Exquisitely Elegant Comfort Food

It was almost Easter. While it would be just the two of us, dinner still required a special menu.

Lamb? Ham? Damn! I wanted something that didn’t rhyme.

Saffron brought back from Provence by Susan and Towny.
It was the perfect time for me to let go of tradition and hit the bookshelves. I craved something quintessentially NOT Easter-like.

I started looking in the “exotic” section of my cookbooks. You know - nothing from North America or Western Europe, not even Australia/New Zealand. I know... I know... There are exotic foods from all these regions. After all, I’m sure someone finds the Fluffernutter Sandwich, bangers and mash, or Vegemite exotic... but not me.

My foray to the bookshelves took me to South and Latin America, the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, the Middle East, East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia. I have more than 50 cookbooks in this section alone.

I have lived in none of these places, and have visited only a few. Yet, somehow - and Mark feels the same way - these cuisines have become our comfort food. Perhaps because so many of their origins suggest sun and warmth, when those were in themselves exotic to us during our Maine years. Most often, they are not dishes we make for guests, but for one another. Private food.

I guess that started when we lived in Kittery, Maine. Across the river in Portsmouth, New Hampshire - just a few minutes walk from our 1806 cottage - was a small Indian restaurant where we went for quiet dinners.

Unlike the fancier restaurants in town, Mr. India gave us a refuge from running into everyone we knew in our small New England town. It was always low-lit, intimate, and unwaveringly welcoming.

Thinking back on wonderful evenings we spent there, I decided our Easter dinner would be an Indian meal. I gathered a few cookbooks from which I hadn’t cooked yet (how many of those do you have?), and settled down to pick our meal.

Cool plate, eh? I got it from Food Photo Needs.
As I flipped through the beautifully-designed and photographed pages of Vij’s Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine, the recipe for his shrimp curry with saffron and coconut leapt off the page. I needed look no further.

I went to get a bottle of white wine to serve with the curry and accidentally pulled out a Côtes du Rhône Rosé. It was a good choice and a nice accident, as it was an excellent pairing. You can read about it on the Provence WineZine.

~ David

Shrimp Curry with Saffron and Coconut
Minimally adapted from the recipe by Vikram Vij

1 teaspoon saffron threads
1/2 cup lukewarm water
28 large prawns, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 cup canola oil
1 1/2 tablespoons cumin seeds
3 cups puréed fresh tomatoes (see note)
2 tablespoons brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoon ground fenugreek seed
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 cups water
2 cups coconut milk, full fat, stirred
Basmati rice, for serving

Place the saffron in a small bowl and pour in the lukewarm water. Let sit for 20 minutes.

Place shrimp in a non-reactive bowl and add 1 teaspoon of the salt. Using your hands, massage the salt into the shrimp. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over high heat for 1 minute. Stir in the cumin seeds and allow them to sizzle for 30 seconds. Turn the heat to medium, then add the tomatoes, mustard seeds, ground fenugreek, pepper flakes, turmeric, and the remaining 1 tablespoon salt. Stir well and cook for 5 minutes, or until the oil glistens on the tomatoes.

Add the 2 cups water, stir well, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the curry another 10 minutes, stirring often. Stir in the coconut milk, saffron, and the saffron soaking water, and cook another 10 minutes. (The curry can be made to this point in advance and brought back to a boil just before serving.)

With the curry boiling over medium heat, add the shrimp in a single layer but do not stir them. Allow them to cook undisturbed for 1 minute. Then stir gently and toss, coating with the sauce. Let cook another 4 minutes, or until shrimp are done.

Serve with basmati rice.

Serves 4.

Note: I used two tomatoes to get 3 cups purée but they were big tomatoes! I cut them in half and squeezed as many of the seeds out as I could, then puréed them in the blender.

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