It is not always the length or the kind of ingredients that makes a recipe perfect. It is also the state of mind. Or even how our life gets shaped. Myriads of experiences, even the ones that are forgotten, seemingly erased from memory make indelible prints somewhere unseen. Then they whisper in unison, orchestrating that “feeling”, that satisfaction of what we expect from a perfect recipe. However this is very personal. The culture and the environment can be a thread that connects certain people to like similar things. But even after that it is a personal decision.
Like this dish. The familiar flavors of nigella seeds hitting the smoking mustard oil, the aroma emitted by the sizzling fresh chilli peppers slowly turning brown and of course the shrimp, bring in that sense of perfection for me even before the dish is done. I just know it that I will love it, no matter what. My children loved it too. In fact they opted out of the crepe and fruit compote dinner I had planned for them the night before. We must have struck a similar chord somewhere in loving it. Yet not all the chords. They are not yet accustomed lovers of nigella and green chilli hitting the strong, golden mustard oil. They do not sense the same enchantment as I do. Not yet. Their reasons for a “perfect meal” was not exactly the same as mine. It was still something they loved.
This is perhaps the reason why some people like a dish cooked in all perfections, while others might not.
The combination of eggplants and shrimp (Begun Chingri) is not unusual in Bengali cuisine. However every home has their own recipe. The kind I grew up with is a dry mishmash of eggplant with kNucho chingri or tiny shrimps in them. The tiny indecipherable shrimps are almost unknown here. They are caught in the local water bodies back home. Small they might be, but the full bodied flavors they have are hard to beat. I miss them.
I have used the smallest shrimp available here. What I had wanted out of this was a pickle (Indian pickle!) like texture with not so much sauce as you see here. That is how it works best with the softened eggplant becoming a a part of the sauce and the little shrimps. But when I realized that the shrimps I used cannot substitute the ones I wanted, I went ahead and kept the extra sauce. Not that it could not be done with less sauce, but this seemed more appropriate at that moment.
In the last post I mentioned what inspires me to cook. This time it was a food conversation on Facebook. Sharmila of Kitchen e Kichu Khonn posted a photo of the kNucho Chingri, the tiny shrimp, asking what could be done with them. This dish was screaming in my head. I dropped everything and I scooted to my kitchen to make my own. I could not see myself eating anything else but this. In about thirty minutes I was done cooking. I went ahead and shared it with Sharmila, who in turned cooked it the very next day. Hers looked more like what I had in mind: cooked with the little shrimps and with a slick layer of oil. I did not write the exact proportions of the recipe to her. It was just what I used and a sketchy procedure. She knew what to do.
The familiarity of the culture I suppose.
The recipe is really simple. There is no spice used other than nigella. But this one spice along with the hot green chilli pepper are of utmost importance. It helps to have tender, fresh eggplants with very little seeds. The use of kNucho Chingri or the littlest shrimps, bring out the best flavors. But just in case if you do not find them, like I did not, go ahead and use whatever is available. No recipe should be bypassed just because the exact ingredients are not available. A variation is sometimes as good!
Chingri Begun-er Tel Jhol: Spicy Shrimp Curry with Eggplants
Ingredients: (serves 4 as a side)
- 12 oz small shrimp, shelled and de veined
- about 2.5 – 3 cups (8 oz measure) eggplants chopped in small 1/2 inch pieces (I used about three fourth of a medium sized American eggplant)
- 1.5 tablespoon oil (pref. pure virgin mustard oil)
- 1/2 – 1 tablespoon mustard oil to drizzle during finishing the dish (skip this if no mustard oil is available: this is for flavor boost)
- 1/2 teaspoon nigella seeds/kalonji
- 2-3 hot green chilli peppers, slit (remove seeds and membrane if you do not like spicy)
- 2 teaspoons turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon + 1 teaspoon Kashmiri red chilli powder (more or less to taste)
- salt to taste
- lots of fresh coriander/cilantro for garnish
- red crushed pepper for garnish – optional
Note: If you using the nano/tiny shrimp, sometimes it is impossible to shell them, depending on the size you have. It would be just easier to leave them just the way it is and cook them with their soft shell.
Prepare the shrimp, wash and pat dry. Add half teaspoon turmeric, a half teaspoon red chilli powder and a little drizzle of salt to the shrimp, toss well and allow it to sit for about 20 minutes.
Chop the eggplants, sprinkle half teaspoon turmeric and about 1/2 teaspoon salt, toss to coat and set aside.
In about 12 oz warm water (one and a half cup), combine the rest of the turmeric and the rest of the chilli powder and set aside.
Heat 1/2 tablespoon oil in a pan or wok and add the marinated shrimp in the hot oil. Quickly cook for only a couple of minutes until they curl and turn orange. Remove from the pan and set aside. In the same pan heat one tablespoon oil. Add the nigella seeds and the slit green chilli peppers. When the seeds sizzle and the peppers start turning brown, add the eggplants and cook them in high heat until they partially soften.
Stir the water with the spices that you had set aside and add this mix to the eggplants. Cover and cook until the eggplants are very tender. Uncover and add the sauteed shrimp. Toss and cook for about 3-4 minutes. At this point, if you may add more water if you want more sauce. Enough to coat the eggplants and the shrimp and a little bit more is just right.
Once done, finish off with about a tablespoon of mustard oil for extra flavor. Garnish with plenty of fresh cilantro and more fresh green chilli peppers and crushed pepper if you want.
The finished look should be orange red to red (depending on the kind of chilli powder you are using) with a slick of oil.
Best served over hot rice. But I will leave it to you to find creative ways to serve this!
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: : Less than 30 minutes
Difficulty Level: Very Easy
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