Red prawn curry

Another day, another recipe. When The Family said she was planning to make a pepper prawn curry, I asked her “Why not tomatoes instead?” Our bhajiwala has started stocking some really flavourful tomatoes recently: tart and acid. They are so good that sometimes I pick up one and just bite into it (is it possible that canning plants have shut down due to the epidemic?). She asked “Do you have a recipe?” I dug into my memory. “Kalonjee, Mirchandalchini, and Tejpattam”, I ventured, channeling the Moor’s Last Sigh. “That’s a Rushdie job,” she muttered. “Don’t be paneer,” I replied.

We cobbled a recipe together. Kalonji (Nigella seed) was acceptable. Two or three leaves of curry (Murraya koenigii) were drying inside the masala dabba. They went into the bagar. A sliced green chili was dropped in before I could protest. Then six of the wonderful tomatoes, chopped into pieces, just before the lid was closed for the reduction. When they had reduced, The Family dropped the cleaned prawn into it. I added a splash of water to deglaze the pot. In five more minutes the prawns were ready. The Family likes to squeeze a few drops of lime juice into something like this. I take away my portion before she sprinkles some chili flakes on top. (“Don’t forget to mention the grated ginger,” The Family reminded me after seeing the post.)

This bit of quick cooking gave me time to think a little more about the curry tree. Wikipedia told me very little about it. The genus Murraya (Linnaeus named the genus after his student, the Swedish physician Murray) belongs to the citrus family, and its center of diversity is in southern China and south Asia. In the past, when butterflies were more common in Mumbai, I’d seen the Common Mormon (Papilio polytes) visit the plant very often when it was in flower, and even lay eggs on it. Since the butterfly is endemic to south Asia, it stands to reason that the plant is also a south Asian species. I found a report of high genetic diversity in wild plants of this species in India, which also gives additional evidence for this supposition.

So our little recipe was truly fusion food: recognizably Indian in taste, but impossible without bringing Indian and south American food plants together with prawns. Authenticity is such a fluid concept when it comes to food!

A rose by any other name

A common rose (Pachliopta aristolochiae) flew round a patch of flowers in the sunlight. I find them maddenning. They fly fast, settle very briefly and seem to move so randomly that it is hard to get a bearing on them. At least I got this one in the frame. Identifying this one can be a little tricky, since the female of a common mormon (Papilio polytes) mimics it. The only way to tell them apart is to note that the rose has a red body, whereas the mormon is black-bodied. The rose is common in South and South-east Asia, and I’ve seen it everywhere in India. It seems to reach peak activity late in the morning, around the time I’ve finished a morning’s birding on an empty stomach. Just about when I would like nothing better than to settle down with some chai and large breakfast, one or more of these will put in an appearance. At such a time would you really feel up to chasing them from flower to flower? I do it reluctantly, which is perhaps why I don’t have a single fabulous photo of this butterfly.