Sunday, 29 June 2014

Chingrir Malaikari (Tiger prawns in creamy Coconut milk )

We have just returned from the mountains last week. It had been an amazing week in the verdant landscape of Himachal Pradesh. And as usual we went to all the unconventional, rarely preferred by the usual tourist  spots to getaway from the humdrum and enjoy 5 days of complete unwinding. We are still sorting out the photos hence the detailed travelog will be along as soon as the photo sorting is over.

I am still feeling lazy and feel like again packing my stuffs again and head for the hills never to return again. Getting lost in the unexplored forest paths of Kasol was much better than cooking, cleaning and attending office everyday. Sigh! Too much of a good thing never lasts for long.

I had emptied my refrigerator before leaving for the vacation.  So on coming back the first task was to stuff my fridge with the necessary ration to kick start my kitchen. I went to the fish market to get my regular supply of fish. The fish seller usually got small prawns without shells. Fortunately that day I saw she had a bowlful of beautiful Tiger prawns with shells on that looked really fresh. They looked pretty tempting and A also proposed we can make Malaikari with them. So I got 10 of them for my weekend Malaikari.

Now Malaikari is a dish that was not often prepared in our home when I was a kid. Both my parents had shell fish allergy hence I was the only one who would eat prawns. Ma would make simple prawn curry which tasted equally good with the huge prawns which where available during those days. Malaikari is something which I slowly started liking after tasting it in some hotel I believe, I dont remember clearly though. Prawns are such a flavorful fish that it can give a character to any preparation in which it is used. The larger ones are used in the signature dishes while the smaller ones when used in any curry or vegetable dish enhances the taste multifold.

Malaikari falls into the list of Regal items that are usually made during any special occasions like birthdays or weddings. It's a close competitor of Hilsa curry also made in Bengal. Chinri malaikari, Kosha Mangsho and Bhaapa Ilish, forms the troika of the Royal dishes of Bengal. This recipe originated in Bangladesh (though some Ghotis of West Bengal would beg to differ about the origin) and has close resemblance with some of it’s neighboring Thai and Malaysian food, even Sri Lankan if I dare to say so. Interestingly, there is variance in the  traditional recipe made in Bengali homes due to the regional influence of East or West Bengal - everyone adds their own little secret touch to make it a heirloom recipe passed on to the next generation with care.

According to the age old recipe, the curry was cooked with prawns having shells. Its not the prawns that give the main flavor and taste to this curry but the prawn head that does the magic of creating a flavorful and divine melt in the mouth curry. The Malai of the curry refers to the thick coconut milk. You can use any type of big prawn like tiger or jumbo prawns or scampi or lobster for this recipe. The rule is - the bigger the size, the better it is. The juices of the prawn blend in with the coconut milk and the spices to give it great depth of flavor and taste.

Preparation Time: 20 minutes  

Cooking Time: 45 minutes

Serves: 2

Cuisine: Bengali 
  • Large Prawns with shell and head - 10
  • Onion - 2 big
  • Shah Jeera (Caraway Seed) - 1/2 tsp
  • Ginger - 1 1/2 inch
  • Garlic - 4-5 pods
  • Ghee - 2 tsp
  • Cinnamon - 2 " stick
  • Cardamom - 3 bruised
  • Cloves - 3-4 bruised
  • Coconut milk - 1 Cup
  •  Dry Red Chilli - 2 broken in half
  • Tej Pata (Bay Leaf ) - 1 big
  • Green Chilli - 2
  • Red Chilli Powder - 1/2 tsp
  • Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
  • Salt as per taste
  • Sugar as per taste
  • Mustard Oil
Procedure for Coconut Milk
For this recipe I had used Maggi Coconut Powder. I used 2 spoonful of the powder and mixed it in a cup of milk, taking care no lump is formed. You can also use the canned Coconut milk readily available in any supermart. Else if you want to use fresh coconut milk then you can scrape the coconut and add hot water to the scraped coconut. Make a thick paste of the scrapings and strain it to get the coconut milk. However it doesn't make much difference in taste even if you use the market available milk or powder.So it's entirely your take whether you want to indulge into the extra effort of extracting coconut milk from fresh coconut or not.

1. Wash for long and de-vein the prawns. Keep the head and tail part intact. Remove the shells from the middle. I had removed the eyes from the head (optional). Marinate with salt, turmeric and red chilli powder. Let it sit for 15-20 minutes. 

 2. Heat mustard oil in the skillet . When the oil starts to steam toss in the marinated prawns. Fry till they turn pink for 2-3 minutes. Due to the presence of the head and tail the prawns will curl less.  Overcooking the prawns would make them rubbery hence take care not to cook them for long. Drain the oil and keep the fried prawns aside.

3. Chop the onions and make a paste of onions, garlic and one green chilli. Make a paste of ginger separately. Keep aside.

4.  In the same skillet add some ghee and more mustard oil (if required). When the oil is hot enough add the Shah Jeera, bruised cardamom and clove, cinnamon stick, Bay leaf and dry red chillies.

Shah Jeera greatly accentuates the flavor of the recipe. You can make the curry without a Shah Jeera tempering, but I strongly recommend it. Only thing make sure that you use good quality Shah Jeera for getting the best flavors.

5. When a nice aroma of the dried spice comes add the onion paste and saute till the raw smell of the garlic is gone. Add a pinch of salt to the onion paste, it accelerates the cooking process of onion.

6. Add the ginger paste and fold in. Cook with frequent stirring till the onion releases oil. You can also add a bit of water in between to keep the onion from sticking to the skillet.

7.When the raw smell is gone add the turmeric powder, chilly powder and cumin powder. Mix everything.

8. Add the Coconut milk now. Let the gravy simmer for 3-4 minutes so the gravy gains some body.

9. Now add the fried prawns into the gravy and cover and cook for 3-4 minutes on low flame and not more than that else the prawn will become rubbery and hard. Adjust the salt and sugar level at this stage. The gravy is supposed to be a thick one with a predominant sweet taste. 
10. Add a dash of ghee and garam masala powder and close the lid. Let the gravy sit inside till its time to serve. As the gravy sits the rich aroma of prawns and coconut milk will gradually bring in the soul of the dish together.

Serve it on a bed of steamed rice. I served mine along with a simple peas pulao. The peas pulao tempered with shah jeera as well went wonderfully along with the rich creamy Chingrir malaikari.

Old pic when I had made Malaikari with Prawns without heads

Monday, 9 June 2014

Kochu Diye Chingri ( Prawns with Taro)

These days I am indulging myself into a lot of Food & Travel shows mainly on Fox Traveller and Food Food. Reason being now a days A is doing a lot of business travelling and I am having the TV all to myself. I am not a lover of Saas-Bahu & Sazish type of soaps and now a days the reality shows have become such a common thing that it has become a drag to watch. With nothing substantial left to watch on the array of cable channels I settled down for Food related shows on Fox Traveller and discovered a new world of travelling and cuisine - my two love.

I had instantly fallen in love with the Peter Kuruvita show exploring Sri Lankan cuisine. The simple travel stories, cooking in the open with beautiful landscapes all around, the usage of earthen pots and pans and the rustic looking traditional fares that he dished out was so awe-inspiring. Instead of fancy dining I always loved anything that was close to our roots. Anything rustic, unpolished, with old world charm has a aura of simplicity which is very emotionally fulfilling for me. I was so charged up with the earthen pot cooking that I started to google where I could get them in India. But then frenzy soon had to die a premature death when I realized that earthen pots could not be used on Induction Oven which was what I used mostly instead of gas burner.

Recently another show I was watching every weekday was David Rocco's Dolce India. A celebrity chef's journey through different cities of India, mingling with local people, exploring signature regional dishes and stirring up scrumptious Italian dishes using Indian ingredients. More than the food he cooks I love the way he presents the show, the way he gels with everything Indian. A very charismatic and humble person exploring India and its cuisine as it should be. Every dish has a story and that's what he tries to explore through his show.

Vikas Khanna's Coastal Curries is another show on Fox Traveller in which he goes exploring the coastal cuisines of western India and reproduce his own version of the traditional fares with some twist.

In all these shows and other cookery shows as well the cookwares used  have always interested me, just like the earthen pots from Peter Kuruvita's show. Recently I was observing that chef's were using some white skillets for frying and sauteing. It wasn't the usual non stick coating skillet. I used to wonder what kind of coating was there on those skillets. The other day as I was browsing through the Kitchen section of Central mall, I saw the same white skillet and was immediately intrigued. The attendant of the section told me that it was a ceramic skillet. He explained that it was better than a conventional non stick pan as the coating would not go away with long usage. Anyway I was in need of a new pan and this looked like a worthy cookware to invest on. I could not wait to try on the new pan so thought of making something traditional and quick to inaugurate it.

I decided my inaugural dish would be Kochu die Chingri (Taro and prawns) - a very traditional fare of Eastern Bengal. Colacasia is a plant grown for its root vegetable, known as Taro or Arbi/Ghuiya in Northern and western part of India and Kochu in Bengal and eastern part of India.

As per Wiki - "Taro /ˈtɑroʊ/ is a common name for the corms and tubers of several plants in the Araceae family. Of these, Colocasia esculenta is the most widely cultivated.Colocasia is thought to have originated in the Indo-Malayan region, perhaps in eastern India and Bangladesh, and spread eastward into Southeast Asia, eastern Asia, and the Pacific islands; westward to Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean; and then southward and westward from there into East Africa and West Africa, whence it spread to the Caribbean and Americas.It is a perennial, tropical plant primarily grown as a root vegetable for its edible starchy corm, and as a leaf vegetable."

 The texture of taro root is almost like potato. Taro roots are very nutritious as they are very high in starch and are a good source of easily digestible dietary fiber. Taro roots are consumed in a number of ways - deep fried, stewed, boiled, made into a paste with spicy seasoning, sun-dried and curried. The tender leaves of Taro can also be made into delicious non veg preparation with Hilsa fish.

Kochu or Taro is a very common vegetable I use frequently for making my fish curries so most of the time its available in my pantry. Kochu is more frequently used in a Bangal kitchen than a Ghoti Kitchen. A is Ghoti and I am Bengal but since I am in-charge of the Kitchen mostly its all Bangal cuisines that are dished out. Well now A has also started linking all the simple and tasty fares from the Bangal kitchen. I remember during my childhood days whenever my mother would cook Kochu, I would tell her in advance that it would be only me who would be removing the skin from the boiled Kochus. It used to be one of my favorite activity in the Kitchen back then; maybe because the skin would come off so easily I enjoyed it so much. She would do all other cooking and keep aside the Kochu, when I would get time from studies I would remove the skin. Till today it continues to be a favorite activity.

 I had 250 gm large prawns and decided to make two dishes out of them - Chingrir Malaikari and Kochu diye Chingri. The first one for lunch and second for dinner. Here's the recipe for Kochu diye Chingri:

Preparation Time: 30 minutes  

Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Serves: 2

Cuisine: Bengali 
  • Large Prawns - 1 cup
  • Kochu (Taro) - 10
  • Radhuni (Celery Seeds) - 1 tsp
  • Jeera (Cumin) - 1 tsp
  • Roasted Jeera Powder - 1 tsp
  • Tej Pata (Bay Leaf ) - 1 big
  • Green Chilli - 2
  • Red Chilli Powder - 1/2 tsp
  • Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
  • Salt as per taste
  • Sugar as per taste
  • Mustard Oil
Procedure for Roasted Jeera Powder:

Heat a tava or skillet. Add the whole Jeera. Saute till the Jeera is fully roasted and browned. Turn off heat and remove the tava to a cooler surface. Let it cool down fully. Put the roasted jeera in a mortar. Grind it uniformly with a pestle and store in a container. Usually I make this in bulk amount and store it in the fridge and use it for seasoning on jeera based curries. Just a little is enough to give your curries a wonderful aroma of roasted jeera. You can use the same for Jeera chicken as well.


1. Wash and devein the prawns. Marinate with salt, turmeric and red chilli powder. Let it sit for 15-20 minutes.

2. Wash the Kochu with the skin on. Take 3 cups of water in a pressure cooker and put the Kochus into it. Pressure cook for 1 or 2 whistles (as per the quality of the Kochu). Remove the cooker from the heat and let it sit till the pressure within dies down.

3. Remove the skin from the boiled Kochu. The skin comes off very easily. Cut into bite sized pieces and keep aside

4. Heat mustard oil in the skillet (I used the new one). When the oil starts to steam toss in the marinated prawns. Fry till they turn pink and curl for a couple of minutes. Overcooking the prawns would make them rubbery. Drain the oil and keep the fried prawns aside.

5. In the remaining same oil toss in Bay leaf, Jeera, Radhuni and stilted green chillies. Saute till you get the aroma of the spices

6. Add the boiled Kochu to the spices. Add turmeric, salt and sugar as per taste. Fold in all the dry spices with the Kochu. Apply light pressure on the Kochus to slightly mash the edges. This would give the texture to the curry. Saute for 2-3 minutes.

You can add potatoes to the curry as well. Boil and dice the potatoes and add it at this step.
If you want to add green peas to your curry you can do so at this point. Add frozen peas directly or if you have uncooked peas then boil it before hand and add it.

8.  Add 3 cups of warm water. Fold in.

9. Add the fried prawns and cook for 2-3 minutes. Switch off the heat.

10. Sprinkle the roasted Jeera powder over the curry. Keep it covered till you serve.

For a slightly different flavor you can substitute the roasted Jeera powder with chopped fresh coriander leaves. 

You can use any fish in this curry instead of prawns and it would taste equally good. Serve it with seamed rice, a wedge of lemon and julienne of freshly cut onions.

Now about the new skillet. Cooking on the glossy ceramic-type cooking surface was pretty easy and even easier cleaning. The food slid easily in the pan and browned very nicely to the desired amount. No staining of turmeric or oil was another thing very interesting. I am quite satisfied with the product as of now.

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