- The secret ingredient of this dish – Mustard Powder
- The secret to success of this dish – Do not overcook
- The basic truth about this dish – When you don’t have time and want to impress guest this the dish to go
The more I travel outside my country, the more I get frustrated with the “bastardised” “Indian” food. Like Europe, India is a collage of different cultures having their own unique climate, which influences their own unique food. Each region having its own unique produce and climate, which influence what is eaten and paraded as the staple diet. The attitudes and social behaviors also guide what they eat, how much they eat, how often they eat and what role food plays in their life.
I come from the state of West Bengal, a state which still claims to be the hot bed of intellectuals. But I still believe when Opu (my brother-in-law) says that it was just a cosmic co-incidence that it became a hot bed of cultural renaissance. A renaissance, even if there was one, was long over with the death of Satyajit Ray.
My grandfather came this state, which was part of the undivided Bengal. They belonged to what was initially East Pakistan and is now called Bangladesh, a country which still has to decide which side they are on.
Bengalees love to eat and live to eat and this dish that I am going describe is ode to the subtle and simplicity of Bengalee cooking. It revolves around 4 critical ingredients that is fundamental to any Bengali kitchen – Prawn, Mustard (the oil and the paste), Turmeric, fresh coconut and fresh green chillies.
The simplicity of this dish runs completely against what most of us get outside India, paraded as “Indian” food. This type of food is only served in some unimaginative parts of the north India. What makes it worse is that this type of food has been further westernized, “creamified” and sweetened for the western palate. A palate which is over simplified, misunderstood and mis-catered by the diaspora of India restaurants across the world.
In this particular world, there is no difference between spicy and hot, where food is assembled using an array of pre-cooked gravy, where the focus is less on food and more on tomatoes and the profitability of the restaurant. At most times, these funny little places with their less funny owners assign the wrong reasons for the success and failure of their restaurants.
While I can write on and on, I rather focus on the dish.
Statutory warning: This dish will have a kick depending on where you procure Mustard Oil from and how you prepare your mustard.
Ingredients that I used that day (and for this visit an Indian Store):
- Prawns (uncooked, the fresher the better, the ones from my hometown are the best)
- Mustard Oil (not the ones from Mexico or Fiji but from India)
- Fresh Green Chillies (sliced)
- Black Mustard seeds (these need to be hand-ground else Coleman Mustard powder is the alternate)
- Freshly grated coconut (if you are outside India, go with the frozen grated coconut and not desiccated corpses)
- Salt (Of course)
- Unsweetened Yoghurt (optional)
- Fresh Banana Leaves (optional, ideally the light green younger leaves)
Clean the Prawns and marinate it with turmeric and salt for at least half an hour. Simultaneously stone grind the black mustard seeds with a little salt, water and a couple of green chillies. If you are using mustard powder I would recommend using only Coleman’s unless you are lucky to lay your hands on the Sunrise mustard powder from Kolkata, India. In that case mix it with lukewarm water and salt so that you get a nice paste. Add a dash of mustard oil as well. Let it soak for 10 minutes.
Add the mustard paste to the Prawn. Use a microwaveable bowl which can be cover cooked. Add lots of freshly grated the coconut (thawed frozen ones). Add a good helping of mustard oil (about 4 tablespoons for 500 gm prawns). You can add yoghurt at this stage. Add 3 – 4 fresh green chilllies (sliced). Season the dish and then microwave for 5 minutes.
In case you have fresh banana leaves available, you can place it at the centrer of bowl and then pour your prawn and cover it with another layer of banana leaves. Once done take it out, stir it well and then add another 2 tablespoons of mustard oil and 2 more fresh green chillies. Microwave for another 3 minutes.
Serve with fresh hot steamed rice and nothing else.