#1000Kitchens is a series that takes you into kitchens all over the country, documenting heirloom recipes that tell a story. In this debut, Anisha Oommen introduces her mum's much-loved prawn and raw mango curry.
My mum is gentle and soft-spoken. Not a fierce feminist, like I turned out to be. For as long as I can remember, I admired strong-willed, determined women; those go-getters who lined their eyes with kohl, wore large bindis and draped themselves in dramatic saris. The ways of the Syrian Christian women on the other hand, are more austere: They wear saris of off-white and cream, bordered with gold. Cutwork is considered intricate, and always sparks elaborate, passionate discussions. Make-up is minimal, and jewellery is often restricted to a few well-chosen pieces.
It took me a long while to see the strength veiled behind the soft words, the iron will cushioned in discreet suggestions. The women in these families had the tensile strength of steel – they would bend to weather the storm, but it would take a lot to break them. While I loved my mother, I misread her quiet attitude for submission, and as children often do, I looked for my role models elsewhere. But now, as I turn 30, I can finally see beyond. I see courage and strength sustained with gentleness, and astute diplomacy girded by kindness. Nowhere is this more apparent than the kitchen - cooking for her family is an act of love as much as it is of authority.
Lately, she’s been making her prawn curry with raw mango and coconut milk. It pairs beautifully with fresh, steaming rice, or soft lace appams hot off the chatti. She’s always loved mango, and these days, she seems to find them everywhere, no matter the season. But there’s a special flavour to raw mango curry in the summer months of May and June. I’ve come to associate it with her now – her fingers resolutely pushing the knife-edge through the firm flesh of mango, or delicately rinsing prawn under a running tap, or carefully measuring her spices. Cooking well requires both gentleness and strength. But couldn’t that be said of most things in life.
Recipe: Ayesha's Kerala-style Prawn and Mango Curry
250 gm prawn or shrimp, deveined
1 medium-sized raw mango (the sour variety), cubed into 1-inch pieces
2 ½ tsp red chilli powder
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp coriander powder
200 ml coconut milk first pressing
60 ml coconut milk, second pressing
6 shallots, sliced
½ tsp fenugreek seeds
½ inch fresh ginger, chopped
4 green chillies, slit
½ tsp Mustard seeds
2 tbsp coconut oil
A handful of curry leaves
Salt to taste
Heat the oil in an earthenware pot or chatti on medium flame.
Add mustard seeds, and as they splutter, add in the fenugreek seeds, curry leaves, green chilli, shallots and ginger in quick succession.
Sauté until the shallots are brown.
Add a bit of water to the spice powders (red chilli, turmeric and coriander) to make a paste, and pour into the chatti, sautéing gently. (If it seems dry, add enough coconut milk from the second pressing to create a loose paste).
Add salt to taste at this stage.
Add the cubed mango and prawns.
As soon as the prawns turn translucent, pour in the first coconut milk.
As soon as it comes to a boil, take it off the heat.
Serve hot with rice.
#1000Kitchens is a collaborative project between Goya Media and Alicia Souza.
Words by Anisha Rachel Oommen, founder and co-CEO of Goya Media; photos by Aysha Tanya, founder and co-CEO of Goya Media; Illustration by Alicia Souza of www.aliciasouza.com.