Feb 19, 2016
A lesser-known fact about Parsis is that more families have traditions about their prawn curry than they do about the talked-about dhansak.
As a child, my Mamaiji made her prawn curry for me every Saturday when I visited her along with a big bowl of the kachubar (onion salad) that used to be kept aside exclusively for me. I loved her curry so much, that once when I was sitting on her lap and she asked me what I wanted were she ever to pass away; I innocently told her that all I really wanted was a big, never-ending bowl of her curry that I could always have and remember her by – an admission my stomach is most shameful about.
Not all Parsi kids grow up enjoying curry though. Food and travel blogger, Roxanne Bamboat of The Tiny Taster fame admits that as a child she would turn up her nose at curry, and demand a plate of dhandar or kheema instead. However, as her palate evolved, she too started enjoying the family tradition of Sunday curries – her weekend Instagram feed is a testimony to this tradition. Roxanne admits to being impartial and loving all sorts of Thai, Goan and Malaysian curries, but she brought a smile to my face when she said that despite tasting many curries as part of her job, her favourite was still the Parsi prawn curry.
While prawns is the best accompaniment to a curry, some Parsis prefer adding chicken or mutton to it, and that radically changes the taste of the curry. My friend, Zenia who blogs as the Branded Bawi remembers eating chicken curry as part of the free lunches Parsis were entitled to at the Avabai Petit School mess. Sadly, the mess used to make the curry so bland and watery that she grew up hating it. It’s only when her aunt made her a bowl of prawn curry a few years ago that she realised what the real deal tastes like and became a convert.
Grandma’s and Aunt’s weren’t the only safe keepers of good curry, and for food author Nicole Mody, her favourite version of the curry came from the family’s Goan cook. It was the first dish she learnt how to cook (I feel shameful admitting mine was white rice!) and for her prawn curry is the ultimate comfort food, which can be enjoyed any time of the day, be it 3 in the morning or 4 in the evening.
In a way, prawn curry is like the black sheep of Parsi food. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen it feature at a Parsi wedding, or even being served at a Parsi restaurant. There, the only dishes reigning supreme are the Sali Jardaloo Chicken and Pulao Dar. I remember as a kid, my friend D opted for prawn curry instead of mutton pulao for her Navjote. And, while the cranky old Parsi aunties were scandalised at not being served pulao, I remember pigging out on serving after serving of Godiwala’s curry complete with king-sized prawns.
Like dhansak, every family has their heirloom curry recipe, but if I’ve made you hungry for some Parsi curry, here’s a great version you can try.
Recipe for Parsi prawn curry
For the curry masala
1/2 fresh coconut chopped into pieces
1 tsp poppy seeds
1 tsp white sesame seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
50 gm raw peanuts
30 gm chopped cashews
10 cloves of garlic
15 dried Kashmiri chilies
3 small tomatoes chopped
For the prawn marinade
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp red chilly powder
½ tsp salt
For the curry
350 gms of prawns shelled and de-veined but with tails on
2 tbsp wheat flour
2 tbsp cooking oil
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp red chilly powder
1 tsp curry powder
2 large potatoes quartered
Salt to taste
1. Before you make the curry masala, accumulate everything you will need onto one plate. This makes life easier once you start roasting and grinding.
2. Once ready, dry roast all the seeds, peanuts, and cashews until their aroma starts wafting in the kitchen.
3. Now, blend the seed mixture along with the coconut, garlic, chilies and tomatoes adding water as needed to make a thick paste. Keep grinding until you have a fine paste.
4. While grinding the masala, you also need to marinate about the prawns in a turmeric, red chilli powder and salt marinade and set aside for about half an hour.
5.Once this is all ready, in a crockpot add some oil and fry the wheat flour making sure no lumps remain. Add in the curry masala and sauté for about 5 mins until the wheat flour is mixed well into the masala, and it no longer sticks to the sides of the crockpot.
6. Next, add the turmeric, red chilli and curry powder along with water into the crockpot to get the curry to the right consistency. Ensure that you don’t put too much water. Add in 3-4 chopped potatoes into the crockpot and let the curry simmer for 20 – 25 minutes. When the potatoes are cooked, add in the prawns and simmer for a further 10 minutes.
7. Enjoy the curry hot along with steamed rice, kachubar and lemon juice.