There are days when all I need is a dance of flavours from Kerala on my palate. This recipe does that for me. It is a one pot shrimp rice that is almost like a little glimpse into the vibrant cuisine of my hometown. The coconut oil, the ginger, garlic, green chillies and curry leaves along with fresh prawns make this dish an absolute delight for anyone craving for a bit of Kerala for lunch or dinner.
Things you will need:
Jumbo Prawns- 18-20 , cleaned, deveined and the tails preferably left on
Good quality long grained Basmati rice- 2 cups
Water- 4.25 cups
Onions- 1 large or 2 medium sized, sliced finely
Tomato- 2 small, chopped
Ginger- 1 inch stick, julienned (it’s nice to have a little bite of fresh ginger in this dish)
Garlic- 4-5 cloves, minced (if you are using the large variety, 2 large cloves will do)
Green chillies- 4-5 slit lengthwise
Kashmiri red chilli powder- 1 heaped tablespoon
Coriander powder- a little less than 1 tablespoon
Turmeric powder- ½ teaspoon
Ground black pepper- ½ teaspoon
Juice of half a lime or 1 tablespoon vinegar for the acidity
Cinnamon- 1 inch stick
Green cardamom- 3 pods
Curry leaves- 2 sprigs
Coriander leaves, chopped for garnish
Coconut oil- 2 tablespoons
Ghee- 1 tablespoon
Salt to taste
How to go about it:
First, wash the Basmati rice twice, soak for 10 minutes and strain well. Keep it aside.
Marinate the prawns in a bit of salt and the black pepper. Keep aside.
Place a wok or deep pan on medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of coconut oil. Once the oil is hot, add the cardamom, cinnamon and cloves and move it all around for a minute. Next, add the sliced onions and half the curry leaves. Saute the onions well until they are nice and golden brown.
Add the ginger, garlic and green chillies and saute them for 30 seconds. The raw smell must go and the fresh flavour of these ingredients will be released in the hot coconut oil.
Next, add the tomatoes. Give it all a quick mix and keep the wok closed for 2-3 minutes or until the tomatoes soften up and can be mashed with the back of the spatula.
Add the chilli powder, coriander powder and turmeric. Add salt to taste. Fry the spices and the mixture for 2-3 minutes until the mixture darkens in colour and it all begins to look homogeneous. Add the lime juice and mix well.
Next, place the marinated prawns and the remaining curry leaves in the wok and mix well to ensure the masala coats all the prawns evenly. After that, keep the wok closed for 7-9minutes. It is important that the prawns are not overcooked to ensure the best results for this recipe. After 7-9 minutes (or once the prawns are cooked), open the wok and you will see that they are cooked and that they have released some water which is the base flavour in which we’ll be cooking the rice.
Now. Important. With a small spoon, take just the prawns out of the wok. Leave the masala mixture behind. This is to ensure that we don’t over cook them. Keep them aside.
Next, add a tablespoon of ghee to mixture. Mix well. Empty the strained and now dry rice (yes, the raw rice) into the wok and mix well. Please be careful while you mix as the grains of rice will now be brittle because of the soaking. Do it lightly to ensure you don’t break the grains.
In the meantime, bring the water to a rolling boil separately.
The rice must be fried for about 2nminutes or until the grains feel slightly crunchy to the touch.
Add the boiling water and mix well. Increase the heat to a high. Add more salt as required for the entire dish. Stir carefully and allow the rice to cook with the wok kept open. Allow almost all the water to evaporate and there is but a light moisture remaining. The rice will now be al dente. Take the wok off the heat.With the help of a fork, lightly stir up the rice to loosen the grains. DO NOT stir the rice unnecessarily. Just lightly make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Place the cooked prawns on the top of the rice. Sprinkle some freshly chopped coriander leaves on top. Cover the wok and place a heavy weight on top of the lid. I use my mortar and pestle. Allow this to rest on the counter for 20 minutes before serving. This is when the rice cooks completely and the flavours get balanced. So, patience.
First day of Spring in my part of the world and could you possibly be any happier? Endless days with the golden sun, blue skies, intermittent showers and the flowers and the leaves slowly waking up from their sweet slumber. It is almost as though every passerby has a smile on his face as bright as the spring sunshine and it is absolutely adorable to watch the neighbours drag their outdoor furniture back to their little balconies and terraces ready to soak up all the sun in the coming months while they sit sipping on tall glasses of Aperol Spritzer, laughing with friends and family. The excitement all around is undeniably palpable.
The grey undertones that had taken over this beautiful city seem to be fading away; the drab, monochromatic winter coats getting replaced with prettier shades of blues and pinks and yellows; long, toned legs that have been wrapped up under layers and layers of clothing for all of these months are slowly starting to make appearances.
With the months all set to get warmer and sunnier, I suppose it’s time we got our spring/ summer food and drink game stronger. Here is a recipe for a delicious fruit lassi (yoghurt drink) which uses fresh raspberries with a hint of cardamom for that beautiful flavour. With mango lassis all set to take over the world after being out on menus even in Chinese restaurants, I suppose we could do with a bit of change and innovation. So, here goes.
Things you will need:
Fresh raspberries- 1 cup
Yoghurt- 500 grams, full fat, chilled
Cardamom powder- 1/4 teaspoon
Sugar- 2 tablespoons
A pinch of salt
Water- 1/4 cup (optional)
How to go about it:
Blend the raspberries, cardamom, sugar and salt together until it’s all well combined.
Add the chilled yoghurt and the water (depending on how thick you want it. I do not use water) and blend it all together until nice and smooth
As you might have noticed, the Husband and I thrive on peace and quiet and strive to stay the farthest away from the noises and the cacophony offered by city life in general, while we can. This means even when we pick our holiday destinations, more often than not, we try to pick places that fit our description of ‘picturesque’ with a side of amazing food and drink. Having said that, Mexico made an entry on my list of ‘beautiful specks on the globe to experience before I die’ long before I remember and had stuck on ever since; ever since the six-year-old me breathed Mexico vicariously through a few characters (a scarecrow and his three bird friends) I have known and loved so dearly, who had paid this beautiful country a visit in one of the books from the series that came as a gift from mum and dad during my childhood. So, naturally when an opportunity came-a-knocking to visit Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world, that provides beautiful, fertile ground for history, culture and food, you bet we pounced on it.
Thus began the journey to to the Mexican soil. It does not take much to guess that the journey was rather long and cumbersome, given the fact that we had to fly half way across the planet from Vienna to Mexico City. I’m not venturing into any of the insignificant, yet atrociously tiresome events that took shape during the time spent traversing from Vienna to Madrid to Mexico City. Just does not fit in to the larger, colourful picture of memories painted by the vibrant and effervescent city that is Ciudad de Mexico.
So. Touchdown CDMX.
The moment we landed in Mexico City, I felt the city exuded vibes that reminded me of good old Mumbai. Maybe it was the hustle and bustle at the airport, or maybe even the warmth of the people around, or possibly the crazy after work hours’ traffic on a Friday night. Or was it just the ever familiar stench that welcomed us just as we stepped out of the airport; the same kind that screams out ‘developing nation’ to you; the same smell that overpowers everything else around the Bandra Worli sea link, which leaves you confused without knowing what exactly to attribute it to.
The first impression that CDMX painted for us on the Friday evening as we landed was one that was reminiscent of many large cities in the emerging world; sky scrapers all around, people clothed in office wear scurrying about probably hoping to get a couple of after-work drinks to welcome the arrival of the weekend, brightly lit street food outlets enticing you with whiffs of hot tacos, teens in their flashy outfits and dolled up faces sporting bright pouts, homeless people waiting by the road sides hoping to make a few coins by cleaning windscreens of the cars that stop at the traffic light despite the impatient honks and angry yells meted out to them, children clad in torn, grey rags begging for food from passersby, the flower vendors seated amidst lovely hues of yellows, pinks and reds. Somehow, everything felt strangely familiar at first.
But the rest of the week that I spent in the city taught me that I couldn’t possibly have been more wrong. There’s something so mysteriously beautiful about getting to visit a foreign land; exploring the alleyways, the local markets, lesser known food joints where the locals relish their daily grub. It is invariably behind the rosy facades of glamorous city life that the real soul and essence of the place lives; always beyond that posh restaurant where you are socially obliged to wear your best dress, the red lips and those pointed heels while you sip on that Dirty Martini with indiscrete fervour that the real, unabashed culinary skills of the place hide; and always beyond the Marriots and the Sheratons that you find the eyes that twinkle with sheer joy whilst you enjoy that cup of coffee ever so lovingly served despite the greatest of language barriers. So, this is going to be a virtual tour around everything food that caught my fancy in a city that grows on you with every passing moment; a city that has a little bit of everything to offer.
Mercado de Jamaica or the Jamaica Market (pronounced as Ha-maica ‘cause well, Jalapenos)- One of the biggest, traditional local markets in the city known for its fresh produce such as veggies, meat and above all, for its flowers. Jamaica (meaning Hibiscus in Spanish) Market houses about 1000 flower vendors without counting hundreds of other vendors selling meat, spices and vegetables. This sprawling indoor market was rather fascinating for me considering most market concepts in India are outdoor with the vendors squatting next to their produce in the Sun.
The market also has a full section dedicated to Piñatas (the papier-mâché containers typical to Mexico, which are filled with candy and burst during celebrations. Read about it, the history is beyond fascinating) which come in hundreds of shapes, sizes and colours.
Within the walls of Jamaica Market is another universe altogether- the bustling of hardworking businessmen, the smell of fresh produce, the colours, the noise, the smiles. Never ending rows of peppers in every shade of green, orange and red beautifully arranged, spice vendors and flower vendors selling possibly every single flower you would have heard of in all the years you’ve spent living. But the real deal for me was (hands down!) the local food that is sold in the market.
There are a couple of sweet local women who sit right at the entrance of the market selling hot Champurrado (a drink that is made of corn, chocolate and cinnamon) in large earthen pots with bright blue lids that caught my eye and quesadillas made of Blue Corn (also known as Hopi Maize) which is typical to Mexican Cuisine.
The two options available for quesedillas were both vegetarian surprisingly- pumpkin blossoms or Huitlacoche which is also known as hongo de maiz which is a sort of Mexican corn fungus; a delicacy in this part of the world and yet, considered to be ‘plague’ in others. Fascinating, isn’t it? We had a taste of both and were pleasantly surprised. Nothing like tasting absolutely alien flavours, of course, under the guidance of cheery locals. Don’t be disgusted as yet because the quesadillas are yummy and the warm Champurrado surprisingly light and refreshing especially with the slight nip in the January air.
Another quick halt was at the little stall/shack in the market that is famous for (and rightfully so) for their bright green chorizo. One look at the stall and you know the food has to be top notch thanks to the fast moving crowd that is tirelessly catered to by the owner (a round man with a moustache and a happy face) and his two accomplices. The bright green chorizo gets its vibrant hue because of the ground pumpkin seeds that are added to the meat. I could do the whole journey to CDMX in a heartbeat just for a piece of that lip smacking chorizo wrapped in a soft tortilla and topped with freshly chopped cilantro, onions and that heavenly salsa verde.
La Guapachosa- We had spent almost the entire first half of the day exploring the market; touching and feeling the freshness of the produce, gaping at the sheer artistry behind the thousands of flower arrangements, making (or rather trying to make) conversation with the vendors. So, come late afternoon we were quite weary and all we wanted to do was to chill with a couple of beers in a local spot and voila! La Guapachosa. Placed bang at the intersection of two perpendicular roads, this little pub/restaurant feels like a page out of a Mexican picture book. Everything about this unassuming joint is everything you’d hope/expect Mexico to be. Absolutely unpretentious and airy interiors with brightly painted walls and furniture, dim lighting, Spanish music that just does what it does to your hips, super friendly staff with big smiles plastered on their faces, great food and oh.. amazing craft beer. Their cocktails that kept floating about to the tables around also looked pretty damn nice I have to say. Certainly worth a visit if you are to find yourselves in Mexico City.
El Pendulo- This café/bar is straight out of my dreams, let me establish that bit before everything else. Finding El Pendulo was serendipity at her finest. A cute café/bar in a breathtakingly beautiful book store. Breathtaking because of the number and selection of books coupled with how tastefully the whole place is done up. Imagine sitting in a bookstore alone, in a soft, comfy couch sipping on a pretty cocktail while you flip through the pages of a book so captivating that you can barely feel your limbs, because you’re just drifting farther and farther away into the world the writer weaves with every word. That is El Pendulo for you. The absolute best place for lone dates, unwinding, great beer, cocktails and super tasty Chilaquiles (crispy tortillas and shredded meat in a yummy cheese and chili sauce).
Casa de Tono- This little joint is one the locals swear by and I knew exactly why, after a meal there. Walked into this very basic restaurant on a sunny afternoon while exploring that side of town on my own. There is absolutely nothing fancy about the interiors. Just a bunch of smiling faces ever ready to serve you with some authentic and downright local Mexican cuisine. They spoke zero English but still managed to have a conversation with me despite my Spanish that begins at Hola and ends abruptly at gracias; muchas gracias if I’m feeling fancy. That is how sweet the people are. Now for the food. My meal there comprised a plate of enchilada de pollo, a cold Corona and a lovely flan. Let me take a deep breath while I prepare myself to recollect that plate of divine enchiladas in that green salsa. Holy Moly that was hands down the best plate of enchiladas I have tasted to date. Top it with some of their incredible Habanero salsa, this is probably what heaven tastes like. However, beware! Their portions are enormous (forced me to stealthily unbutton my jeans AND waste half my beer. Oh the sacrilege!) Nevertheless, when in CDMX, Casa de Tono is a must MUST visit for authentic Mexican flavours.
Mercado del Carmen- A wonderful concept which got me wishing that it was more popular all the world over. Mercado del Carmen is something like a food court but nothing close to the drab mall/multiplex food court pictures that pop up in your head almost instantly. A large hall of sorts, beautifully lit with warm, pretty lights, with food and alcohol outlets all around. There are big, wooden tables and benches arranged in the center. You have a great deal of options for food – steaks, Spanish food, Greek food, burgers, Mexican etc. And even a cocktail bar and a craft beer counter. It’s a place where people can chill for hours on end, maybe grab a snack or a cold beer while you chat away and still be spoilt for choices as far as main course is concerned. We had a super yummy Paella with a Mexican twang to it; your regular Paella, just with generous amounts of pork and chorizo in there. What’s there not to like, right?
El Cardenal- For the days you’re feeling fancy. A gorgeous old house that has been converted into a classy restaurant, El Cardenal certainly lived up to the reviews on Trip Advisor. We had some traditional moles (the curry counterparts in Mexico. And made with a great variety of ingredients, some even as eyebrow raising as chocolate!) served with rice, which were outstanding but the real deal was the Flan that came in the end. Flan is somewhat like the Caramel Custard we are used to in India. A steamed dessert made of condensed milk, eggs and caramel. No words, best Flan yet. Period. Go to El Cardenal for the beautiful décor, the brilliant food and the God of Flan things. (sorry!)
La Llorena Cantina- If I ever do own a café/bar, I am pretty sure it’s gonna look like La Llorena Cantina. The tastefully done cyan interiors, the indoor plants creeping across the ceiling, the comfortable wooden furniture, the fairy lights and the cute looking bar makes you want to spend hours at a stretch there and no prizes for guessing that’s exactly what I did there. Chanced upon this beauty of a place one late afternoon after a museum visit, as I was looking for a quiet nook to spend some time reading a book and hopefully sit by a window and sip on a cold beer (yes, I love beer and apart from white wine, that’s all I drink. Hope your doubts have been cleared haha.) And La Llorena Cantina was just perfect and delightful. Given the timing, I was the only one around apart from the cheery young boy and the owner of the joint, an attractive young lady sporting a very chic hairdo. Both of them were very warm and friendly and the boy even made it a point to check on me every now and then to make sure I wasn’t lonely I reckon. They have some amazing craft beer which I thoroughly enjoyed. I wasn’t exactly planning to eat there but the sweethearts they were, served a plate of yummy tostadas topped with guacamole, beans and deliciously spiced shredded chicken. And that too on the house! They also insisted that I try out some of their authentic Mexican Mezcal and gave me a shot, again on the house. They are supposedly known for their amazing Mezcal cocktails. Too bad I didn’t give them cocktails a try. I must stop but I absolutely loved La Llorena Cantina.
These were the places that caught my the most on our week long Mexican sojourn. But be informed, food is not all we did. Although it’s always the food on our trips that tickles the writer bone in me. There’s something indeed fulfilling for me when I put my culinary adventures to paper and I reckon you should know that by now. But having said that, here is a little sneak peek into some of the best moments spent in a place, the memories of which will forever be etched in my memory.
The Teotihuacan Pyramis
The National Museum of Anthropologie
Sightseeing around the city
Mercado de Ciudadadela (Market dedicated solely to ware sold by local artisans)
So, that’s about it about CDMX. Please as always write to me with all your thought. Until next time, ciao! 🙂