In My Kitchen, August 2020

This month, I’m inviting you to step inside my kitchen. No one else can come inside these days, but you’re all welcome. It’s one long narrow room that incorporates a kitchen, a small pantry, a long table of 2.8 metres, a wood fired baker’s stove and two old sofas. Above are high beams and clerestory windows and plenty of natural light from the windows facing north and east. All are double glazed making the room easier to heat in winter and naturally cooler in summer. I would argue that retrofitting old windows and upgrading to double glazing is one of the most important energy saving moves you should make, regardless of where you live. Although we have other rooms in the house, we have chosen to live in and heat this single space, along with our bedroom which has a heater set on 17º c for 8 hours overnight. Our kitchen/living space heating consists of one small but very efficient wood stove and one split system inverter. Things are nice and toasty, even on days when the temperature ranges between 0º c and 10ºc outside. We monitor our power usage and note that the winter costs are much lower since adopting this single living space approach. Sig Tranquillo chainsaws fallen trees from the forest on our property which supplies the wood heater, another major cost saving and a gym workout for him.

Melbourne is now in stage 4 lockdown, due to the surge in numbers of corona virus in the state of Victoria. This is one of the most stringent of all lockdowns, and the world will be taking notes on the effectiveness of such a move. Mask wearing is compulsory, no one can travel more than 5 kms to shop, only one person from each household may do this and only for one hour, a night curfew operates from 8 pm to 5am, exercise must be undertaken locally, and only essential businesses may stay open. The vast majority of Victorians are doing the right thing and are determined to make this work. Of course, the media will highlight those who break the rules, and give way too much oxygen to the Karens and Kens of this world: anything newsworthy to feed the coffers of the Murdoch Press.

Dan the Man

In My Kitchen is Daniel Andrews, the premier of Victoria, who appears at 11 am, or later on really bad days. Dan has been doing these updates for months: most Victorians admire and respect him. I moved the TV into our kitchen/everything room at the beginning of the pandemic to save on heating. Before the pandemic, we weren’t so glued to the big screen in the daytime. 

In my kitchen is a Nectre Heater, an Australian made wood heater that is very environmentally efficient and effective. We use it primarily for heating, but also  to cook stock and soups, heat the kettle, and warm leftovers and puddings in the little baker’s oven below. I often use the top to toast bread for bruschetta.

In my kitchen, there’s plenty of research happening. Sig Tranquillo is working on a Scottish history project. Sometimes his clutter fills the large table. Meanwhile, I’m finally back into full time reading and the books are piling up. I can highly recommend, Cal Flyn’s Thicker Than Water. A memoir of sorts, Flyn journeys from Scotland to Australia to investigate the travels and massacre of the Gunai indigenous tribe by the explorer, Angus McMillan. It is essential reading to all those who live in Gippsland, Victoria. More about this book in a later post. The local library sent my books by post but I feel that this is one book I must own. Books, computers, phones, diaries,and notes get swept to one end of the large table at meal time. Oh the clutter.

On sunny days we venture outside for lunch and have now established the routine picnic day, every Friday, on the platform under the old half built chimney. Picnic days can be dangerous, especially when the musical instruments appear.

I’m adding my post to Sherry’s In My Kitchen series this month, despite it’s lack of novel kitchen stuff.  Life is up and down here. I hope, dear reader, wherever you may be, that you keep safe and wear a mask.

Header photo. Turnips from the garden. Despite their vibrant colour, they always remind me of Tess of the d’Urbervilles. 

Baci Birthday Cake, Flourless and Decadent.

I love making birthday cakes for others. Often it’s an excuse to dig into my prized stash of good quality chocolate or ground nuts. Most of us will be celebrating our birthdays without fanfare this year and so a delivered cake becomes a small symbolic mark of recognition in lieu of a family gathering. During this pandemic, I’ve been nervously eagle eyeing my exotic ingredient stash. It’s easy enough to refill the dark cooking chocolate container, which is sometimes subject to a midnight raid, but my hazelnut and almond meal supplies are precious commodities, not so easily sourced. I’ve made two versions of this Italian style torta over the last year. One was a classic Torta di Nocciole, famous in Piedmonte, and light as a feather, with only four ingredients, butter, sugar, eggs and ground hazelnut. This version is much richer, with the addition of dark chocolate. It stays fresh under a glass dome and keeps well for a week. Unlike the classic Reine de Saba which tends to sink and crack a little, this cake is firmer and stands tall, so long as you use the recommended sized tin and just laid eggs. It’s very easy to make for that special person in your life and tastes a lot like Baci. xxx

Torta di Cioccolato e Nocciole (senza farina)  Flourless chocolate and hazelnut cake.

  • 200g dark chocolate, 70%, chopped
  • 150g butter, chopped
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 2/3 cup caster sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups hazelnut meal
  • double cream, to serve
  1. Preheat oven to 170°C/150°C fan-forced. Grease a 6cm-deep, 20cm round cake pan. Line base and sides with baking paper.
  2. Combine chocolate and butter in a bowl and melt gently over a saucepan containing water. Cook over low heat, making sure the base of your bowl doesn’t touch the hot water. Stir until melted and set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Place egg yolks and sugar in a bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until thick, pale and creamy. Add the chocolate mixture. Beat to combine. Add hazelnut meal. Beat to combine.
  4. Place eggwhites in another bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until soft peaks form. Using a metal spoon, stir one-third of eggwhites into chocolate mixture. Gently fold remaining eggwhite through chocolate mixture.
  5. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out cleanly. Stand in pan for 10 minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.
  6. Serve, dusted with icing sugar and cream.

Tanti Auguri a Te, Sig Tranquillo

Eggplant rolls, Molto Siciliano.

Same Same but Different is a wonderful Balinese-English expression that was devised many years ago by a streetwise Balinese salesperson. It spread quickly among the shopkeepers and Mr T still wears his 10 year old Same Same But Different T shirt which always cracks me up. Same same on the front, But Different on the back. I love this expression: it captures the humour and inventiveness of the Balinese people and their ingenuity at devising new ways to lure a few dollars from the mindless tourist.

I often think about this crazy expression when imagining ways to use eggplants. Our usual standby dish is eggplant parmigiana, that well loved classic with an interesting culinary history. ¹ Involtini di Melanzane, or eggplant rolls, require very similar ingredients to the former classic, and yet the dish seems much lighter and more interesting. Same same but different.

The following recipe is by Karen Martini. The quick process of flouring and egging the eggplant slices before frying prevents them from absorbing too much olive oil, resulting in a much lighter dish. The original recipe uses a simple tomato passata for the sauce. I found this too bland. A more flavoursome dish results from making a garlic and oregano laced tomato ragù, but if you are in a hurry, go for the bottled passata.

Melanzane Involtini. – eggplant rolls ( serves 4 as a main, 6 as a starter)

  • 3 eggs
  • 2 large eggplants
  • 75g plain flour
  • olive oil, for frying
  • 250g ricotta
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons currants, soaked in red-wine vinegar for 5 minutes, then drained
  • 40g grated parmesan
  • 200g mozzarella, cut into 1cm thick sticks ( or grated)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 500ml tomato passata ( 2 cups) ( see notes above)
  • 3 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
  • 50g pine nuts
  • 3 tablespoons chunky fresh breadcrumbs

In a small bowl, lightly beat 2 large eggs with 1 tablespoon of water. Peel the eggplants to create a striped effect, then cut lengthways into 1 cm thick slices. Dust the eggplant slices with flour, then dip into egg wash. Heat olive oil in a large heavy  based frying pan over high heat. Cook eggplant slices for 1-2 minutes on each side until golden. Drain well on kitchen paper.

In a medium bowl, mix the ricotta with remaining egg. Season with salt and pepper. add the drained currants and half the parmesan and stir to combine. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of this mixture onto each eggplant slice. Add a little mozzarella and roll up tightly.

Preheat oven to 170ºC. Brush the base of a large ovenproof dish with 1 tablespoon of EV olive oil. Spread half the tomato passata or ragù in base of dish. Place the eggplant rolls on the sauce, seam side down, so they don’t unroll. Drizzle with remaining oil, spoon over the remaining sauce and sprinkle with parmesan.

Combine the chopped parsley, pine nuts and breadcrumbs in  a small bowl. Sprinkle over the top. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake for a further 10 minutes or until cheese is melted. and top golden.

Mmmm, Molto Siciliana

¹ A History of Eggplant parmigiana 

² Recipe from Karen Martini, Where the Heart is, Lantern, 2006. 

Covid Kitchen, July 2020

My overwhelming sense of pessimism is now off the Richter scale. And while the kitchen is still central to our health and well being, it has become a place of drudgery. Any comparison to a glass half full or empty is now meaningless. There may be a few drops left in the bottom of that metaphorical glass, and while I do feel grateful for all that I have, knowing this does little to improve my world view. Things are bad, and they’re likely to get worse. I keep recalling the rise and fall of dynasties in ancient China, where dynastic change followed a sequence of events which built up over time, and included plague, flooding and natural disaster, famine and food shortage, insect infestation, poverty and inequality, ineffectual, corrupt and cruel leadership, followed by war, more famine and the eventual rise of a strong leader committed to change. I sense we are on a similar trajectory. This outlook can be quite crippling when it comes to writing and guarantees a sleepless night. I know I’m not alone in holding this view.

Chestnut haired angels delivering groceries. it’s now a drop and go affair.

I’m trying to address this daily terror. I read far too much most days and remember very little. I’m sleeping in more, and personal grooming has taken a nosedive. One helpful routine is to write down at least one inspiring quotation each day in the diary. This delightful quote from Kurt Vonnegut, in a letter to school students, inspired my return to the keyboard.

Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

Another useful routine, mainly to counter the daily grind of cooking two meals a day for the last 4 months, is to write a weekly menu, based on the items available in my fridge and pantry. Included in the list will be a few new recipes, largely from cookbooks, rather than internet sites. It’s time to go back to those lovely books and I do have far too may. These meals are substitutes for restaurant dining, a date night at home. I also try to vary the menu from week to week, and include one Indian curry, a few pasta meals, a pizza night, one fish meal if I can get my hands on some, classic old style comfort dishes, as well as soups and salads. At present, we seem to have a glut of pumpkin, eggplant and red capsicum, so the focus will be on these ingredients for the week.

I’m attempting to improve my sourdough baking, aiming for a more disciplined approach to shaping. This is another form of artistic expression for me during this lockdown, mark 2.

The other daily delight includes bird visitations. I often hear Mr T chatting outside, and have often wondered if he was finally losing the plot. But no, he’s chatting to birds, they follow him around like pets, and watch him through the kitchen window as he washes the dishes. Some are special messengers and others are after some seed. Their visits keep us sane and help us ignore the negativity out there on social and regular media. It’s like slime seeping through your kitchen door.

On Not Comparing Winter to a Summer’s Day

This year’s winter has brought so many charms, compensation enough for the cold. As the early morning light breaks over the horizon, the distant hills and clouds blend and cling to their darkness still. The lingering fog hovers over the Diamond Creek, vacillating, waiting, before moving along the valley. The sharp crystal light captures the work of the night weavers, strings of pearls webbed between gnarly branches, holding the night rain, ethereal but strong. I imagine wearing this exquisite rivière for one second, more alluring than gemstones, a spider girl’s best friend.

The winter flowers have more charm than their spring cousins, their appearance always surprising and more welcome. The first delicate jonquils of June exhilarate with perfume, while the long flowering fronds of the Hardenbergia Violacea glow deep magenta in the early light. Blossom spurs fatten on the pear trees, the coned tips of the Echium engorge: the more abundant seasonal rain will make these creatures shout in purple and blue when the time comes. Pale green lichen hugs the Melia Azedarach, an exotic knitted sleeve that will dry out in summer’s harsh winds. Brave dying oak leaves, copper and russet, cling to the trees, Pre- Raphaelite colours brightening the driveway.

I’m learning to understand winter and may even like her now. But then it’s only late June. While the light slowly returns, the cold winds will come and shock that early promise back into dormancy. It’s not yet time to rejoice.

 

 

 

Thoughts Arising From a Tune

Sometimes a snippet of a song becomes lodged in my brain for days, like the needle of an old record player stuck in a groove, playing the same bit over and over again, a reminder that madness is just around the corner. The line in question here is, ‘I come from the salt water people’ from the song ‘My Island Home‘, written by Neil Murray of the Warumpi band, recorded in 1988. In the song, for those readers who aren’t familiar with it, the narrator is stuck working in the desert for six long years and longs to return to his homeland by the sea. It encapsulates, in a lighthearted yet melancholic way, the deep cultural ties between country and aboriginal identity. 

As the song line continued to play, my mind wandered back to all the other great songs written during the 1980s that gave voice to the issue of indigenous civil rights. These include include Kev Carmody’s From Little Things Big Things Grow, which tells the story of the Gurindji people’s struggle for equality and land rights after their walk off at the Wave Hill property in 1966. Archie Roach’s Took the Children away, Yothu Yindi’s Treaty, as well as protest songs from non- indigenous bands such as Midnight Oil’s, Beds are Burning, and Goanna’s  Solid Rock. Throughout the 80s and early 90s, land rights street marches were held frequently in major cities. The chant, ‘what do we want, land rights, when do we want them, now,’ was one my children grew up with. Through song, protest, literature, ( for example, Sally Morgan’s My Place) and historical research into the unspoken genocide which took place in Australia throughout the 19th century, (historians such as Henry Reynolds, Don Watson, Peter Gardner),  Paul Keating’s inspirational Redfern Speech, 1992, and the Mabo Decision and the Native Title Act of 1993, the general public, the non- indigenous as well as indigenous communities had good reason to feel optimistic. The recommendations made by The Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody, 1987-91 also made many feel hopeful that the days of institutional racism might be over. ( see findings of the commission here)

So what has happened since the 80s-90s? All that good will, community hope, and expectation that came with the new century? Over the last twenty years, not a great deal. Here’s a very quick summary of things that stand out. I’ll start with a few positives:

  • Kevin Rudd’s sorry speech for the Stolen Generation, February 2008, became symbolically important and a momentous occasion for all Australians.
  • Welcome to country and the acknowledgement of traditional elders is now read at most official gatherings. At times these are deeply moving, at other times, tokenistic.
  • Adnyamathanha man, football player and community leader, Adam Goodes, received an Australian of the Year Award for his “leadership and advocacy in the fight against racism both on the sporting field and within society”. This followed a period of disturbing racism in football, from both commentators and fans.
  • Bruce Pascoe publishes Dark Emu, 2014. The book re- examines colonial accounts of Aboriginal people in Australia, and cites evidence of pre-colonial agriculture, engineering and building construction by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Meanwhile the right wing press debates Pascoe’s claim to indigenous ancestry. Evidence is questioned. The history wars are back on the agenda. 
  • The situation of aboriginal deaths in custody has worsened. The recommendations made by the Royal Commission 30 years ago have not been acted upon.
  • The rejection by the Turnbull Government of the Uluru Statement From the Heart was a profoundly sad day for Indigenous people and all Australians. Malcolm, you’re hands are not clean. Read the Uluru statement here.
  • Rio Tinto blows up 46,000 year old Julukan Gorge heritage caves in Western Australia, a major indigenous cultural site and human historical site, and says sorry: nothing else happens. Further destruction of 40 Aboriginal heritage sites is planned to take place in the Pilbarra.
  • A statue of Stirling, a colonial murderer of indigenous people in Western Australia is ‘defaced’. The perpetrator is charged with criminal damage. Pass me that spray can.
  • Marches are back on our streets, with the spotlight on indigenous deaths in custody in the  black lives matter movement here in Australia. Will the momentum keep up?

The following link from last year’s Guardian provides an interactive map of the massacres of indigenous communities that took place throughout the 19th century. A genocide map, most of the research was done by historians in the 1980s and 90s.

My Island Home, by Neil Murray

Six years I’ve been in the desert
And every night I dream of the sea
They say home is where you find it
But will this place ever satisfy me
For I come from the saltwater people
We always lived by the sea
Now I’m out here west of Alice Springs
With a wife and a family

And my Island Home
My Island Home
My Island Home is a waiting for me

In the evenin’ the dry wind blows from the hills and across the plain
I close my eyes and I’m standin’ in a boat on the sea again
And I’m holding that long turtle spear
And I feel I’m close now to where it must be
And My Island Home is a waitin’ for me

Photo, Lake Tyers, East Gippsland, Victoria. Looking toward the Lake Tyers Aboriginal trust.

I was planning to examine the role played by Angus McMillan in the genocidal massacres of indigenous communities in East Gippsland during the 1840s in this post, but became diverted. During my recent travels to that area, I discovered some more recent histories on that topic and am pleased to note that libraries have re-opened for picking up reserved books. 

In My Kitchen, June 2020

Sometimes it occurs to me that writing about food seems inconsequential, perhaps even pointless, when the world has become so dark. I’m also aware that blogging is a pastime for the well- off, those like me who have more time, money, food, and housing security than most people in the world. As our world staggers from one disaster to the next, the deep and underlying fissures in society are being exposed. Environmental disasters caused by climate inaction, the current pandemic which has not yet run its course, imbecilic, corrupt and dangerous national leadership in many countries, shifts in global trading patterns, a potential American civil war, ongoing structural and institutional racism, gender inequality and political manipulation in the elections in so called democracies- the list of modern ills seems infinite. The only safe place is in the kitchen, where the focus is directed towards family, nourishment, and the preservation of ancient food cultures.

Although I’m still reticent to venture out, especially for the time wasting amusement gained by shopping for more things I don’t need, whether they are new or pre-owned, I have enjoyed buying a few things online, including some kitchen ware, and may continue to shop this way in the future. I was also delighted when some social gathering restrictions were eased and I could see my family again. No hugs yet but at least we can eat and drink in the same room. We have also enjoyed one dinner away from home with friends. Sitting at distant ends of the table, the large vegetarian lasagne was a joy to behold and eat- at last something not made by me or Tranquillo.

Zuppa cereale, made with freekeh.

My granddaughter, Daisy, has been a delightful presence in my kitchen. “Can I help?”or “What are you cooking?” are some of her words that I love to hear, as is the sound of her small cooking stool being dragged into place at the bench. She chops, crumbs, mixes, and tastes for correct seasoning and balance. She prefers anchovies to sweet things, and can wax lyrical about her favourite dish, a white bean and silver beet soup. From the age of two, her refined sense of smell has led her to the kitchen: she’s a natural chef with a strong desire to learn. Now that she is ‘allowed’ to come here for her home schooling, we’ve enjoyed more time together in the kitchen: this has been the up side of the pandemic for me. After we finish the set school tasks, we reward ourselves with some good cooking. Last week she made her own Kolokithopita, mastering the triangular shape, while I rabbited on about equilateral triangles, trying to slip in some math. Kolokithopita is a Greek pie stuffing using pumpkin. I simply substitute some oven baked pumpkin for the spinach in a spanakopita recipe, adding lots of fresh herbs and chopped spring onions. Daisy likes making these mainly because of the smell of the warm melted butter used to paint the pastry sheets. What a nose.

Daisy at 10, with her fillo parcels. 2020

Daisy shelling beans, 3 years old,  2013

I’ve been baking sourdough bread for 7 years, with four loaves baked weekly along with three large tray pizzas which are delivered to my extended family each Wednesday. Storage of flour and baking equipment was becoming a huge problem, along with RSI in my arms caused by the unusually high kitchen benches. I’ve been longing for a kitchen renovation but am fearful of the expense involved. The solution came in the form of an online purchase of an Ikea stainless steel trolley and a large bread making board. The lot is now wheeled to my dining table where I can work at the right height for dough handling, which for me is around 75 cms.

Cheaper than a kitchen reno.

The lime trees are still covered with fruit. This week I’ve begun an Indian style lime pickle. Below, a bowl of sliced and salted limes, waiting for the next step. Meanwhile, home grown lemons are preserved in salt. Ancient preservation traditions from India to the Middle East.

One of my favourite pasta dishes in winter is Pantacce, bietola, gorgonzola e noce. I found a small piece of blue cheese hiding in the fridge, which I melted into some cream, tossed in a handful of toasted walnuts, and cooked the chopped silver beet briefly in the same pot as the pasta. The components came together in a deep frying pan. A more precise recipe can be found on my post here.

Pantacce, gorgonzola cream, silver beet, walnuts

I posted these Friday Night Indian potatoes last week here: they were popular, and can be whipped up in no time.

Rye sourdough, with unusual scoring. Almost an indigenous pattern?

Thanks Sherry once again for hosting this series on Sherry’s Pickings.

Sunday Cake, Quince and Almond

Thanks to the abundant rainfall over the first few months of summer and autumn this year, most fruit crops were plentiful, with much larger sized fruit than previous years. Our district received more rain in the first four months of 2020 than the total rainfall for the entire year of 2019. I am thankful that the drought is over. I’m still picking unripe figs and tomatoes on the last day of autumn. Meanwhile my spare fridge is laden with large quinces and frozen plums. Although I made plenty of quince concoctions during the picking season, the stored fruit are wonderful to use during winter in cakes and puddings.

I first made this cake in May 2016 and it has evolved a little over the years. It’s a large cake to share on a Sunday for breakfast after a family walk or for elevenses. If you want to alter the ratio of almond meal to SR flour, by all means do so, bearing in mind that you may need to add a little bi- carb soda to your mix if you remove too much of the SR flour.

Sunday Quince and Almond Cake. Serves 10

  • 250 g butter, room temperature
  •  275 gr caster sugar
  •  1 teaspoon finely zested lemon rind
  •  3 eggs
  • 90 gr almond meal
  • 250 ml cup of milk 
  • 300 gr SR flour
  • 2 + poached quinces, drained and cut into slices, liquid reserved.
  1. Poach your quinces the day before baking. Poached quinces last well in a covered container for a few weeks submerged under the poaching liquid. They take around 6 hours to turn ruby red. Consider making more than you need for this recipe.

  2. Preheat oven to 180°C or 160°C fan forced. Grease base and sides of a 22-24 cm springform pan and line with baking paper.

  3. Use an electric mixer with a paddle attachment to beat butter, sugar and lemon rind in a bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Stir in the almond meal. Then stir in milk and flour, alternating. Spoon 2/3 of batter into prepared pan. Top with half of quince. Top with remaining batter. Top with remaining quince. Bake for 1 hr 20 mins or until a skewer inserted in centre comes out clean. Stand in pan for 10 mins, then remove sides of pan.

    Serve cake warm or at room temperature with cream and reduced, thickened quince syrup or more simply with sifted icing sugar. It keeps well for a few days.

    Morning view before the cake baking.

    For my dear friend Julie.

 

Friday Night Indian Potatoes

Some of you have returned to work, some of you never left, and some are still working from home. Despite the changing nature of work and the uncertainties that plague our lives, Friday night is knock off night, a call for simple food, perhaps fish and chips from the local take away, or the equivalent version cooked at home. I’ve always struggled with chip cooking, but can recommend these Indian fried potatoes as a quick and tasty substitute. These are irresistible on their own. Make a big pile and forget about the fish.

Indian style fried potatoes with 5 seeds. This recipe serves 3 as a snack or a side. Double the ingredients for a decent size, they will all be eaten in a flash, I promise.

  • 500 gr potatoes. I used Desiree potatoes today.
  • 3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons panch phoran, ( a blend of 5 whole seeds including cumin, fennel, mustard, nigella and fenugreek seeds)
  • 3/4 teaspoons turmeric powder
  • salt to taste
  • dried chilli flakes to taste
  • a handful of chopped fresh coriander

Method

Peel the potatoes and cut into chunks. Cook in boiling salted water until just done.

Place the oil and seeds in a medium non stick frying pan and fry over a low heat for a minute or so, then add the turmeric, chilli and salt. Stir about, the add the potatoes, gently turning them so that they are coated in the spices. Cook over a low heat for a few minutes, turning gently, then turn up the heat so that they form a nice golden brown crust on both sides. when done to your satisfaction, serve, garnished with chopped coriander.

Note- if you don’t have panch phoron on hand, raid the seeds in your spice cupboard and create your own blend.

Recipe adapted from Indian Food made Easy, Anjum Anand. 2007 a very handy collection.

Best Prawn Curry from Goa

I’m always in search of a better prawn curry than the one I made last time, but the search is over, for a while at least. I’ve made many a good prawn curry along the way, Prawn Jingha Masala, various Keralan prawn curries with coconut milk and fresh curry leaves, prawn Malabar and north Indian masalas, and have finally settled on Prawn Balchao, a prawn curry from Goa. The combination of spice and vinegar makes this gravy really appealing on a cold night. The recipe is relatively simple. Once you’ve made the paste, the rest follows within minutes. During lockdown times, I’ve used frozen prawn cutlets ( large Australian prawns that have been pre-shelled and frozen on board fishing trawlers) and now keep a supply stashed in the freezer especially for this curry.

Prawn Balchao for 2-4 or more with other dishes.

The spice paste

  • 8g ginger, peeled
  • 15 g garlic, peeled
  • 5 dried mild red chillies
  • 2 cloves
  • 6 peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric

The curry

  • 2 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, peeled, finely chopped
  • 3 tomatoes, finely chopped ( or use canned tomatoes with only a tiny part of the juice- about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 green chilli, left whole
  • 3-4 tablespoons malt or red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • salt to taste
  • 300 g raw prawn meat ( this is the shelled weight)

Make a paste of the ginger, red chillies, and all the spices. I find a large mortar and pestle is the best tool for this job. You can produce a fine paste with a couple of minutes of banging and grinding. A food processor is too large for a paste this small. Add a little water to the paste towards the end to achieve a fine texture.

Heat the oil in a large non stick wok and fry the onion gently until golden. Add the tomatoes and green chilli and fry for about 10-12 minutes over a moderate heat until the mixture becomes a deep red colour. Add a splash of water if the pan becomes dry.

Add the spice paste and fry for 5 minutes until the oil separates. Add the vinegar, sugar and salt. Cook another minute and taste for a balance of flavours. adjust the salt if needed. Add the prawns and cook for 2 minutes or until cooked through. At this point, if the curry is too dry, you can loosen it with water, or cream. The latter additions are not so authentic, but I like a wet gravy in this curry and so recommend loosening the mixture.

Serve with rice and other lovely sides, with some papadum or naan.

Recipe adapted from Indian Food Made Easy, Anjum Anand. 2007. A very handy little book.

Varkala girls by the sea, memories of Kerala.