Saturday Night Treats (Part 1 of 3) … Skewered Prawns with Zataar, Cumin and Red Chilli

Saturday Night and everything sucks on TV. And then I’ve kinda hung up my dancing shoes for a bit (which is a seasonal thing with me. And NO that doesn’t mean I’m in the winter of my youth… 😉 Besides I have a friend staying over who says that she dances like a horse, and I’m sure she wasn’t referring to the ones you see at show jumping events, so I really wouldn’t have been able to drag her along. But I’m not complaining. It is wonderful having friends over. It gives me another reason to cook and receive a compliment at the end of it, which I’m certainly not averse to.

Now I wanted to enjoy my evening in every way and didn’t want to end up stuck in the kitchen all evening, so I prepped everything in advance and kept it simple, which left me free to chatter away, play a couple of hands of UNO, sip on some extra spicy Bloody Marys and listen to some music… Perfect!

Here’s a sneak peak at the menu… 😉

1. Skewered Prawns with Zataar, Cumin and Red Chilli served with a delicious dip.

2. Feta and Olive Herb Focaccia 

3. Potato Salad with Spring Onions, Cucumber, Roasted Walnuts and Celery (with a home-made dressing… which I also used as a dip for the prawns).

But putting all of these into one post may just be too much, so I split ’em up into three starting with…

The Skewered Prawns with Zataar, Cumin and Red Chilli…

You’ll need about 20 prawns (medium to large sized with their tails on)

2 teaspoons zataar

1level teaspoon freshly pounded cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder

large pinch of salt

juice of 1/2 large lime

1 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoons evoo (extra virgin olive oil)

Start by cleaning the prawns, or if you have pre-cleaned prawns make sure that the vein (aka the poop-chute) has been removed. Now some of the larger sized prawns have 2 veins, at the front and at the back, so make sure you get both of them out completely.

Wash the prawns well and drain them thoroughly, then pat them dry before marinading them in the zataar, cumin, chilli powder, honey, lime juice and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil marinade. Don’t add the salt in just yet.

Keep your prawns marinading in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (An hour should also be okay if you’re in a hurry, but I prefer to keep them marinading longer).

When you’re ready to cook the prawns, sprinkle on the salt and skewer the prawns onto wooden skewers that have been soaking in water (This will prevent the skewers from burning) and brush with some of the marinade to which you have added the balance tablespoon of olive oil.

I used my trusty grill pan to grill the prawns

Then piled them onto a platter and served them with a dip/dressing I made from my own home-made mayonnaise and hung yoghurt.

I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves…

Spice on the Go… Quick n Easy Pickled Prawns

I recently got a earful from a friend. Actually it was both ears full and all the space between ’em.

“If you aren’t going to send anything my way, how about posting something spicy and super-quick” she grumbled in mock irritation. I’ve known her too long for her to be mad at me over the phone 😉

“Something I can whip up even when I’m deadbeat” she said at the end of her little tirade on how selfish I was. She was looking for an add-on to her meal she told me, something in the nature of a condiment that would lift up the meal she had delivered to her house on week-nights. Packed in an insulated and compartmentalized ‘tiffin’ box, her dinner usually comprised a dal (Indian dish of lentils), rice, rotis (flat bread) and a vegetable or two, which she ate more out of compulsion than desire. Coming home from a work day that never seemed to end, negotiating traffic and crowded trains to get back to what she called a “mundane meal” she ate with distaste. Having take-out at lunch everyday was bad enough, and her stomach often rebelled.

So I was on the spot and I had to redeem myself. I know what it’s like to work the 9 am to 11 pm routine, coming home exhausted and irritated, peering into the fridge to see if there was anything in there which would perk me up, only to find bottles of sauces and cartons of juice. The weekends would come and go in a blur, and when I wasn’t trying to get out of the city for a breather, I had a zillion different chores that needed doing. Shopping for food though part of my ‘To Do’ list often got shelved.

I thought I should do something for her which would keep. Something which would be enjoyed over many, many meals. And then my fisherman got a batch of prawns in one morning, and I leapt up and reached for the curry paste.

I had ordered large prawns from the fisherman for another dish I had in mind but his idea of large didn’t quite meet mine. Or perhaps these prawns were destined for piquancy. More medium sized, some bordering on small, I immediately knew they were going to be pickled. A recipe that was quick and easy to fix… spice on the go. Bottled, this pickle keeps well if kept in a cool and dry place. You can even store it in the refrigerator.

So here it is. No soaking of red chillies in vinegar, none of the de-seeding and grinding that pickles usually involve. Quick n Easy Pickled Prawns.

We Indians love our pickles and chutneys, from the sweet mango murabbas, to the mild water-pickled raw baby mangoes I ate with bowls of steaming congee whenever I visited my grandmother in Goa… to the fiery hot pickles made with ground red or green chillies, with mustard seeds and other spices, cooked in copious quantities of oil, not a drop of water daring to find its way to contaminate the spicy treat in any way.

Summertime was pickling time, back at my grandmother’s place. Rows of sliced mangoes, carrots, aubergines, cauliflower, and different kinds of salted fish drying out in the sun. There were meats too… dried and cured, and mixed with a mélange of spices, then cooked, cooled and bottled. The weather was gentler in those days and the longer the pickle sat, the better it tasted.

This pickle is a simple one, made with a purpose. All it took was a couple of spoonfuls of curry paste, some spices, oil, and the prawns which was my key ingredient. I made the pickle a month and a half ago and left it sitting, all bottled up, waiting for its flavours to develop. You can of course eat it immediately as well, since the vinegar I used was well-cured home-made vinegar. But it does taste way better when it’s left to its own devices for a while. 

Here are the ingredients –

1 kg medium sized prawns (shelled, de-veined, washed, drained and then patted dry)

5 heaped tablespoons curry paste (I used a paste that said ‘hot n spicy’ ;-))

1/4 to 1/3 cup palm vinegar (I used more but it really depends on whether you like the flavour)

2 tablespoons of granulated demerara sugar

1 level tablespoon salt

4 cups sesame seed oil (1 ½ cup to fry the prawns and 2 ½ cups to cook the curry paste and prawns) … many people prefer to use mustard oil but I love the nuttiness of the sesame oil which adds a surprise element to this pickle

1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds

1 tablespoon minced garlic (almost to a paste – 4 large cloves should do)

A sprig of curry leaves

 Method –

Fry the prawns on high for 1 to 1 1/2 minute. Drain them well and reserve.

Meanwhile heat the second batch of oil, put in a sprig of curry leaves and flash fry, remove the leaves and discard them. Turn the flame down to low before adding the mustard seeds, toss them in the oil and immediately add the curry paste. Cook on low for about 20 – 25 minutes till the oil separates and the curry paste is well cooked.

Now add in the prawns, raise the heat up a notch and cook them, for roughly 2 – 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the vinegar, salt and sugar and cook for about 4 – 5 minutes. Turn of the heat and leave the curried prawns to cool. Do not cover the dish with a lid as you don’t want any water caused by the rising steam to fall into the pickle.

Once the curried prawns have cooled completely, transfer them into clean, sterilised glass bottles, making sure that there is at least 1 cm of oil floating on top of the curried prawns. Cover the top of the bottle with a piece of muslin or a double piece of cling wrap and keep the bottle/s in a cool and dry place for at least a month before eating.

These pickled prawns are best enjoyed as an accompaniment to a simple meal of rice and dal.

I sent some over to my friend, along with the recipe and she ate it with buttered bread :-). I suppose anything goes when you’re hungry. 

Prawns with Stir-fried Mushrooms

Went to the movies today. My friend suggested we catch the latest Sherlock Holmes – A Game of Shadows. Now I had seen the first one a couple of years ago, and well, lets just say that it wasn’t one of my favourites. You know the kind of film you see once, and even that’s too much. So I couldn’t figure for the life of me what I was doing agreeing to go squander an evening seeing Robert Downey Jr. play that role again.

Now I’ve got nothing against Robert Downey Jr. I  honestly think he’s a brilliant actor, but I’m a Jeremy Brett loyalist, and I couldn’t wrap my head around Downey playing a role that Brett owned so completely that every other actor who preceded or succeeded him in that role, paled in comparison. But yeah I did go, and this time I didn’t regret it… Or perhaps it was because I was really in the mood for something Bollywood, and this film fit the bill, right down to the last slow-mo punch, rattle and shake. 

But it was nice seeing Stephen Fry on screen after quite a while, and Noomi Rapace, though her role was quite ornamental. A waste of talent… but then it is a good stepping stone up into the big league. Stephen Fry on the other hand, and I absolutely love the man, could do with a short run round the block for a couple of months. Oh, do spare us the unnecessary display of flesh the next time around Mr. Ritchie.

And speaking of fat… I saved some from the bacon I had for breakfast this morning. Yeah, yeah, I know, I ought to be cutting back on calories. But then what’s life without bacon huh?

Anyway after the film I really felt like eating something light and delicious, so I decided to rustle up a quick and easy Prawn with Mushroom. And since I had both dried shitake and oyster mushrooms in my pantry, figured a duo of mushrooms would be good, with some garlic, onion and green chillies. That’s it, light and simple, with soy and oyster sauce, honey, and a bit of sesame seed oil… and yes, a tablespoon of white rice vinegar. All served up on a bed of rice.

All it took was –

12 large prawns

A large handful each of dried shitake and oyster mushrooms (washed and steeped in boiling hot water for 20 minutes)

2 medium cloves of garlic – sliced fine

1/2″ piece of garlic – sliced fine

1 medium onion – cut into chunks or large dice

3 green chillies – sliced

1 tablespoon white rice vinegar

1 tablespoon light soy sauce

1/2 tablespoon dark soy sauce

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

2 tablespoons sesame seed oil

3 tablespoons bacon fat (for frying the prawns)

1 1/2 teaspoon cornflour

A pinch of white pepper

Salt (to taste – if required )

Clean and wash the prawns and pat them dry. Slice then down the back to butterfly them. Marinade them in light soy, vinegar and honey, a 1/2 teaspoon of cornflour, and a pinch of salt if required. Let it sit for about 20 minutes – while the mushrooms are steeping in the hot water. When the mushrooms are done, drain them and reserve some of the strained liquid. Chop the shitake mushrooms into bite size pieces (not too small).

Fry the prawns in the bacon fat on high heat, just a couple of minutes on each side to get a nice sear and drain. (This is the only really indulgent part of this recipe – but the bacon fat does wonders to the prawn, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.)

Meanwhile heat up your wok, nice and hot, and add the sesame oil, being extremely careful not to burn it. Quickly toss in the garlic, ginger and half the green chillies, before adding the shitake mushrooms, tossing them around for 3 – 4 minutes. You can add a few tablespoons of some of the reserved mushroom liquid now, followed by the oyster mushrooms and continue to stir-fry on high.

Add in the diced onions, the dark soy and oyster sauce, about a 1/4 cup of the mushroom liquid and the balance cornflour and stir-fry for about 4 – 5 minutes. You can add a pinch of salt (if required) at this stage. I didn’t. And a pinch of white pepper.

And add the prawns, giving them a quick flip around, to catch all the juices from the mushrooms.

Serve on a bed of fluffy white rice… oh and if you have some spring onion greens you could use them as garnish. I didn’t have any, but it didn’t make a difference. It was still a delicious, light, healthy and soul satisfying meal after an evening of popcorn and an average film.

The perfect way to end the day!