Priya has been convalescing these past few weeks, and apparently the path to her wellness is flooded with coconut water, and ergo, the sidewalks littered with coconut shells. I hence decided to use a couple of said shells to satisfy a hankering for some seafood and to cook something that used to be a specialty of my grandmother – Daab Chingri (Prawns cooked in tender coconut).
In this recipe, the prawns are mixed with the spices and condiments – paanch phoron (a Bengali five spice mix) and shorshe baata (ground mustard) – and slow cooked with the prawns inside the sealed coconut shell, for a wonderful coastal version of dum biryani or tagine cooking. My grandmother used to tell me stories of how they would seal up the coconut, tuck it inside the embers of the charcoal fire in the kitchen and get on with the rest of their chores – and by the time they were done – voila! Delicious Daab Chingri. I cannot begin to imagine what that would have tasted like, with her knack for cooking, the fresh produce in her village and the charcoal flavours seeping into the coconut, but my version slow cooked in the daab , in our oven wasn’t half bad either….
My recipe for Daab Chingri:
For the shorshe baata (mustard paste):
Soak 1 tablespoon mustard seeds in 2-3 tablespoons warm water for 30 minutes to an hour (longer is also ok but at least for 30 minutes). Add 1 raw green chili to the now-softened mustard seeds, and grind into a paste in the food processor (you’ll need an Indian processor that does wet grinding here to do the job) or the traditional Indian grinding stone and pestle (shil noda for the Bengalis)
- 1 large tender coconut (daab) – get the vendor to cut open a clean opening at the top and give you the lid; take the water out (for a refreshing drink!), and the flesh scooped out and finely chopped to be used in the dish
- 500 grams medium-sized prawns, cleaned and de-shelled
- Salt and Sugar to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 2 tablespoons mustard paste (see step above)
- 2 green chilies
- 1 medium onion paste
- 1/2 tbsp garlic paste
- 1/2 tbsp ginger paste
- 1 tsp paanch phoron (ready mix you will get in most Indian provision stores, with a Bengali / Bangladeshi clientele)
- 1.5 tbsps mustard oil
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- Pre-heat the oven at 200 degrees, gas mark 3. Cut the prawns into 2-3 small pieces each (depending on the size), mix with the chopped tender coconut flesh, salt, turmeric powder, 2 teaspoons of mustard oil and set aside for 15-20 minutes as you finish the other steps.
- Cook down the onion, ginger and garlic paste with the vegetable oil (to avoid too much mustard flavor – if you don’t mind, knock yourself out and use mustard oil for this too) till they are soft, mixed together, and have lost the raw smell.
- Heat the remaining mustard oil and add the paanch phoron once the oil is hot – remove from the flame right away as it will start sputtering immediately. (be careful not to overheat it as the fenugreek seeds in the paanch phoron tends to burn quickly and turn bitter).
- Slit the fresh green chilies lengthwise, and combine the marinated prawns, shorshe baata (mustard paste), onion, garlic and ginger paste, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and the mustard oil with the tempered paanch phoron in a bowl and stuff this mix into the empty daab (tender coconut) shell.
- Seal the coconut with the lid and aluminum foil around it and place it in a roasting tray filled with a couple of inches of water (to create steam in the oven and not let the coconut shell burn) and place it in the centre of the oven.
- Let it cook in the oven for 45 minutes. Take it out and check – depending on the size of the tender coconut and therefore, its thickness, the prawns should either be close to being done or be still par cooked with a strong raw mustard taste. If it needs more time, put it in for another 30 minutes till done. Then switch off the oven and keep the coconut in the still-hot oven for another 30 minutes to an hour – the prawns will keep combining with the flavours in the shell and soak up all the coconutiness of the shell over this time. Serve with steamed rice.
At the last supper club, we added the Bengali tomato chutney to the plating which complemented the pungency of the mustard very well, as was evidenced by the enthusiastic feedback and speed at which the contents of the coconut was emptied! 🙂