Malabar Shrimp Curry (and hello again!)

Malabar Shrimp This might be an exercise in futility but here I am trying to start a new run at the food blog o’ mine. I have another blog in the works sort of, but that’s still in development and won’t be food-focused, so it would sure be nice to keep this one going, especially since I feel my technique and flavor palate has grown. This is due in large part to some appetizing projects the husband and I are embarking on; I’ll be excited to share those projects with you once they are blossom to a stage that is worth revealing to the world (or the tiny web of the wide world that still looks at this measly blog). At any rate, I can’t seem to escape food—cooking, writing, or even researching it.

So let’s give it a go, shall we? Back to the blog!

Originally I thought to share my quick and easy garlic pepper shrimp recipe. Firstly—I astounded myself with how simple it turned out to be. And secondly—short seemed like a wiser option in terms of trying to write something up for you lot.

However, Alya here failed to take photos—such was the state of her salivating appetite that neither she nor her husband had the foresight to document the brilliance of this basic dish that rivals any basic Thai or Chinese restaurant. We were hungry; such is life. And being out of the routine for so long, I’ve been trying to inculcate a distancing from all things tech when it come to enjoying particular elements of life, like eating. Trying to separate from the need to photograph every instance rather than live it. I’ve always felt that way, but these feelings have been heightened since reading Eggers’ The Circle and Max Barry’s Lexicon. Reclaiming control over one’s own life may be impossible now in the age of social media and data collecting, but at least I can try not to be a slave to it.

That said, I really wish I had those garlic pepper shrimp photos.

Instead—I will treat you to a slightly more complex dish, one I know nothing about except that my husband speaks volumes about it and the region it hails from: Malabar Shrimp Curry. Chutneys and DosaMy reeducation of Indian cuisine began when I got married, as the husband grew up in South India and exposed me to new ingredients and methods of cooking. Coconut was something I likened mostly to Thai food, until he set me straight with a myriad of coconut chutneys, rices, and curries that are intrinsic to south Indian culture.

Malabar cuisine (covering the southwestern states of Kerala and Karnataka) is known for its abundance of coconuts and seafood (prawns) since it is a coastal region, and that’s what this dish is all about. Bring in the Malabar, bring in the funk.

I pulled together a few different recipes and culminated with what I have here. The ingredient list a a might bit lengthy—but it isn’t as complicated as it might appear. I like to prepare and set aside all my ingredients first, and when I do that, I find that there aren’t too many steps, just patience.

I even cooked this for one of my professors (Hello, Alida!) who has a penchant for spice, Indian food, and wild offerings. Happy to say she loved it, along with the dosas and chutneys we made from scratch too. But that’s for another day.

Ingredients:

Shrimp Prep:

  • 1 lb uncooked de-veined large Prawn/Shrimp (I prefer them peeled)
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • ½ tsp red chili powder
  • 1-1 ½ tsp white vinegar
  • Dash of salt

Curry:

  • 3 tbsp Ghee and/or virgin mustard oil (I use a blend of both with some canola or grapeseed oil—mustard oil has a very strong vibrant flavor, while ghee has a solid creamy flavor but is definitely heavier. But any other cooking oil will do as well)
  • 2 green cardamoms, smashed/cracked
  • 2” stick of cinnamon
  • 2 Indian bay leaves (tej patta)
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped (use about ½ cup)
  • 2-3 small green chili peppers, slit in half (I like using small thai green chilis, but serrano chili is fine too); deseed to decrease heat
  • ½ cup of peeled and cubed potatoes
  • ½ cup peeled and chopped carrots
  • 2 tbsp ginger paste
  • 1 tsp salt (or adjust to your taste)
  • ½ tsp of sugar
  • ½ tsp of turmeric
  • ½ tsp of red chili powder (or adjust to your heat level)
  • Just about 1 cup coconut milk (the thick kind, preferably. I use So Delicious Culinary Coconut Milk that comes in small 11 oz cartons)
  • 3 tbsp of frozen shredded coconut
  • 2 tbsp chopped cilantro (garnish)

1. Shrimp Preparation:

Rinse and drain shrimp. The husband likes them chopped in half because it allows them to soak in more of the marinade and assuredly remove the shrimpy smell that we both find unsavory. So I chop them all in half, but you don’t have to. Mix shrimp with turmeric, chili powder, vinegar, and salt (all prep ingredients). Let it sit for about 20 minutes.

In a pan, lightly cook the shrimp with the marinade and a couple of tablespoons of water (on medium heat) until they just curl up and turn white. This can be done while cooking the curry (below). Set the shrimp aside, draining any excess water.

2. For the Curry:

Heat the ghee/mustard oil/oil blend to a medium-high heat.  Add the cracked cardamoms, bay leaves, and cinnamon stick. Once they start sizzling and smelling like heaven, reduce to medium heat, add the chopped onions and fry until they turn golden. This will take a few long minutes. Then add the green hot peppers, potatoes, carrots, and the ginger paste. The green peppers should crackle. (Note on green chilies: if heat isn’t your friend, deseed these guys carefully. Cut in half and scrape out the seeds and pulpy inside. BUT MAKE SURE TO WASH YOUR HANDS VIGOROUSLY WITH SOAP AFTERWARD. Burning, weeping eyes are a beast to contend with.)

Reduce heat to low-medium and fry until the oil begins to separate and leave the sides of the pan, around two minutes. Be watchful to ensure that the ginger paste and onions don’t burn or turn too dark; that changes the flavor.

Once you see the oil separate, add salt, sugar, chili powder, turmeric, the coconut milk, and the shredded coconut. Mix this really well and set to simmer until the broth becomes really creamy and cohesive. The potatoes and carrots should be cooked through by now. The curry should begin to bubble. I like to let this bubble slowly for at least 5 minutes to make sure the curry is fully integrated. If you want it to be a little thinner, you can add water at this time, but make sure to adjust/add salt if necessary.

Finally, add the cooked shrimp and let it simmer for another 5 minutes or so, depending on how thoroughly you cooked the shrimp earlier. If you’re very particular about your shrimp, don’t overcook it. But if they are chopped small like mine are, then it might be okay to let it cook a little extra—I find that the texture is amenable to this dish, in contrast to the soft veggies.

Remove from heat, pour into serving dish and garnish with cilantro (optional, but I love the color pop as well as the fresh contrast). Serve over white basmati rice and swoon.Malabar Shrimp 2

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