Sunday, April 10, 2016

Shrimp Masala in the Pakistani Style

After having just completed my Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge to prepare a main course from the country of Pakistan, which was a delicious dish of Karahi Gosht, I still felt inspired by the Pakistani cuisine.  I was looking for a shrimp masala dish when I came across a recipe for Prawn Masala in the Pakistani Manner.

Before I get to the recipe, there has always been something that kind of vexed me.  Is there really any difference between a prawn and a shrimp?  As it turns out, there is. Prawns come from the sub-order Dendrobranchiata, while shrimp are from the sub-order Pleocymata.  Latin aside, there is a more obvious biological difference.  Prawns have claws on three pairs of legs, while shrimp only have claws on two pairs of legs.  Other than an extra set of claws, prawns are relatively similar to shrimp.  Both come in a variety of sizes, from small to very big.  Both have relatively the same taste and texture.

But, alas, in most supermarkets around where I live, there are shrimp, not prawns.  The prawns seem to find their way only onto menus, usually of higher-priced restaurants. So, whenever I come across a recipe calling for prawns -- like Prawn Masala in the Pakistani Manner -- I use shrimp.  Shrimp are cheaper and, when used in the recipe, it sounds a little less pretentious.

With respect to this particular recipe, it did not really matter whether I used shrimp or prawns.  What really matters is the masala.  The word comes from the Hindi word for spice.  As it is used in cooking, a masala can refer to two things.  First, it refers to the spice mixture or paste that is used in Indian ... and, as this post obviously suggests, Pakistani ... cooking.  The mixture could include a variety of spices, such as chile peppers, coriander, cumin, garam masala (a masala unto itself) and turmeric.  Second, it can refer to the dish that in which the spice mixture is used.  Thus, a Shrimp Masala is a shrimp dish in which a masala is used.  

This particular masala dish uses a really simple masala.  It consists of four ingredients: cumin, coriander, garlic and chile powder.  Those four ingredients work together to produce a complex spice blend that (with the cumin and the chile powder) provide heat on a couple of different levels.   The simplicity of the masala mirrors the simplicity of this dish.  Saute some garlic, then the shrimp and the masala and finally some tomato.  Serve with rice and you have a dish.  Can't beat that, especially after a busy day at work or with the kids on a weekend.  

Recipe adapted from Spice Spoon
Serves 2-3

1 pound of shrimp, deveined, shells and tails removed
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, sliced finely width-wise
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/4 read chile powder 
2 medium sized tomatoes, de-seeded and diced
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves and stalks

1.  Saute the garlic.  Place a wok or a frying pan on medium heat.  Add the oil and garlic and saute for two minutes, until fragrant.  The garlic should not darken in color.

2.  Saute the shrimp.  Add the shrimp and spices (turmeric, cumin, coriander and chile).  Continue to saute for 3 minutes more or until the shrimp are opaque.

3.  Add the tomatoes.  Turn the heat to medium high and add the tomatoes.  Stir the shrimp with a spatula, and, after one minute, turn the heat off.  The tomatoes should not be overcooked and the skin should remain intact.  

4. Finish the dish.  Sprinkle with the cilantro and serve with crusty bread or rice.


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