A spicy curry for a hot summer

Jhinga curry with basmati rice.

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To make this dish for four, you’ll need:

  • 600g prawns, fresh if you’re lucky, or frozen
  • 4 to 6 sprigs from a curry leaf tree
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander
  • 3 tablespoons tamarind pulp
  • 4 serious red chillies, large and dried
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon jeera seeds (cumin)
  • 1 teaspoon white elachi (cardamom)
  • ¼ teaspoon ground tumeric
  • 1 big onion
  • 2 big tomatoes
  • 50mm to 75mm fresh root ginger
  • Basmati rice or plain white rice
  • Sunflower or canola oil on demand

It’s high summer and what you need right now is a very hot curry to open the pores, promote sweating, and allow your internal cooling system to kick in. Or, as an honest alternative, you might just be filled with desire for a highly spiced seafood extravaganza. So here’s the chance to satisfy both desires.

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But first, a note on the ingredients: basmati rice is more expensive than standard white rice. On the other hand, it’s aromatic and filled with flavour, both of which enhance this meal. Wash it carefully and check for any tiny molar-destroying stones. These are very rare, but need only be encountered once to stay firmly in memory.

Tamarind pulp comes in various prepackaged forms with the good stuff originating in Thailand. Large supermarkets will stock it, as will specialist oriental stores. Moving on. If frozen, allow the prawns to thaw in a basin of room-temperature tap water. Remove and discard the heads, carapace and colon. Let the cleaned tails drain under cover.

Select a heavy bottomed frying pan, pour in a little oil and bring it up to medium heat. Quickly fry the prawn tails, for 30 seconds each side, turning them once. Remove and reserve under cover. In a food processor, coarsely chop the ginger root, onion and tomatoes. The key word here is “coarsely”, so keep a sharp eye on the processor. Too long and you’ll get a puree, which isn’t what the lahnee ordered.

In an electric grinder, reduce two of the dried chillies, cumin seeds and cardamom to fine powder. Keep the mustard seeds and the other two dried chillies whole. Soak the tamarind pulp in a little boiling water. Remove and discard the pips.

Add another tablespoon of oil to the frying pan you used for the prawns, bring up the heat to medium and swiftly saute the chopped mixture of ginger, onion and tomatoes. When soft, pour in the freshly ground chillies, cumin and cardamom, and the two whole dried chillies and mustard seeds. Sprinkle the ¼ to ½ teaspoon of ground tumeric and stir well. Mix in the whole sprigs from the curry leaf tree and the depipped tamarind pulp, and let the mass bubble for as long as it takes to create a dense and fragrant sauce.

Lower the heat and add the cooked prawns. Stir well and let the meal cook for another five minutes to allow the sauce to infuse the prawns. Serve this with basmati rice, following the instructions on the packet. Plain rice or a hollowed quarter loaf of white bread filled with the jhinga curry tie for second place.