Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Pui Chingri

The vegetable market in Nerul is one of my favourite markets - first of all, it's not a concrete building but a neatly laid out grid of old fashioned stalls covered with tarpaulin. The paths between the stalls are uneven and the whole affair is rough and rustic. One jostles other shoppers, avoids the odd rotting veggie on the floor, and tries to catch the attention of the vendor as he attends to other customers, weighs produce, takes payments, and generally goes about his business. There are no aseptic aisles with neatly packaged produce on shiny, well lit shelves. Not that I don't enjoy a trip to the supermarket, but supermarkets don't have that energetic vibe of a proper street market, do they?

I had slid into the habit of buying groceries and even vegetables and fruit online - there's no match for the convenience that affords - but after a few months I was itching to be out there in the market, in the middle of that magical atmosphere surrounded by people, noise, and piles of fresh produce.

I waited for the hubby's day off from work and dragged him off to the market. The monsoons have just hit Maharashtra and fresh greens and seasonal vegetables are now flowing back into the markets. As I wandered among the stalls I came to the one that sells fresh leafy greens of every variety along with an excellent selection of 'videshi' or foreign produce - broccoli, basil, asparagus, parsley, etc., which are now as mundane as carrots and potatoes. As I looked at the leafy greens I saw many I had never cooked/eaten/seen before. So I thought to myself, why not try something new, and picked up a bunch of basella or Malabar spinach, what we Bengalis call Pui.

Leafy greens are commonly used in Bengali recipes and you will find both vegetarian (in fact, vegan) and non vegetarian preparations. Fish and prawns are often stir fried with seasonal greens, lightly tempered with paanch phoron, or just mustard or nigella seeds, or combinations of the same with green chillies, etc., accompanied with vegetables like red pumpkin, potatoes, green peas, brinjals, etc. I decided to make Pui Chingri, a dish I had heard about but never eaten.

Pui Chingri 

15 Prawns 
1 bunch Pui or malabar spinach 
1 Large potato 
1/2 tsp Paanch phoron 
3 Green chillies 
Mustard oil

Shell and devein the prawns, and wash.

Marinate the drained prawns in salt and turmeric

Clean the pui - pick out wilted leaves and discard the very thick, woody bits of stem. Chop and wash the pui greens in plenty of water. Drain in a colander.

Cut the potato into medium sized cubes.

Heat mustard oil in a wok and fry the prawns for a minute till they turn opaque. Remove to a dish.

In the same oil fry the cubed potatoes till they get slightly browned. Remove to the same plate with the prawns.

Add a little more mustard oil to the wok if required and let it heat up. Drop in the green chillies and follow with the paanch phoron.

Once the spices sizzle add the washed and drained pui leaves and tender stalks. Stir it all well till most of the leaves have begun to wilt. Add salt and a little turmeric, cover and cook on a low flame for a few minutes.

Add the fried potatoes and cook further. Don't add any water - the pui will release enough to cook the potatoes. Stir well and cook till the potatoes are nearly done.

Add the prawns to the wok and mix thoroughly. Cover and cook for a minute. If there's too much water in the wok leave off the cover and dry it off till it's minimal.

Serve the Pui Chingri with a simple daal and hot rice.

The pui greeens didn't seem to have much of an inherrent flavour but I still liked the dish and so did the hubby. Smaller prawns would be ideal for this as they pack tons of flavour and would certainly enhance the dish. Teamed with a simple masoor daal and plain white rice, this made for a lovely mid week dinner and the husband has packed the leftovers in his office dabba. Now if that isn't a stamp of approval I don't know what is!

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