There's something that's been agitating me for a while. Why is all Indian food referred to as 'curry?' The original Tamil word is kari, meaning spiced sauce. This generic reference doesn't actually mean anything. Indian flavours are complex and intricate, and to refer to everything as 'curry' simply devalues a cuisine that is inextricably linked with such a rich and vast culture.
'I'm going out for a curry' is a phrase unheard of in the Indian subcontinent. This was a phrase conceived by the British colonialists to refer to a generic sauce-based, homogenised, spicy Indian dish. The swathe of blanket kormas, baltis and tikka masalas with a choice of any meat, chicken or vegetable, swimming in oil, is irritatingly inauthentic. Indian cooking should manifest its regional diversity. Recipes are often not documented and handed down from generation to generation just by word of mouth, for fear of plagiarism. This is one of the reasons that Indian food, despite its culinary refinements, is not as well chronicled as French food for example.
The Mughals from Afghanistan settled in Northern India bringing an array of spices, fruits and nuts and combined these with yoghurt and cream, thus concocting 'Mughlai' cuisine. Punjab with its fertile land, ideal for the production of wheat, is known as the 'Granary of India.' Punjabis are well known for their love of food and the Punjab is acclaimed for its tandoori cooking. The Persians came and settled in the southern half of India and these 'Parsees' as they are known, introduced their 'Dhansak' style, which integrated lentils and spices into their mutton or chicken dishes. The Western part of India, mainly Mumbai and Goa with its Portuguese influence due to four hundred years of Portuguese colonialism, has outstanding seafood dishes using coconut milk and tamarind. Gujarat in the west is predominantly vegetarian. Many Gujarati dishes are often simultaneously salty, spicy and sweet. Rice and lentils are the staples of South India, as well as fiery vegetable dishes using coconut, mustard and curry leaves to embellish their food. Bengal in the East is where fish is abundant and therefore widely eaten alongside rice. Bengalis are renowned for their 'Mishti,' or sweetmeats. These various regional distinctions are only the tip of the iceberg of our profound culinary heritage.
The popularity of Indian food is undeniable. The 'national dish' in the UK is curry and the Indian restaurant industry in Britain is worth almost £4 billion. The food of India recreated abroad has become a melting pot of Indian culture. Furthermore, it's impossible to represent intricate regional nuances. So the umbrella term 'curry' has actually done wonders for the profile of Indian cuisine and curry is now ubiquitous having become a worldwide phenomenon.
On a more personal note, all celebratory, significant moments in my life, whether they be birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, have always been accompanied by exquisite food and feasting. We are a family who eat together everyday; the sights, sounds and aromas are all a requisite and integral part of my family's ethos. From my Punjabi kitchen I would like to share with you a real crowd pleaser. Dare I call it a 'curry'? I have to relinquish my own aversion and start embracing the word, so I'm going to take the plunge and invite you to experience my Prawn Curry. With its North Indian influences, the spicing is subtle, but as always, every recipe is open to personal interpretation. The sizeable, juicy prawns are cooked in a rich, creamy, tomato based sauce with a final flurry of some added citrus notes. All that remains for me to say is Curry on Eating!
Perfect Prawn Curry
- 1 kg King Prawns, raw, peeled & deveined
- 2 large Onions, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp Sunflower Oil
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 5 cm piece Ginger, peeled
- 6 large cloves Garlic, peeled
- 1 green Chilli
- 1 tin chopped Tomatoes
- 1 tbsp Tomato Puree
- 3 Plum Tomatoes, finely chopped
- 2 tsp Salt
- 2 tsp Garam Masala
- 1 tsp Coriander powder
- 200 ml Double Cream
- 3 Spring Onions, finely chopped
- 1 Lime
- In a herb mill, grind the ginger, garlic and chilli to form a paste.
- Take the prawns out of the fridge and set aside.
- In a large pan heat the sunflower oil and add the onions, the bay leaves and the ginger, garlic and chilli paste.
- Fry this on a moderate heat until the onions are a toasted brown colour, stirring occasionally.
- Add the tinned tomatoes, the tomato puree and the fresh tomatoes and stir in.
- Lower the heat slightly and cook until the tomato sauce becomes a darker red and the oil starts to emerge from the edge of the pan. Make sure you regularly stir this to prevent it from sticking.
- Stir in the salt, garam masala and coriander powder.
- In a small bowl place the chopped spring onions with the juice of the lime and set aside.
- Add the prawns into the tomato sauce. They should cook quite quickly and will change from grey to pink in about 5-10 minutes.
- Keep stirring and once all the prawns are pink, add the double cream and stir in.
- Stir in the lime infused spring onions and serve.
- Serve with hot basmati rice, or roti or parantha.
- I use raw, peeled and deveined king prawns. Use fresh or frozen raw king prawns.
- If you use frozen prawns, make sure that they are defrosted and drain out any excess water in the bag. You can slowly defrost them overnight in the fridge.
- If you use cooked prawns, they will be tough and chewy in the curry, so use raw prawns.