Despite the lull in the markets and marketplace, COVID19 has offered an opportunity of a lifetime – to step up one’s latent homemaking skills. By homemaking, I explicitly refer to the culinary section. It isn’t as if one gets a chance to cook and conjure up an assortment of dishes with a daily menu at that, let alone think up creative ideas with sparkling clarity.
Under normal circumstances, that is in the pre-COVID19 phase; there was limited time to indulge in “ideating” as early as 7 am in the rush hour mornings. Even waking up as early as 5.30 am wouldn’t allow time for anything beyond a snacky breakfast, a quick shower and a dash to dress and catch the nearest shuttle to town. It’s not as if one can catch up with one’s chores/cooking “on the way” to work or back. Not in the way one catches up with reading a book or listening to a podcast on the go. It’s not as if one is high on energy in the evenings either, or nights as is often the case. With the stress of completing a host of responsibilities and coping with local travel, it’s not easy to indulge in a pastime even if the pastime is as enjoyable as cooking.
So when COVID happened, and a lockdown was announced, for days and then progressing into weeks, it was time to put to use those resources at hand. One of those resources came in the form of my laptop/internet, and of course, my kitchen. I used both optimally to serve fruitful results, that of a satisfied cook and a happy husband.
So here is what I put together with the help of family and friends and fellow food bloggers. I experimented their Goan recipes and modified some of them to suit my mood and taste and even to make up for the shortage of ingredients in my kitchen shelf.
I started with “Oil-Free Chicken Roast”, primarily because the words “oil-free” looked inviting. And when you’re on an intermittent diet of sorts, anything that is oil-free catches the eye. Besides, if you are an open-minded person, you will look at a lockdown period with a positive mindset. One of the positive outcomes of being locked in is that it allows you time to experiment. Time is saved in working from home and not spending it in circumventing traffic gridlocks. What better experiment than in cooking Goan recipes, from “tried, tested and trusted” sources.
Here’s the chicken roast story, with an ending that fairy tales would envy. The owner of the recipe is my cousin, Chrisan Fernandes, whose blog site ChrizzosGrubScene provides a step-by-step approach to this creation. The best part of the chicken roast recipe is that it is sans oil, has ingredients like ketchup which you don’t think of otherwise. Not to forget her precise set of instructions for “jeerem meerem” powder and “ginger-garlic paste” which are must-haves in the recipe. Here goes,
1 kg boneless chicken (or bony, if that’s the only thing in your freezer)
6 cloves garlic (crushed with pestle)
2 green chillies (cut in two)
4 red chillies (torn in two)
8-10 curry leaves
1 tbsp “jeerem meerem” powder (check the recipe for the link)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tbsp palm vinegar
1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
1 tsp sweet tomato sauce
1/2 cup coriander leaves (chopped fine)
Salt (as per your discretion)
Wash and cut the boneless chicken into medium bits.
Place it in a non-stick pan with some depth, add all the above ingredients except for the coriander leaves which is saved for the last.
Mix well, cover and let the chicken marinate for half an hour at least, if not a couple of hours.
Add one-fourth of a cup of water into the marinated chicken, cover and cook on a medium flame. Ignore the water that oozes but don’t forget to check for the taste as far as salt, sour and spice is concerned.
Add at this stage whatever you think is out of balance. Then cook uncovered, on a high flame. When you notice the thickening of the gravy add the chopped green coriander leaves.
Stir well to allow a good marriage between the gravy and the chicken which would by now be geared up for serving.
With the success of this recipe, I was naturally motivated to turn to yet another of Chrisan Fernandes’ surefire hit of a recipe. This is one of those Goan recipes which goes down well with the Goan community. “Goan Prawns Ambot Tik Curry” it is popularly called – a curry that emerges as a perfect blend of sweet-sour-spicy! I found the bit about letting the prawns simmer just for 30 seconds before turning off the stove endearing. Not longer than 30 seconds, I repeat, in order to avoid the prawns turning rubbery. And when you talk about the colour of the curry, it’s almost redder than the Red Sea could’ve ever been!
I could have done better with a fish-based Ambot Tik curry, except for the fact that there was no fish available. I mean, fish goes best with this kind of preparation, especially shark fish. However, prawns were the only resource available at hand, so into the curry the prawns went. Of course, it isn’t as if prawns are not a good substitute for fish. In fact, it is often recommended. If there are no fresh prawns, even frozen prawns will do though it’s not the best option.
Before I lay out the recipe, like a carpet, let me tell you that both of Chrisan Fernandes’ recipes were perfect to a T. There was not a grain of sugar or a gram of spice or a drop of oil out of place. If you meticulously follow her step by step instructions – which are oh so detailed and painstakingly put down – I bet you’d never go wrong. On the contrary, your Instagram handle will score with the delightful red curry photos.
Let us get down to brass tacks or should we say bronze. Well, here’s a rundown of the ambot tik curry, a reflection of the Goan hot and sour saga.
1kg prawns (shark fish preferred)
2 onions, chopped (retain half for the seasoning and the other half for the masala paste)
1 tomato, chopped (save half for the seasoning and the other half for the masala paste)
4 green chillies (cut in two)
7-9 dehydrated coccum leaves
1 Maggi vegetable cube
2 tsbp oil
3-4 cups of water
For the ground masala paste:
2 doz Kashmiri chillies (broken in two)
1 tbsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp whole peppercorns
1 tsp whole coriander seeds
1-1/2 tsp grain sugar
2-1/2 tbsp vinegar
15-20 garlic cloves (chopped coarsely)
½ a tomato (roughly chopped)
½ onion (roughly chopped)
4-5 stems coriander leaves (chopped fine)
1 tbsp salt
Marinate the prawns in salt and leave aside for half an hour.
Place a pan with oil, chopped onions, tomatoes, chillies and coccum on the fire.
Ensure it’s on medium flame.
Stir till the onions turn transparent, then add the ground masala paste followed by water and Maggi cube.
Boil for ten minutes and then check for balance, where salt and vinegar is concerned.
Go easy on the salt as the prawns have been sitting in a salty marinade already.
Drop in the prawns as the curry has reached highly simmering levels, follow it up with chopped coriander.
Remember that the prawns need just 30 seconds in the boiling curry as keeping it longer would make it rubbery.
Allow the prawns to sit in the curried delight for 7-10 minutes before serving.
(Goes well with steaming hot rice or bread, especially the Goan pao variety).
COVID19 is said to have disrupted the world, but it has its advantages too. I wouldn’t go as liberal to call it a warfare, but if it is one, we sure are fortunate not to have to go to the battlefield. We aren’t called to fight it with guns, so to speak, to get wounded or to nurse wounds from battle.
We are a lucky lot, to merely have to sit back and relax, to wash our hands as we do our veggies. To clean, and to cook up flavourful storms.
More on my experiments with COVID19 will follow in Part 2 of this article.