Prawns always help add flavour to vegetable dishes. This recipe comes from my Burma repatriate friend. When she told me that her mother combines prawn with bitter gourd I was shocked and sceptical about the taste of the product because the bitter gourd, as the name suggests, has a very strong, bitter flavour. Still, I got the recipe from her and decided to try it at home. To my amazement and pleasure, I found that this is one of the most delectable preparations of prawn with another vegetable.
Thuvaram is a kind of a fry or poriyal which is popular in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu. There are 2 varieties of thuvaram: one uses the vegetable and very few seasonings; the other includes a small amount of red gram dhal and coconut ground with garlic and cumin seeds. Pudalankai (Podalankai/Podalangai) or snake gourd is suitable for the first type. Later on I’ll be posting the second variety also.
January and February are the months when the markets in Tamil Nadu receive the freshest of the so-called English Vegetables. As a child I used to look forward to these months when we used to have peas and cauliflower very often in the menus. The peas are luscious and the cauliflower is so creamy white and crisp. In Palayamkottai (my hometown) Rich Peas Pulav and Muttai Cauliflower used to be prepared every week. My mother had a collection of recipes using these vegetables. One of the favourites was meat cooked along with peas, cauliflower, and, of course, potatoes that are always combined with meat.
In Tamil cooking vinegar is hardly ever used. It may find its way into a few pickles, but even that is very rare. That is why this recipe is honoured with kaadi (vinegar) in the title. My uncle was in the Indian Air Force, and posted in the North during his service. He used to bring his family in summer to visit the relatives in Thirunelveli, and on the way, they used to make a halt in Chennai and stay a few days with us. In those days, the most convenient train was the Janata Express, which though called express, always came a day late. Therefore, for this journey, my aunt used to make chappatis and this vinegar fry which would keep easily for 2 days without refrigeration.
Bitter gourd is a vegetable which, in spite of its bitterness, is cooked in different ways and served almost every week in Tamil Nadu because it is widely believed that it lowers the blood sugar level. I do not consider this to be true because I’ve always found holes in research which claimed this effect. My mother used to make this very simple preparation but not very often because of the labour involved in removing the seeds from the small bitter gourd, which was the only variety available then. Now that the larger variety is available throughout the year, it has become much quicker to make this poriyal.
In India it is believed that eating bitter gourd will cure a person of the metabolic disorder diabetes mellitus. Many native medicine books claim the beneficial effects of bitter gourd. This has not been validated by properly tested methods, but still it is eaten widely hoping that it will effect some magic cure. When my mother made this preparation I was not very fond of it, but later on I devised a method of reducing the bitterness without losing the very small amount of nutrients that are present in it. The addition of sugar towards the end to give a glaze transports this dish to higher levels.
In Tamil Nadu we combine prawns with various vegetables and greens to provide the most delicious and nutritious dishes. Today I have chosen to present prawns cooked with brinjal (eggplant), which is a vegetable available through all seasons. The addition of vegetables to prawns extends the dish so that many people can enjoy it.