Massala is the Hindi word for spice and, in terms of Indian cuisine, a massala refers to a combination of aromatic spices, in its classic form. In practical terms, these combinations, however measured, give every Indian dish its distinctive flavour. Garam massala is a traditional combination of hot spices – usually cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and black pepper – to which cumin and coriander seeds are frequently added.
I have learned, through trial and error, to buy my dry spices, whole, because they retain their properties longer and when released, are all the more effective and aromatic, as a result.
Ok, most people might roll their eyes at this stage, thinking what’s wrong with ground spice or a jar of ready made paste, for that matter? and, since Last Night I Boiled an Egg will feature economic, easy to prepare and cook recipes, surely if it’s pre-prepared and ready to go, that ticks all the boxes.
Not so, I will argue and hope to demonstrate. If, like me, you’ve spent half your adult life eating curries and spices, at some time you’ll have found a combination and taste that suits you.
Which brings me to the dish in hand, prawn massala. This came from watching an episode of Rick Stein in India on the BBC, one afternoon. My recipe was not featured in the program but it was inspired by it.
First, the ingredients.
- a dozen fresh prawns, shelled and deveined
- half a red onion, sliced thinly
- 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 2 bird’s eye chillis, chopped
- 1 tblspn of chopped, fresh ginger
- 1 tblspn of finely chopped, fresh turmeric or 1 tspn of powdered turmeric
- 4 cherry tomatoes, finely chopped
- a bunch of fresh coriander or six leaves of Vietnamese coriander
- a large knob of butter
- 1 cup of Basmati rice
- 6 green cardamoms
- 1 tpsn of cumin seeds
- 2 cloves
- 1/2 inch of cinnamon bark, broken up
Now, there are two ways you can do this; dry roast and ground the spices into a fine powder or cook them whole, in hot oil and butter. For this recipe, I cooked them, whole, in oil and butter.
On the side, I boiled a pot of water, to which I add the cup of rice.
It’s best to use a deep dish, like a wok, when cooking this. First, heat the wok. Then add a little oil, enough to cover the bottom of the wok.
Into this, add the spices. Be careful, dry spices can ‘spit’ and even, explode, when put in hot oil. Stir the spices in the oil to release the aromas.
Next, add the onion and the butter and fry until they soften. After this, add the ginger, garlic, turmeric and chillies, stirring continuously. If it gets too hot and dry, add water from a glass, as needed. If you couldn’t get your hands on the fresh turmeric, this is the time to add the powdered version. Stir in and blend.
Now add the chopped tomatoes and more water, if needed. Your sauce should be down to a viscous paste that is aromatic and hot. It’s time to add the prawns. They will cook, in the sauce, in less than three minutes.
You can use a sprig of fresh coriander, loosely torn and shredded, or, my own preference for this recipe, Vietnamese coriander which is also known as Vietnamese Mint and false mint. It’s musky and more bitter than the common green coriander but if you get you hands on some, you can propagate a stem in a glass of water and then plant. Believe me, it grows easier and far more prolifically than coriander, as we know it.
This is a great dish; easy to prepare, quick to cook and with bags of flavour. Instead of prawns, you could make a fish curry with a selection of this fish off cuts you can buy for making fish pie, so it can be light on the pocket, too.