Saptami: Day 7 of Durga Pujo follows.
The menu on Saptami has always, as far as I can remember, included fish or meat – or both. Saptami is followed by Asthami (Day 8) is a strictly vegetarian day. Heaven forbid if we were asked to eat vegetarian for a straight 48 hours – there would likely be an uproar!
Prawns are a delicacy back home in India. They are not as reasonably priced as they are in this part of the world, partly because the prawns produced in West Bengal are largely slated for export. Whatever is left behind tends to be sold at sky high prices in local markets. It’s a sorry state of affairs, this whole import/export business – leaves the hungry hungrier. But, Durga Pujo is a very special time and folks make sacrifices to eat what they love.
On the Saptami menu is Malai Curry, the showcase dish of the Bengalees. A dish that speaks for itself in its use of prawns cooked in spices and coconut milk – the way a curry in Malaysia is traditionally cooked. This dish has seen the life and times of the Calcutta cuisine evolve over time to adapt to the taste and palate of the Bengalees. Succulent prawns are simmered in mild spices with slightly sweet – and delightfully creamy – coconut milk. It’s great with basmati rice cooked with cumin and peas.
Traditionally, large-size prawns are cooked with the head left on for this recipe. The heads impart the signature flavour of the dish and are traditionally sucked and chewed when eating until all the juices are happily devoured.
Prawn Malai Curry
- Prawn: 2 lbs with tail
- Onion: 1/2 medium size
- Ginger: 2 tbsp fresh ground
- Garlic: 3 tbsp fresh ground
- Dried Red Chilli: 2
- Bay Leaf: 2 whole
- Cardamom: 5 crushed slightly
- Cloves: 6
- Cinnamon stick: 2 inch
- Coconut Cream: 1/2 cup
- Cumin seeds: 1 tsp
- Chilli powder: 1/2 tsp
- Turmeric Powder: 1/2 tsp
- Ghee: 1/2 cup
- Salt:to taste
- Sugar: 1 tsp
- Devain, wash and drain prawns. I prefer the shell on which makes the curry more flavourful. Keep the tail.
- Puree onion, ginger and garlic together.
- Heat ghee in pan. Add cumin seeds and let cook till it starts to sizzle. Add dried red chillis, bay leaf, cardamom, clove and cinnamon. Fry on low heat till the aroma is released.
- Add onion, garlic and ginger paste and keep cooking on low heat till the oil separates. This could take a good 10 – 15 mins. The more you stir the smoother the gravy will be.
- Add the chilli and turmeric powder along with 1 to 2 tbsp of water and stir to incorporate. Cook on low heat by stirring continuously until water evaporates.
- Add the coconut cream and increase heat to medium. Add some water to bring the consistency of the gravy to your likeness. Traditionally it is quite runny but I prefer a bit of thickness. I usually add about half a cup of water.
- when the gravy starts boiling add salt to taste, add sugar and the prawns.
- Increase heat and stir to incorporate the prawns with the gravy. Once it starts to boil, reduce heat to minimum, cover and let boil for about 5 mins or so, stirring once or twice.
- Serve hot with basmati rice.