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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Bhapa Chingri

Prawns steamed in a sauce of fresh coconut n mustard oil

From the heart of Bengal to the out shores of the world

           The magic starts when you cook them with love, then the smell carries the magic with her, she captivates your heart, taking you on a journey of anticipation. Anticipation-it has such great power, so much it can be enjoyed on its own. There is a saying here which says that we eat half by the smell at first, then the eyes, the rest half on your tongue. The first half is built upon anticipation. Floating through the air the smell takes me high with it. Later when I open the box she catches my eye with that look, oh! And that big hug of the smell pushes me to the pick of my own anticipation. So often there comes the moment when the reality bite fails to reach the level of anticipation it has built, won’t you agree? Gladly just the opposite becomes true with these steamed prawns! As I taste her, her aroma, taste engulfs me, making me smile, making me want to eat it more n more, never stop, I wanna absorb this taste like a sponge but my senses reach saturation but still I’m only hoping for more, it reaches as if a sense of appreciation for the abstract!

                                          Here I engraved my feelings for the steamed prawns in fresh coconut. This is my all time favorite dish with prawns- hands down, hats off, bow kinda feeling. I have tasted numerous preparations with prawns, shrimps in many places and often one beats another if there is any sense of competition in them but then there is this “Bhapa Chingri” and no one can touch her. In its simplicity, in the looks, in the get-you-high smell and the insatiable taste-she will win you over and over.

                                                                                                                      It all starts with a few ingredients, in my version they are even fewer- sometimes less is more. And there is almost no big cooking at all. Now for the fresh coconut I have to say if we are using dry coconut it will give a completely different flavor, fresh coconut and dry coconut will bring very different flavors in the final result so if you feel like cooking this authentic version go for fresh coconut. And then when you have a fresh coconut in hand, break it into 2 halves, then with a coconut grater, grate the flesh softly and you will see white soft heaps of fresh coconut makes a little mountain as you grate, pick up some with your hands and eat that, juicy, succulent, tender…u la la! Now we need to make an almost smooth paste of it, we can do it in a heavy stone mortar n pestle or in a flat stone grinder or the modern food blender. Now this is the only tough work. For someone who is new to this it will seem quite an amount of work but then everything new seems tough, isn't it?

In the many versions of Bhapa Chingri across the land, there happens the variation of the ingredients. In my version there is use of freshly grated coconut, green chilies, mustard oil, a touch of cumin powder, coriander powder, turmeric, sugar, salt, bay leaf, water along with the prawns. In the other versions we will find the use of mustard paste- black mustard seeds made into a paste-known as sarson paste/sorshe paste, poppy seeds paste-known as Posto/Khashkhas. While some like to add a bit of yogurt, some likes to add an onion or crushed black pepper. One of the things that always stay the same is the use of fresh coconut and mustard oil. The interesting thing about the fresh coconut is that when the prawns are getting steamed in that all the flavors of the prawns dissolve into the flavor of the coconut milk inside the coconut, the mustard oil with the hint of pungent warmth dissolves into that- a beautiful marriage.

                                     My memories of it is connected to the smell, the vibrant yellow hue of the dish may remind you of the happy sun or just make you smile while you close your eyes and be nosy. Hahah! While I was small boy I used to dip my fingers into the sauce and lick them, I didn't want any sauce to be left at all, so often I would add some rice to the pot where it has been cooked and coat the rice with anything that remained in there, I was so mad about it. Eat it with white rice and it won’t fail to amaze you, this is the heavenly combination.

                                Somehow I am inclined to call this recipe simple, but then I think it is not too simple, I mean this recipe I’m presenting is simple, but if someone goes for the poppy seed paste and mustard paste, it adds to the work. But then there is something about this dish that spells simple. Apart from all of that you must try it; if you love seafood this will bring peace to your mind and something more. Why don’t you explore that side to see what it brings to you? Let this be an adventure.

           It’s time for the recipe now. Bon appétit.

For The Recipe: you will need
Prawns medium to big- 250 gm
Freshly grated coconut -1/2 of medium coconut
Green chilies -2
Turmeric powder- 1 tsp
Mustard oil- 5 tbsp
Salt to taste
Sugar a pinch
Bay leaf- 1, you can skip it also
Cumin powder- ¼ tsp, about 2 pinches
Coriander powder- ¼ tsp, about 2 pinches

1.       Begin by DE-veining the prawns, you take a sharp knife and along the middle of the back of the prawn held in your hand make a narrow slit along the length. Insert the tip of the knife gently in that slit and take out any tiny thread like vein that comes out, pull that out of the prawn, discard it. Do the same with the rest of the prawns. Some people tend to have a problem in their stomach if the prawns are big and if you don’t DE-vain them while for some people it doesn't make any difference. Now sprinkle ½ tsp of turmeric powder on them, rub them in that and leave them aside.

2.       Grate the coconut with a coconut grater, then in heavy stone mortar n pestle or in a flat stone mortar n pestle or in a blender grind the grated coconut with 1 green chili, let it become almost a smooth paste, add some water to help the process either in the blender or mortar n pestle.

3.       Now we are ready to put it all together, in the deep container where you are going to steam them, add the prawns, the coconut paste, pinch of sugar, salt to taste, rest of the turmeric powder, 1 green chili chopped, bay leaf, cumin n coriander powder and the mustard oil. Mix everything well, add 1-1 ½ cup of water, mix well, taste to see the salt, adjust.

4.       Now in a broad pan bring some water to the boil or if you are using a steamer add the water. When the water comes to a rapid boil, close the container with the prawns in them with a lid, then put a stand on the boiling water, then place the container on the stand, cover the whole pan with a lid. On a high flame at first give 5 minutes, then you can reduce the flame to low and give this 10 more minutes, at the last 5 minutes you can increase the flame again to medium high or high. Make sure there is always water in the pan.

5.       After 15 minutes put the flame off, take out the container from the steamer and give it 5 minutes to cool off a bit. Then carefully n slowly open the lid. You know what! This is the moment, full of things I can’t describe. From here on begins your journey with Bhapa Chingri! Indulge.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

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Amore Mio Amra!

The secret guide to a delicious, lick-able Amra chutney in jiffy

                           Amra, Ambadda, wild mango, ambara, Indian hog plum, amade, ambade, amado, adavimamidi, buah umbra, casharana, golden plum, makok farang, jobo indio, prune cythere-so many names to call this fruit all over the globe! But whatever name we have for it one thing stays the same- the beautiful flavor, the touch of tartness and the crunch-well almost. The botanical name for this fruit is perhaps spondias pinnata, spondias dulcis. Okay so enough of names.

                                                                                       You know when I came to know that Amra is also known as wild mango , I had an eye brow raised simply because the flavors are quiet different, leave apart the sizes that amra’s are tiny in front of majestic mangoes! But then when I bite into a piece of amra chutney at a certain point of time I said to myself “hey this reminds me of a certain mango!” now this has to do something with the cooking because they are literally quite different in flavor n texture.  They have literally a beautiful flavor, especially when combined with salt and a dash of chili powder, it becomes fantastic. If you enjoy tartness, imagine adding an extra crunch to that because Amra is crunchy! Wonderful huh! N how it makes us salivate thinking about them. So if you get your hands on them somehow, grab them, sit down and indulge slowly.

                Traditionally in this part of the world the flesh of the Amra is used in both savory and sweet chutneys. In sweet chutneys their tartness is balanced with sugar while in the savory we combine them with salt, the heat from chilies, pepper and sometimes pungency from the mustard. I must tell you about this time in my life when I was in school and just outside the gates of my school there used to be a few good men who served quick snack for the kids. In the months of early monsoon, one of them used to bring a heap of these green fruits, he used to slice them with knife, sprinkle chili powder and a mix of two different salts on them and sell them to us. I remember during the afterhours of school when I will be walking along with my friends to the station nearby, biting into one of the fruits brought from that man, my hands wet with the juices that the salt bring out of them and inside my mouth there was an explosion of flavors! You know I love those moments.

                                                                              Now talking of the cooking tradition, apart from the sweet chutney, Amra is used in flavoring Dals/Dahls, it is cooked with the red lentils known as “Masoor” where it gives off its flavor and adds a touch of tang to the dal. When the Amra fruits ripen, the flesh of them is smashed with salt, pink rock salt, chilies, sugar, sometimes with a touch of garlic and coriander leaves and enjoyed as a savory finger-licking mash. In another version of sweet chutney they are cooked with coconut milk where it is pronounced with the flavors of coconut milk and its creaminess.

                                                                                                     There is a very special dish that is a popular evening- time snack, served here. The interesting thing is almost no one makes it at home but everyone who has tasted this looks forward to this in the evening time. The sellers appear in the evening walking the streets, they carry the ingredients with them and especially what they carry is a mobile burner or lamp! They carry that source of heat with them to keep warm the crispy fried sticks made from a batter of dals n a few spices, the fried sticks are then mixed together with peanuts and potato chips…and they are called “Chanachur”. This is what they keep warm and later on when we order for one, they mix this crispy chanchur with chopped red onion, green chilies, coriander leaves, salt and then the much awaited chopped Amra. Oh it is such a pleasure eating them and I can never eat just one, as soon as I finish I order one again. Oh! Now you must know what this dish is called, they are known as “Ghoti Garam” which literally means a metal pot known as “Ghoti” is Hot “Garam”. The thing is they carry this chanachur  in a metal pot perhaps made from brass and they keep it warm by placing the burning burner below them, hence comes the name. Wouldn’t you love to try that?

                          The chutney that I’m posting here about deals with a very few flavors, so easy to make that it feels almost effortless.  The main star flavor is of the Amra fruits, supported by the flavor of whole black mustard seeds, sugar, turmeric for its flavor and brilliant color and a touch of salt. You can enjoy them with some crispy papads or crispy salted chips, French fries, crispy-fried noodles, in tacos, crispy fried fish n chips! Let your imagination run freely and let this chutney pamper you like anything. Bon appétit.

                Now I will tell you the recipe.

For The Recipe:  you will need
Unripe Amra fruits-250 gm
Granulated sugar-1/2 -1 cup, it varies according to taste and their tartness.
1 tsp whole black mustard seeds
1 tsp of mustard oil
½ tsp of turmeric powder
1 ½ -2 cups of water
¼ tsp of salt
Pinch of pink rock salt.

1.       Let’s begin, slice the fruits lengthwise into 1 inch by ½ inch rectangular slices.  Sprinkle a pinch of turmeric powder on them and mix lightly. No need to take their skins off. Now in a saucepan pour the sugar with 1 ½ -2 cups of water, put the heat on the lowest flame. Stir the sugar in between until the sugar completely dissolves, once dissolved put the heat on medium and let it come to almost a simmer. As it reaches almost simmer pour the cut fruits in that syrup and cover them, bring the heat down to low.

2.       In a separate pan on medium heat add the mustard oil, once it is hot add the whole black mustard seeds, as they just begin to crackle, take the pan off the heat, add the rest of the turmeric powder in that oil and then pour this whole thing into the sugar-Amra mixture. Now cover it again and leave it for about 10 minutes on low heat.

3.       Check the flavor after 10 minutes, add more sugar if you think you will like it that way, add the salt, the pink rock salt- 2/3 pinches, taste it again, if satisfied give them another 5 minutes where the flavors mingle with each other. At the end of 15 minutes put the flame off and give it 2min standing time, then take them out in a plate or container and let it cool.

Now dig in and enjoy J