I always go nuts when I'm planning a menu. I hate the process of deciding. An Indian feast involves a lot of dishes and I'm always running through my mental rolodex trying to figure out what goes with what and what will make a harmonious whole.
One has to take so much into account. Texture, heat, cool, wet, dry, color and cooking time. I spent 12 years in school dressed in a uniform, I'm not used to having to think about that stuff! Now I can't even make up my mind half the time about how to dress myself and I've got to match the colors of my food too??!! Give me a break.
After thinking a while and getting all cranky, I decided on a meal featuring dishes from Kerala, one of my favorite Indian cuisines. Chip, one of our guests, is a vegetarian (he does eat fish) so I thought one of the great seafood dishes from this south coastal region would make a great centerpiece main dish. Now that was something I could build on.
So, Shrimp Pullao became my little black dress of this dinner party. Something, I could build on, and accessorize. That is, if you call coconut an accessory (and I do).
Shrimp Pullao is very similar to a Biryani in preparation. Spices are ground, a sauce is made, rice is parboiled and then it's all layered together in a large pot and popped in the oven.
I find these sorts of dishes great for company dinners because they let me have more room on the top of the stove for other stuff, and I can also get the dishes used in making the main dish washed quick and out of the way. I am a little OCD when it comes to the kitchen.
One of the key things in this dish is the rice, basmati rice to be exact. Good rice is the cornerstone of a good pullao. When I was at the market I saw all sorts of cool rice paraphernalia. "Awwwwww, can I have this Pleeeeeeease?!!! I really, really, really need a rice storage basket!!"
I like to break this dish down into three parts, The Topping, The Sauce, and The Rice.
In a large skillet heat about 3 Tbs of vegetable oil
When the oil is hot toss in :
1/4 cup of raw cashew nuts, split in half.
When the nuts are nicely browned take them out and put them on a paper towel to drain.
Now, into the hot oil place 1 large onion cut in half and then into thin half moon slices. Stir them around until they are lightly browned.
Then, set them on the other half of the paper towel to drain.
Now set these aside because you won't need them until the dish is ready to go into the oven. Don't throw away the oil, because you're going to need it again.
The Rice Part 1:
Soak 2 and 1/2 cups of basmati rice in enough water to cover it. Let it sit for about 30 minutes then drain it and set it aside.
For this dish you're going to need about 1 lb of shrimp, peeled and deveined.
The first time I made this dish I picked up a 1 lb bag of frozen, medium-size shrimp on sale at Whole Foods and they worked great. Those nifty bags of frozen shrimp have become a staple in my freezer. I call them the emergency dinner pack because one bag will feed a bunch of people with some other side dishes thrown in.
If you are using frozen shrimp, defrost them and keep them in the fridge till you are ready for them.
Toss a 1 inch piece of peeled fresh ginger
5 hot green chiles
8 shallots into a blender or a food processor and grind them up well into a paste.
Put the paste into the hot oil.
Stir it around well and toss in:
1 tsp of cumin
Stir it around for about 2 or 3 minutes. The liquid will get absorbed. When it is, add in:
2 chopped tomatoes.
Keep this stuff moving, you don't want it to stick. The tomatoes will soften and darken.
1/2 cup of plain yogurt
Stir fry it all, until the water is absorbed from the yogurt.
Now add in:
1/2 cup of grated dried coconut
Give it a couple of stirs and add in:
1/2 cup of coconut milk
3/4 tsp of salt
Stir it all until the sauce thickens.
Add in the shrimp, give them one stir and then take the pan off the stove.
The Rice Part 2:
In a large pot bring 5 pints of water to a boil. Toss in:
A 2 inch piece of cinnamon stick
5 whole cardamom pods
2 tsp of salt
the drained rice and give it all a stir.
Let the rice cook for only 6 minutes!!!
Drain the partially cooked rice in a colander and then dump it on top of the shrimp in the baking dish.
Scatter the fried cashews and onions on top of the rice and then using a chopstick or spoon handle, poke a hole down the center of the rice all the way to the bottom of the pan.
This dish is being cooked in the Dum Pukht style. That is, steamed in the oven in the pot. When the pot is tightly sealed, pop it into a pre-heated 325 degree oven and let it cook for 20 minutes.
Take the lid off the pan, give the rice and shrimp a stir and spread it out on a platter and serve it up!
our winner is Llinda! However, I have no way of reaching Llinda as she didn't give me an email address . So Linda, if you're out there, shoot me an email. If I don't hear from Linda by Tuesday the 7th of September, I'll draw a new winner.
Coming up next.... pickles are not just for cucumbers anymore!