Thursday, February 28, 2019

Fish in Ajillo Sauce -- Inspired by Vacations

Over the Christmas break in December, we went to Los Cabos, Mexico. A mini reunion of of some of our college friends from million years back. If I think of it, friends = family for us now.

Anyway, only 4 families could join this time. But don't think that was a small number!! The four families made us 16 people in all, and this was more than enough to turn the service folks crazy at the resort we stayed in. If there were more of us, there is a fair chance that we would be banned from the resort in future.

This was the first time we were going to an all-inclusive resort. So far, we had avoided that wonderful thing, thinking it will be boring and give us an insulated view of the country. That is true but when going in a large group with kids of myriad ages, there is nothing better than an "all-inclusive-resort". I will tell you why.

The first thing you have to understand is, when you have been brought up in a developing country, like me, the word "FREE" comes with a lot of magic.
Not "born to be free" or free-dom or such.
More like " Buy 1 Get 1 Free". Or better still -- "Free Food". That raises our dopamine level and makes our heart race faster than if #FarhanAkhtar was in town.
I don't know about yours, but my mom-in-law gets immense pleasure in picking up free sachets of ketchup at any place that has them and my Dad brings home tea-bags and sachets of sugar from every hotel we stay in. There was time, when I had no idea that you could buy toothpicks at the store. We always got them from the restaurant we ate at and stored them as precious possessions.
The point is we love anything that is "FREE". Many years back, when we were still new to this country and scratching our heads at -- 1% Fat Milk, 2% Fat Milk or Whole Milk, my Baba had excitedly picked up the Fat-Free Milk on basis of the argument that this had "free fat" and why would one refuse milk that has "free fat" added to it!!!

So in these #allinclusive hotel/resort deals, you pay upfront and then you don't have to glance at the cheque, end of each meal. Which to us meant -- the food is practically FREE!!!
Yehhhh!! 💃🤸‍♀️🤜🤛
And if anything is FREE, we make sure that we get lots of it. Much more than we need. Even if we don't need. .
"Take it na, it's free anyway"!!! .
That is ingrained in our DNA..So we ate like gluttons at every meal. As if we had arrived at the land of plenty from some famine struck place where we were deprived of food and drinks. That the food was delicious and the menu was tantalizing made it worse.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Daab Chingri -- Prawns in Tender Coconut Shell

Daab Chingri | Prawns in Tender Coconut

Daab Chingri | Prawns cooked in tender coconut shell

Daab Chingri, or prawns cooked in tender coconut shell is more of an urban Bengali dish, made very popular by restaurants. The base recipe is very much like shorshe chingri bhaape, where prawns are mixed in a mustard-coconut paste and then steamed. Here the steaming or cooking happens in a tender green coconut shell, with the the tender coconut(daab) and its cream(daab er malai) elevating the flavor of the dish. 

Not all recipes start with a line like "And in my grandmother's kitchen..."

Neither do all recipes have a boat load of nostalgia tied to them.

But one thing is true, every delicious recipe is triggered by the memory of a meal.

I had never seen a Daab Chingri cooked in my grandmother's kitchen. Neither did my Mother ever make it. Daab aka Tender Young Coconut was very popular in India and we loved it as a drink. Bonus was the tender meat of the coconut -- the shaansh. But prawns cooked in the shell of a tender green coconut? It never featured in any of my childhood meals!

Now Shorshe Chingri Bhaape, where prawns were mixed with a mustard-coconut paste and steamed, was a very popular dish in my home. Only it was steamed in a sealed stainless steel container, that was put either in a pot of rice being cooked or in a pressure cooker. Sometimes, and only sometimes, in my Dida's kitchen, shrimp, coconut and mustard paste would be tossed together, put in a coconut shell and tucked into the dying embers of a unoon. But that was not Daab, that was the hard cooconut shell, it was more of a hasty practical dish and not fancy.

I started hearing about Daab Chingri only when finer Bengali food restaurants started sprouting around Kolkata metropolis. Unlike the paise hotels, which served everyday Bengali meals to the masses, these restaurants offered fine dining in a lovely ambiance and a menu that boasted of Bengali delicacies -- some known and some concocted. I have a hunch that "Daab Chingri" was a brilliant idea spawned by one of them. It tasted delicious like Chingri Bhaape and was very unique in its presentation style. No wonder the dish took off swiftly and spread like wild fire.

Soon, every other person started saying "The Bengali traditional Daab Chingri cooked by my grandmother....". Like really? Your grandmother in the 60s, 70s, 80s and even early 90s cooked Daab Chingri in her kitchen? Errr...think twice!

But to be honest, Daab Chingri is more of an urban Bengali dish and not one of those traditional ones with boatmen, Portuguese, Thakurbari and history written all over them.

Daab Chingri at 6 Ballygunge Place
So anyway, having heard so much about this dish, I wanted to desperately try it. Last time during my India trip, my parents took me to 6 Ballygunge Place. Beautiful decor, awesome table settings, very unique menu -- I was blown over! And they had Daab Chingri on the menu. I had to order it of course. It was a beautiful dish no doubt but I had a feeling that the prawns were cooked prior and then the dish finished off in the Daab. No harm done of course. Maybe this is how one makes Daab Chingri, I concluded.

Then last week, my very talented friend Moumita made Daab Chingri at home and shared with me. It was delicious. The Daab that we get here is not the green coconut served in Indian restaurants, but a slightly more mature version, stripped of the green exterior.

Today, I had a deep desire to cook Daab Chingri at home. Moumita was away from her phone. I started browsing recipes on the internet and each involved garlic, cream, paanchphoron and what not 😡😭. That's not how  I envisioned Daab Chingri. I knew my Daab Chingri would be the mustard-coconut one and not the garlic-cream one.

I then, texted another friend Baishali and she promptly shared two recipes with me. Both her recipes were exactly how I wanted them to be and here's what sealed the deal. Her recipes were very, very easy.

In fact one of them was done totally in the Microwave. As I was experimenting, I tried both the Oven and Microwave method. With lots of green Chili, the sharp mustard paste mellowed by the mildly sweet Coconut, golden Mustard Oil, and succulent prawns -- this was a beautiful dish. Triggered by the memory of a meal and aided by friends, it was dish I would always treasure.💓

To be honest, it is very much like the Shorshe Chingri Bhaape who has gone to a glamorous party. The Tender Coconut Shell definitely adds some panache to the presentation and lends a layer of coconut flavor to the dish.