sublime, and over before one could say holy mackerel! Then, I would curl-up on the skinny couch, or one of the armchairs in the living room. And, day-dream of my next sojourn with the salmon-pink mustachioed Mr. Prawn.
♣ A little bit of this, a tad of that!
The following recipe for prawn curry is just that.
I am sending it over, on Day 6, to Nupur's wonderful marathon at One Hot Stove. I am already feeling sad, that it will be over soon. On the other hand, I am truly grateful to her for hosting this fabulous event, where I got to meet, and interact with so many wonderful fellow foodies -- their hearts, and blog-spots ever so warm, always open, and willing with their insightful posts, out-of-the-box recipes, and delicious home-cooked meals.
Cheers, everyone! To old friends and new, here's wishing we keep bumping into each other oftener than often; sharing a quick recipe, or two, between wassup! and how-do-you-do's. May the coming year bring to you and yours, happiness, and all that you desire.
1 cup of prawns
1 large tomato, finely chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric
4-6 tsp chili powder
2 garlic flakes, bruised and lightly smashed
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp oil
Coconut milk (from one coconut / one can of Thai coconut milk)
2-4 tbsp coconut, grated
5-6 garlic flakes
1 tsp coriander seeds
2-3 coriander sprigs
1/4 onion, roughly chopped
1 tsp chili powder
Shell and de-vein the crustaceans, liberally sprinkle a few tablespoons of salt over the prawns, gently toss around to coat well, and set aside in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, blitz together all the ingredients in the masala list, to a fine paste.
Under a thin, steady stream of water, gently wash the prawns. Sprinkle with turmeric, and a teaspoon of chili powder.
Heat two tablespoons of oil in a heavy-bottomed pot, once it's nice-and-hot, add in the prawns, and saute just until cooked. Remove, and set aside. Add the remaining oil, and quickly add bruised cloves of garlic, one-two kokum, and stir until garlic turns a pale golden.
Stir in the finely chopped tomato, and stir well until it becomes soft. To this, add the ground paste, remaining chili powder, and saute until it releases oil, and comes together in a ball. Add prawns, and a tiny bit of water, to loosen any stuck bits and spices. Mix in the coconut milk, and enough water to get a curry of pouring consistency. Simmer to a gentle boil, stirring continually. Season with salt, and plunk in four-five kokum. Simmer for about five-seven minutes, taste for salt, and remove from heat. Serve over hot, steamed rice, with a side of fried fish, or prawns, and some raw onion.
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