Cajun Prawn Biryani – Cook’s Book Club May 2008

Meena, who is Hooked on Heat, has started an enticing new event – a book club for cooks. The May event features the book Serving Crazy with Curry by Amulya Malladi.

The rules: read the book, comment on the book, cook something from or inspired by the book and post about it.

I can hardly resist the idea of an online book club, although my to-read book pile is mountain high, and in combination with Indian food resistance was futile… I logged on to Abebooks, ordered a copy, read it in one sitting and decided to try the

Cajun Prawn Biriyani

The book

Amulya Malladi is an Indian who studied and worked in the US before relocating to the tranquiliy of a Danish island wih her husband and sons. The storyline of the book features Devi Veturi, a 27 year old Indian woman living in the Bay Area, and facing the hard facts of life: she has lost yet another job, there is no man in her life, and her family drives her crazy. She decides to end this miserable existence of hers, but – unfortunately – her mother does yet another unwelcome-intruder appearance in her apartment – and saves her life. And worst of all, the hospital releases her into the custody of her parents…

Devi – confronted with an overprotective family trying to understand what happened – stops talking, and starts to cook – crazy fusion cuisine, expressing her emotions with food, when all words must fail. She has to find a reason to live on and sort out the problems of her family.

The heroes (or rather heroines) of the novel are three generations of strong Indian women – men are little less than decorative elements in the plotline. The story is a heartwarming, gentle family novel with a touch of chick-lit, a tad too much on the soap opera happy happy smiley ending line for my liking, but an entertaining read nonetheless, entwined with a handful or so of Pacific Rim Fusion Indian Cuisine recipes. None of the recipes looked especially enthralling to me, although I think grilled chicken with blueberry curried sauce is a nice twist on classics.

The book is a long way from the genres I usually tend to read, probably something I’d recommend for a few hours in a hammock looking at the beach, or a hot summer day on the porch with a glass of iced chai on the side, fun but sometimes a little shallow – the characters have all the right insights at the right moment, everything turns out perfectly in the end, Devis father Avi is a father right from anyones wishlist (yawn). I did like Vasu, her grandmother, a very strong willed old lady with style, though. What didn’t work for me was the lack of scenery descriptions – I know what a salwar kameez or dupatta are, but the characters and scenery didn’t have a face for me, Malladi does’t give any pictorial details but focuses mainly on the emotional rollercoaster of the Veturi family.

(Read my complete review of the book in German here).

The recipe

This is Malladi’s outline:

I marinated the raw prawns in mashed garlic, rosemary, basil, oregano, thyme, sage, paprika, black pepper, white pepper, cayenne, and onion powder, along with a dash of Worcestershire sauce.

I decided to cook the rice in the pressure cooker, always quick and easy. I heated some ghee in the pressure cooker, added crushed cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon, and a bay leaf for a minute or so. Then I added some onions and fried until the onions became golden brown. Then went in the rice, and enough water, and I closed the pressure cooker. The rice was ready in ten minutes. In a separate pan, I sauteed the marinated prawns in butter, along with extra chopped garlic and the marinade, and added them to the cooked rice. I garnished it with chopped fresh coriander and voila, Cajun prawn biriyani. I served it with some regular cucumber raita.

I have never tried cooking rice in a pressure cooker before, and the recipe looked dead simple, which is why I chose it.

Approximate measurements – 4 cloves, 1 piece of cinnamon stick, 8 green cardamom pods, 1 tablespoon of ghee, a bay leaf, one onion, a cup of rice and a little more than 1 1/2 cups of water, plus 10 oz medium sized black tiger shrimp. I took the liberty of using Cajun seasoning from Penzeys plus worcestershire and garlic, and about 40 g of butter (and a handful of cilantro).

The prawns were lovely (as expected). Cooking the rice in a pressure cooker really works, but you don’t have as much control over the outcome – I thought my basmati was a bit too soft and mushy after the 10 minutes. The rice – I really wouldn’t go as far as calling this a biriyani – was rather boring, standard-pulao rice.

The verdict: Not a memorable dish, but ok for everyday food.

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