Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Zafrani Golda Chingri and my Durga

 আজ মহালয়া 

Today is the supicious day of Mahalaya, the day the Divine Mother is invoked to descend on earth and establish the power of good over evil.

Mahalaya is very special to me. Has always been. For as long a I remember, (at least 22 of my 27 years on earth) I have always woken up at 3:30 am to listen to Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s arousing recitation of Mahishasura Mardini, aired on All India Radio at 4 am (the audio program was recorded in 1931). For the uninitiated Mahishasura Mardini is a body od slokas and songs that depict the annihilation of demon kinf Mahisasura in the hands of Durga. I for one still feel that child like excitement the night before Mahalaya, looking forward to listen to the radio with Ma and the others, and watch the first light of dawn kiss the night sky. A special dawn it is and one that never fails to leave me overwhelmed with emotions. 

As a child I grew up on  a rich diet of fairytales,  mythology, folklores and more. I feel blessed for that. My grandmother (Dida) was an avid reader, and she had quite a collection of books on mythology, not only Indian mythology, but even Ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology. Every afternoon, Dida would sit on her cushioned chair on the northern balcony and read. On days I would manage to sneek out of my room in the afternoon, I would head straight to Dida and pester her until she would agree to tell me stories. And though she had loads of tales to tell, my favourite ones were the ones about Durga ad her family. I would make her repeat the stories again and again. I did the same thing to one of my aunts who always obliged whenever I demanded a story. But no matter what new tale she tried tempt me with I would want her to repeat the same stories, about Durga.

As a child Durga was a very real part of my life. Durga the goddess, the mother. I did have an extremely imaginitive mind I am told, for which I often landed in trouble, but that’s another story. About Durga, I was so enthralled by this wonder woman, that in my imagination she was an indispensible part of my life. I believed at one point that She especially liked me and knew all about my whereabouts and what it was that I was up to. Eversince I decided that I was one of Durga’s favourite children on earth, my aunt was faced by a real predicament. Now she had to make up stories that featured Durga and me. I knew she was making it up, nonetheless I loved those tales about my adventures with Durga. In them slayed a few demons too, while Durga applauded in awe and gave me a pat on the back.

A few of my friends already know this story, and at the risk of being embarrased I am going to share this with you too. So back then I was in Upper Nursery or Prep. My best friend in school was a boy named Mithun. He was a devotee of Lord Shiva and Devi Durga. He had told me he had special powers given to him by Lord Shiva. I was not happy. A few days later I went to school and asked him,”Guess where I was this weekend (of course I am paraphrasing)? “Where?” he asked. My answer “Mount Kailash”. Mount Kailash is the abode of Lord Shiva, naturally his wife would stay there too. I still remember Mithun’s face when I broke the news. “ I  went on to say I was specially invited and Devi Durga had made me Luchi herself. And the curries were wonderful.” “ I passed the fruits though,” I added. Next day, Mithun’s mother called out to my Mum, when school was over. She requested that my mother tactfully convinces me to confess to Mithun that I had only imagined it all. The thing is Mithun had returned home the day I  had told him of my visit to Mount Kailash, and had thrown such a fit thatit drove his parents crazy. He refused to eat unless he was taken to Mount Kailash. My mother did try to convince me, ha ha, but as far as I am concerned I had already made myself believe that it was all true. Magical but true. I wouldn’t listen. Call me crazy but what is life without a little magic. 

Talking of magic, as I grew up and sobered up, I started looking for magic in two things, books and food. And talking of food, about the recipe I am going to share today. So, my Mahalaya special recipe is yet another prawn dish, this time with jumbo prawns or Golda Chingri, a favourite among us Bengali's. Now, though Hilsa is dubbed the King of fish among us, and though our love for Hilsa is legendary, when it comes to Durga Puja feast, Chingri/prawns have always enjoyed the glory spot, at least at my place. You see by the time Durga Puja arrives the Hilsa season almost comes to an end. You get the best Hilsa during monsoons. Of course you can still buy a good Hilsa at an exorbitant price from one of the bigger fish markets, but my father insists it's not the same. "It isn't tasty enough," he says. So come Durga Puja, Chingri is the delicacy of choice. Of course Bekti (Barramundi) comes a close second. 

So, I had a this sealed pack of saffron I had brought back from my recent trip to Kashmir (though long before the devastating floods hit the beautiful land) and I wanted to put it to use. So, I made my own version of Jumbo prawns cooked with saffron. The recipe calls for some thick coconut milk, cashew nuts, raisins, a few aromatic whole spices and the beautiful Kashmiri kesar/saffron. It looks as good as it tastes. 


Golda chingri/ Jumbo Prawns - 8 
Ginger - 1 inch
Garlic - 2 cloves
Thick coconut milk - 200 ml 
Cashew nuts - 100 g 
Raisins - 50 g 
Whole dried red chilies - 4-5 
Cardamom - 4-5 
Cloves - 4-5 
Cinnamon stick - 1 inch 
Saffron strands - 2 large pinches 
Salt to taste 
Sugar - 1/2 tsp (optional)
Ghee - 2 tbsp + 2 tbsp
Vegetable oil - a few table spoons 
Slivered almonds and saffron strands for garnish


Make a paste of the cashew nuts and raisins together. 

Make a paste of the garlic and ginger together. 

Add the saffron to the coconut milk and keep aside. 

In a pan heat 2 tbsp ghee along with a few tablespoons of vegetable oil. 

Smear some salt on the cleaned prawns and lightly fry them. They should just begin to change colour. 

Take out the prawns and keep.

In the same pan, add two tbsp ghee and once it is hot, add the cardamom, cloves and cinnamon stick. 

Once the whole spices begin to splutter, add the ginger-garlic paste and fry a little, until golden. 

Now add the cashewnut-raisin paste and fry for about 5 minutes of medium hight heat, stirring continuously. 

Once the paste begins to leave the sides of the pan, add the saffron infused coconut milk and bring to a boil. Add half a cup water and cook on medium heat for 6-8 minutes, stirring continuously. 

Once the gray thickens, add the whole red chilies, salt and sugar. Stir and mix well. Now toss in the prawns, carefully stir and mix so that the prawns are laced in the coconut milk gravy. 

Cover and cook on low heat for about 10 minutes or until prawns are cooked through. 

Remove and serve with aromatic rice, like Basmati or Gobindobhog. This should go well with a pilaf too. 

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