Bengali Prawn Curry

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This Bengali prawn curry is one that was passed on to me by my mother-in-law and is, without doubt, my favourite of all prawn curries. The sweet undertones from the desiccated coconut and prawns blends superbly with the black mustard seeds and chilli powder, giving it a gently kick. I love to cook it using the king of all prawns, but it tastes equally good if you cook it using the smaller varieties as well. I do prefer to keep the tails mind you, both for appearance and because it holds the prawns together well, so if you can find prawns with shells and tails on I would always opt for those as opposed to buying the ones that have already been shelled and deveined.

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The prawns will be a greyish colour when you buy them. I bought frozen prawns and then let them defrost slowly over night in the fridge before peeling and deveining them in the morning. They remind me of the giant grilled prawns I would eat most evenings when I was staying on the shores of Lake Malawi for my honeymoon, many moons ago.

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Within seconds of being gently cooked the prawns will turn a fabulous pink and begin to curl into themselves. They only need a minute or so cooking on each side to seal them.

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The sealed prawns waiting to go into the curry sauce. The meatiness of them makes them a very satisfying and filling meal.

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Once the prawns have been added to the curry sauce let them simmer gently for a few minutes, making sure you coat the prawns sufficiently in the delicious sauce. Sprinkle ground garam masala over the prawns and give a little stir, before serving with basmati rice.

Bengali Prawn Curry

Serves 3-4

600g prawns, peeled, deveined but tails left on (I used 9 frozen super king prawns)

1 medium sized white onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 inch piece of fresh ginger, skin removed and grated

vegetable oil

2/3 bay leaves

1 tsp black mustard seeds

25g (or 4/5 tbsp) desiccated coconut

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp chilli powder (less if you prefer it less hot)

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp salt (you may wish to add one more – taste first)

2tbsp chopped tin tomatoes

200ml boiling water

1 tsp ground garam masala

1. Heat a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil in a fairly deep frying pan or karahi. On a low heat add the prawns, in stages if your pan is on the small side, so as to seal them. They will curl up slightly and take on a vibrant pinkish hue. After a minute or so turn them over so that both sides are sealed. Then turn them on to their backs so as the top side is also cooked. Remove from the pan and place on a plate to one side, whilst you finish cooking the remaining prawns.

2. Add a little more vegetable oil if it is running dry and keeping the oil at a low heat add the black mustard seeds. They will burst open and sizzle so make sure the oil is not too hot as they will spit! Add the bay leaves and stir with the black mustard seeds.

3. Add the onion, garlic and ginger to the pan and cook gently for around 5/6 minutes until they begin to bronze in colour.

4. Add all the spices apart from the garam masala, as well as the salt and sugar.  Stir together and add the tinned chopped tomatoes.

5. Add 200ml of boiling water and add the desiccated coconut. Bring to the boil gently stiring and add the prawns. Gently cover the prawns in the sauce and simmer for a few minutes. Taste and add more salt if necessary.

6. Add the ground garam masala over the prawns, give a quick stir and serve immediately.

Serve with basmati rice.


Mung Bean and Cumin Dal and Durga Puja Festivities

This past weekend has been one of celebration as it was Durga Puja. For Bengali Hindus (my husband’s side of the family) Durga Puja is the biggest religious festival in the Hindu calender. In Kolkata, which is the heart of Bengal, I am told it is taken to another level altogether, when families feast, dance and pray to the goddess Durga – the conquerer of good over evil and the mother of the universe, as well as her children: Ganesh, Saraswati, Lakshmi and Kartik. Schools close and everyone takes time off work to celebrate.

The statue of goddess Durga on her lion fighting the demon Mahishasura in the Hounslow Pandal

Tooting Goddess Durga 

The making of the statues is a hugely lucrative business in India and at the end of the six day festival the statues are ceremoniously carried to the Ganges and left to drift away and be reabsorbed into the Ganges. The statutes themselves are made of straw and mud from the Ganges and then glazed with paint to give them that glossy shine; the craftsmanship and detail never ceases to impress me.

There are thousands of Durga Puja pandals, which are basically huge structures housing the goddess and her children, erected all over the different Kolkata neighbourhoods. It’s all hugely competitive and each pandal competes for attention in beauty and innovation. I visited two different ones in London – one in Tooting and the other in Hounslow and both were very spectacular in terms of colour and design, the latter I know had been shipped from Kolkata.

Ganesh – one of Durga’s offspring in the Hounslow Pandal

The banging of the drums, the blowing of the conch shell, the incense, the chanting of the prays and hustle and bustle of people coming and going really transports you to India. It’s all rather frenetic and yet very warm and inviting at the same time. In the Hounslow pandal alone thousands of visitors came and went over the course of a few days. Catering for that number must be rather daunting but I was very impressed by the taste and quality of the food and the fact that it was all hot. It was the longest queue for food I have ever witnessed, but it moved quickly and before long we were given a plate of tasty vegetarian food.

Some vegetarian cuisine given to those who attended the Hounslow puja in London

Back at home I have been cooking an endless amount of Indian dishes from: methi and pomegranate pork curry to amma’s chicken curry, red lentil dal with spinach, yellow dal with courgette, Bengali fish curry and mung bean and cumin dal.

It is the mung bean dal recipe that I wanted to share with you all today. Unlike red split lentil and some yellow dal it does require a little more forward planning as it needs to be soaked, ideally overnight.

It’s delicious, nutritious, cheap to make and other than the soaking of the mung beans, is very straightforward. My mother-in-law makes a completely different tasting mung bean dal, which I will post another time, but to get you started try this one and let me know how you get on. It’s perfect for a week night vegetarian supper.

Mung Bean and Cumin Dal

Serves 4

250g mung beans (also referred to as moong bean), soaked overnight

3 tbsp mustard oil

1 white onion, finely chopped

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp turmeric

half tsp red chilli powder

half tsp garam masala powder

half tsp cumin powder

1 tsp salt

juice of half a lemon

fresh coriander to serve

1. Place the pre soaked mung beans in a pan and cover with water and gently simmer until softened. This will take around 40 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, place the oil in a pan and gently fry the cumin seeds for a minute or so until they begin to bronze. Immediately add the onion and mix together with the cumin seeds.

3. When the onions have softened and become translucent add the cumin powder, red chilli powder, turmeric and garam masala and stir together.

4. Drain the mung beans and then transfer them to the pan with the onions and fold in thoroughly. Add the salt and lemon juice and simmer together for a further 5-10 minutes. You may need to add a little more water at this stage.

Whilst it is delicious to eat on its own or with a chapati it is also great to accompany it with a fish, meat or vegetarian curry (see my recipe library) if you wish to make a more substantial Indian feast.

Mung beans soaked overnight

Step 3 above


Bavani’s Cinnamon and Ginger Dal (Parripu)

Very recently I was served this comforting and fragrant dal by my Sri Lankan friend, Bavani. It tasted so darn good that I immediately asked her what she put in her red split lentil dal and proceeded to cook it the following night for the toughest of critics….my husband AND father-in-law. Yes I am definitely keen and eager when I come across a good recipe! They both gave it a definite thumbs up and declared it was unlike all the other dals they eat on a regular basis.

Don’t get me wrong I love my red split lentil dal, but this one tastes so completely different that I will definitely be cooking it from time to time. It’s not a true Sri Lankan dal or parripu, as it is known in Sri Lanka, but instead Bavani’s version of lentil soup for the Western diet. A true Sri Lankan dal would contain turmeric, green chilli mustard seeds, curry leaves, curry powder etc, but I think Bavani’s alternative will definitely appeal to a wide audience. It has a gentle chilli kick and subtle cinnamon and ginger undertones, very different from my red split lentil dal which has turmeric and panch phoron.

Red split lentils are the easiest of all lentils to cook as they are cooked in 10 minutes and do not need any soaking first – so perfect for a quick meal when you are tired and exhausted after a manic day. They are also really cheap and most importantly – healthy, so perfect for the bank balance and general well-being.

Bavani’s Cinnamon and Ginger Dal (Parripu)

Serves 4

400g red split lentils

2 tbsp mustard oil (or vegetable if you don’t have mustard)

1 whole garlic bulb, peeled and sliced

1 thai red chilli, thinly sliced

2 cinnamon bark sticks

half tsp of asafoetida

1 tsp cumin powder

2 inch of fresh ginger thickly sliced

2 carrots, sliced into small cubes

1 tsp salt

fresh coriander, chopped to serve

1. Place the red split lentils in a pan and run under cold water and wash through thoroughly, using your hands, a couple of times. This is to clean the lentils before cooking them.

2. Place boiling water into the pan with the red split lentils so that there is a good inch of water above the lentils. During the course of the cooking you may need to add more boiling water if all the water has been soaked up or if you prefer the dal to be more soup like in consistency! The lentils should be cooked after ten minutes – if you place one lentil between your forefinger and thumb it should be soft to touch; the colour will also have lightened.

3. In a large separate saucepan/wok heat the mustard oil and add the garlic and red chilli and gently cook for a couple of minutes before adding the carrots, cinnamon bark, cumin powder, asafoetida and the fresh ginger. (You want to keep the ginger fairly thickly sliced so that they are easy to identify and scoop out before serving). On a low heat mix the ingredients together for roughly 6 minutes.

4. Transfer a large spoonful of the cooked red split lentil dal to the saucepan and mix together and then place all the ingredients BACK into the saucepan with the dal. Stir in throughly and add the salt – to taste.

5. Let the dal simmer for a further five minutes or until the carrots are completely soft. You may find you need to add a little more boiling water at this stage. It is not an exact science but more one of personal taste. Add a little water at a time as you can always add a little more if necessary.

 6. Before serving scoop out the fresh ginger and cinnamon bark. Serve with fresh coriander and eat either on its own, with rice or a chapati.

It also works really well accompanying Speedy Salmon Curry,  Goan Hot and Sour Pork Curry, Chicken Liver Curry, Goat Curry