The brightly coloured, coconut based curries are common to almost all the cuisines along the western coast of India. There are subtle and not so subtle differences in each version but the foundation of most is a paste of dried red chillies and coconut, along with other spices.
Many of us label any Indian preparation that has a gravy as a curry but after I got married I discovered that curry is a very specific preparation among the Parsis, and also in the coastal cuisines - this bright orange or red gravy full of spice and punch which ideally had sea food in it but was also great with chicken, mutton or even boiled eggs in it. The sauce is so good that even a vegetable curry is delicious!
The Parsis don't have multiple courses at their meals like us Bengalis - there will be one dish that's the centre of attraction, and at the most there will be a side dish to go along with. This is served with either rice, bread, or rotlis. A simple salad may or may not be there. So once every few days curry would be on the menu. A huge pot of curry made with pomfrets, surmai, prawns, or chicken - accompanied by fluffy white rice, a pile of deep fried papads, and a kachuber made of sliced onions, tomatoes, fresh coriander, and plenty of lime wedges, would grace the table.The Parsi curry is undoubtedly one of my favourite dishes today.
I always felt intimidated at the thought of making a Parsi curry myself, especially at the thought of having to grind a masala. Bengali cuisine rarely involves elaborate masala pastes - mustard, posto, etc., are simple one or two ingredient pastes - and to me a curry paste with its myriad ingredients in specific proportions seemed scary, to say the least. In fact my mother never owned a 'mixie', something that is so basic in many kitchens. We never had use for one.
There's always a first time for everything and eventually I took the curry plunge myself. We have an excellent fishmonger here in Kharghar and I often get plump fresh prawns from him. There's nothing like a hot and spicy prawn curry to perk up a cold and wet day and so today I had prawn curry on the menu. Since the hubby is allergic to shellfish I remove the heads and tails of the prawns completely. Feel free to leave them on if you prefer - most of the flavour is in there.
This is my mother in law Katy Dalal's recipe for curry with a couple of minor adjustments. Use the same recipe for any sea food.
Parsi Prawn Curry
2 cups large prawns, deveined
1 coconut, milk extracted.
2 tbsp dried kokum
6 fresh green chillies, slit
Curry masala paste -
1 coconut, grated
15 Kashmiri chillies
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp poppy seeds
1 tbsp sesame or til seeds
1 piece turmeric root (use 1 heaped tsp of powder if not available)
2 large onions, chopped
4 large tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup chana
1/2 cup cashew
1 large pod garlic
Broil the dry spices on a tawa and then grind all the ingredients into a smooth paste, adding water as required.
2 -3 sprigs curry leaves
5 or 6 drumsticks (optional)
Marinate the prawns with salt and a dash of turmeric.
In a large vessel heat a generous bit of oil. Add the curry leaves to the hot oil, stir for a minute and then add the masala paste and the fresh green chillies carefully. Stir well and cook the masala paste till it is cooked through and has turned red. Rinse out the grinder jar and add the water to the pot along with the coconut milk. Use store bought coconut milk if you like, but fresh coconut milk does taste far, far better. Bring it all to a boil, adding as much water as needed to make the required quantity of curry. Add washed kokum and salt and let it cook.
While this is boiling prepare the drumsticks. Peel off the hard outer bark and then chop each drumstick into longish pieces. Cook them in salted water separately till just tender. Drain and add them to the curry.
If you're adding potatoes, cut them into medium sized pieces, fry lightly, and then add to the curry as early as you can.
Prawns can get overcooked quite fast so put them in last, judging cooking time according to the size. The curry is ready as soon as the prawns are cooked. If the curry looks watery fish out the prawns on to a clean plate or bowl and let the curry reduce to the consistency you like. Pop the prawns back in for a minute at the end.
Serve the curry with lots of rice, papads and kachuber.