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.
We usually cook our greens in India – we do not make salads with them. The south has a variety of greens: Amaranth, Drumstick, Agathi, Ponnanganni, and of course the Palak, which we call Pasalai Keerai. We use all these greens in Tamil Nadu to make poriyal (fry). I have chosen greens from the Amaranth family because they are easily available in all the stores or brought to your doorstep by street vendors. I used to be woken up at 5.30 in the morning by the clarion call ‘Keeraiiiii!’ from an enthusiastic vendor.
Keerai Chaarru means greens extract, but it is a misnomer as the juice of the greens is not extracted. It is a simple soup-like curry using very few ingredients – for an Indian recipe 🙂 This is an authentic Thirunelveli preparation. My students, friends, and acquaintances have not heard of this dish at all. Though it is a very simple recipe, one can go wrong in the consistency and sourness as I did when I made it first. I had watched my mother make it but somehow hadn’t registered the proportion of the ingredients. I have now standardised the recipe and get it right every time with this method.
In Tamil Nadu, drumstick leaves have been sustaining the health of Tamilians because they are rich in a large number of nutrients. This is the reason why drumstick trees are planted almost in every household. Even hut dwellers have drumstick leaves growing next to their dwellings. I have already given a recipe for cooking drumstick leaves with prawns. This recipe combines groundnuts with drumstick leaves to give equivalent nourishment for vegetarians.
We Tamilians love our drumstick trees, and in villages every house would have one. In Chennai, however, only those with large plots of land have them and the rest of us have to buy drumstick leaves from stores. Drumstick leaves are used to make poriyal (fry). They are not usually combined with other vegetables, but non-vegetarians cook these with either fresh or dry prawns (karuvadu).
I came across this dish when it was presented in a cookery competition in the Women’s Christian College in the 1970s. I was fascinated by the colour, texture, and flavour of this methi with potato. However, the recipe won only a 3rd place in the contest. I asked my student Samyukta for the recipe, and she wrote it out for me immediately. The original recipe was very spicy as Samyukta is from Andhra Pradesh. I have toned down the spice to give it a more subtle flavour.
My 100th recipe 🙂 A long time ago, in 1973 to be exact, I developed a highly nutritious ragi (millet) cookie recipe when I attended a Summer Institute in foods and nutrition. It was a great success; unfortunately someone leaked the recipe to the bakers in Chennai from which ragi biscuits were developed and appeared in local bakeries (and are still popular today, though quite far removed from my original). I have revived my creation here and modified it for the 21st century (so this also does not resemble the original, but is much tastier and eggless).