Taraporee Prawn Patio: Nergis’s 100-year-old prawn recipe

 

Mrs Nergis in Bangalore at home!

Don’t understand the title? Well then, keep reading . . . all will be explained!

No kidding, friends, this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hear a 90-year-old chef from Bangalore talk about this yummy prawn dish, and I mean literally ‘talk’!!

But before we do the talk, let’s answer a few questions that I’m sure you’ve got.

Firstly, who is Nergis?

Secondly, what’s so special about Tarapore?

And, thirdly, what in the world is Prawn patio?

Well, let’s answer these questions ‘back to front’, as it were, starting from the last.

Thirdly, Prawn patio aka kolmino patio is fried prawns (in a spice mix, or masala, which uses only five  ingredients besides the ubiquitous salt and oil) and the end result is the most amazing prawn dish that one can have as a side dish, or as a salad, or as a pickle, or as a main course, or as a . . . well, you get the idea . . . or, as all of the above!!

Secondly, Tarapore is a small town about 100 km north of Mumbai and this is where Nergis’ family hails from. (In fact, her family are Parsis who originally came from Iran but left that part of the world when the Islamasition of Iran started , a few hundred years ago.) Nergis’ surname, Tarapore, comes from the name of the town where her family settled!!

Today the town of Tarapore is a lonely one. Now there are only about five Parsis living there and they are all in aged-care centres.

Most other Tarapore residents have left and are now living in different parts of India – as well as the rest of the world!

Which brings us back to our first question about who Nergis is.

So, let me introduce you properly to this wonderful lady.

Nergis was born in Madras in 1922.

She moved to Bangalore when she was 29 years old. She married Mr Dalal and has seven children.

She also has, as you can imagine, lots and lots of grandchildren and even more great grandchildren!

When she was young, girls were not encouraged to study (which still makes her furious to this day) but that did not stop Nergis from becoming a nursing aide in St Martha’s hospital in Bangalore.

She was a very active social worker and she was also heavily involved in teaching English language to poor and destitute kids who would otherwise have never been taught.

Nergis has also helped many relatives and elderly people depart from this world with dignity who would otherwise have received no support whatsoever from society or the local government.

“My Mum is the most amazing person,” says her daughter, Ivy, with great pride. She then goes on to add that she is also an incredible cook!!

Well, you know me, folks. That grabs my attention even more. Someone I can admire and someone whose brains I can pick about food.

Well, there’s no doubt about it, Ivy. The dish I made last night following your mum’s recipe had my neighbours complaining about the kitchen exhaust not working!! No, that’s not a negative thing, it’s a positive thing as the aromas of the cooking were out of this world!

I think it’s so important to keep alive the oral tradition of cooking. It’s how family recipes were passed down from one generation to the other. I still remember my mother’s aunt would ‘talk’ the recipe of puda chi wadi as she cooked it.

I’d like to have all these wise people tell us about some dish that’s important to them in some way, whether it’s because a dish reminds them of their childhood, or because it reminds them of their village, or of a loved one, or because it reminds them of a particular incident , or whatever the reason.

We should share these testimonies and I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I do. Experience, like cooking from the heart, is not something you can ever put a price upon. No Dollar, no Rupee!!!

Nergis at the stove and very much ‘at home’!!

Well then, now that we have seen the video and heard all that Nergis has to say about this ancient prawn dish (kolmino patio), it is time to enter the kitchen.

Ingredients:
1. 1 kg green prawns (with shell)

2. 2 1/2 tablespoons brown cumin seeds

3. 3 cloves of garlic, peeled

4. 1/2 cup brown vinegar or apple cider vinegar

5.1 teaspoon turmeric powder

6. 2 teaspoons chilli powder

7. 1 teaspoon salt

8. 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

clockwise from left to right: roasted cumin seeds, brown vinegar (or apple cider vinegar), garlic cloves, vegetable oil, turmeric, salt & chilli powder and prawns (centre)

Method:

1. Remove the shell from the prawns, devein and refrigerate.

shelled & deveined prawns

2. Roast the cumin seeds and let cool.

roasting cumin seeds

3. Grind the cumin seeds, garlic cloves and brown vinegar to a fine paste.

cumin seeds, garlic cloves and brown vinegar for the ‘masala’

‘masala’ ground to a fine paste

4. In a pan, add the oil and immediately add the spice mix (masala).

add ‘masala’ to cold oil

5. Add the turmeric, chilli powder and salt to the masala.

add the turmeric, chilli powder & salt to the ‘masala’

6. Cook over moderate heat until the spice mix is cooked and the oil rises to the surface. (See no. 1 below.)

mix well and cook over moderate heat

the ‘masala’ starts to change colour

the ‘masala’ is ready when it starts to bubble and the oil leaves the sides of the pan

7. Add the prawns and fold in the spice mix (masala) till it coats the prawns.

add the prawns

prawns coated with ‘masala’

8. Increase the heat and cover the pan. Cook for 1 minute and then reduce heat to moderate-high.

prawns ready to be covered

cover with lid

8. When cooked, serve the prawns as an accompaniment with dhaan dal (rice and dal), or as a salad, or as a pickle, or as a main course with Indian flat breads, or . . . well, the choices are endless!

serve on a bed of salad leaves

ready for the ‘masala’

drizzle some ‘masala’ on the prawns

nergis’ taraporee prawn patio

And finally, a few facts to remember when cooking this dish:

1. Start cooking the spice mix (masala) in cold oil. Heat the oil after the spice mix has been added. Adding the spice mix to the cold oil helps cook it till the flavours from the ground spices comes out without burning it!

2. If brown vinegar is not available, don’t panic!, you can use apple cider vinegar instead.

3. This dish can also be made with fish, especially a dried fish called boomla (that’s known as ‘Bombay Duck’ to lots of you which is a fish inspite of its misleading name!) and it can then be used as a pickle!

4. You can use any leftover spice mix to cook with slices of eggplant, or grated carrots, and “don’t over do them” as Nergis suggests.

5. Nergis mentions “every day fire” which means whatever fuel you use whether it’s gas, electricity, or even cooking coal and not too high heat !!

6. Lastly, Nergis says, “Enjoy, eat well and be healthy.”

Well, if you didn’t hear Nergis say that, that’s fine, nor did I, but she means it from the bottom of her heart!!!

SHUKRIYA NERGIS!!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!

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