Every dish that we prepare, has a story behind it, be it at my home or yours. Whether you agree or not, it does. If you think back about your recent meal, how did you come about deciding upon the dishes? Did you just throw in whatever your fridge had to offer or was it a pre-planned menu for the day and you had done your shopping accordingly? What was the inspiration or thought (to simplify it) behind cooking a dish? When you ask these questions, the answer that you get is your story!
I find it quite interesting when I sit down to write about a dish. Sometimes it takes me back to my childhood days or sometimes it is just us - me and family creating our own moments. It could be interactions with friends, family, a thought or even an ingredient that could trigger our imagination or inspiration.
One's palate or the food that one cooks is usually influenced by the sights and smells that one grew up with, be it consciously or sub consciously. This dish is my husband's creation. We loved it so much the first time that now, it makes a regular appearance during the summer months. I call it a 'soul satisfying' dish. Especially when the days are hot, this mildly spiced, light dish acts like a thin veil of cool breeze! My husband is a Bong but unlike a true Bong he does not seek out the typical ingredients that we would use back home. In other words, he likes to experiment and enjoy the adventure in doing so. Don't get me wrong here, he loves food and eating and can never give up Bengali delicacies. Growing up, he had never set foot inside their kitchen and never cooked a meal (maybe a few here and there during emergencies), but he has this ability to recall the smells and taste and visualise the spices and their affect. He doesn't believe in following a recipe or measuring up spices but (I hate to say this), it always turns out 'wonderfully delicious'. In Bengali we would call it 'Hater jadu' or magic hands, or so he says…hmph! Shh...don't tell him I've said this, otherwise he'll bloat so much that I'll have to tie him down
So, this dish is an inspiration from a Bengali favourite during summer - 'lau chingri' or bottle gourd with prawn. We loved this variation & combination so much, that I had to share it with you guys. Lau chingri is prepared differently with different spices and has a different consistency, so not to be confused or compared.
Now chayote or chow chow or squash or choko or mirliton is not a native of Britain just as the bottle gourd isn't. It is a warm season, tender perennial that grows in tropical or sub-tropical regions. It belongs to the same family as courgette, zucchini, cucumber, squash - Cucurbitaceae. However, it is now grown by individual gardeners here in UK too and seems to thrive well with much care and upkeep especially in a good summer year with a few frost-free weeks. It is usually stocked by popular supermarkets here and you would also find them in Asian or West Indian grocers. Chayote is furrowed, pear shaped with pale green colour skin. Their flesh has a watery texture and delicate flavour. I generally do not peel them if they are tender, however if they are mature, the skin becomes tough and must be peeled as it does not cook easily. Be careful while peeling as the sap may cause skin irritation in some people.
There is a list of impressive nutritional benefits of this pear shaped vegetable! It is low in carbohydrate, calories to begin with, no fat, high in fibre, vitamin C, folate, vitamin K and host of minerals. It has a host of antioxidant compounds that may help in maintaining heart health, skin, and blood sugar levels.
So here is the recipe of this 'soul satisfying' dish.
Prep time: 10mins
Cook time: 30mins
2 Chayote, diced (peel skin if it is tough)
2 medium sized potatoes, peeled and diced into same size as the chayote
150g cooked prawn
1 1/2 tsp panch phoran (Bengali 5 spice); see hints & tips for more info
1 medium onion finely sliced.
1tbsp ginger garlic paste
1tsp coriander powder
1tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 - 1 tsp red chilli powder, or according to your liking
1/4 tsp sugar (optional)
Salt to taste
2tbsp cooking oil
Chopped parsley for garnish (optional)
Heat oil in a saucepan on a medium flame. Add panch phoran when it splutters add onions and sauté until soft.
Add the ginger-garlic paste and sauté for 2 more minutes or until the raw smell disappears. Keep stirring to avoid the paste getting burnt.
Tip in the vegetables and stir.
Now add all the dry spices, sugar, and salt.
Mix well till the vegetables are coated with spices. Sauté on medium high flame for about 5 minutes.
Now cover and cook on low heat.
The vegetables will get cooked in its own juices as chayote releases a lot of water.
Check in between and stir.
Cover and cook till done. It should take about 25 -30minutes in total.
2 minutes before removing, add the cooked prawn and just heat through.
Garnish it with fresh, chopped parsley.
Your yummy summer dish is ready.
Hints & Tips & Trivia
Panch Phoran is a mix of 5 whole spices used in traditional Bengali, cooking as a tempering. The whole spices are - fennel seeds, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, nigella seeds, Radhuni. You can buy a pre-mixed pack from a local South-Asian grocer or online. Or you can make your own, by mixing equal proportions of the whole spices. Radhuni (Ajmod in Hindi) looks like English celery seeds but it is not the same and can be substituted with cumin seeds, if unavailable. Panch phoran is also used as a pickling spice. These five spices are also used in cuisines of other Eastern states of India such as - Assam, Odisha, albeit might be in variations.
Addition of sugar is optional; it is mainly used to bring all the flavours together. We do not want the sugar to caramelize, hence do not add it with the onion/ginger/garlic paste.
I love the subtle flavour of parsley and as I had some growing in my windowsill herb garden, used it as garnish. If you are a fan of coriander leaves, feel free to sprinkle some. Or if you do not like any, just skip it! Easy, isn’t it?
This dish can also be prepared without using onions. It tastes just as good with just the 5-spice tempering and ginger garlic paste. Rest of the ingredients remain the same.
You can either buy shelled and cooked prawn off the supermarket shelf or buy raw and pre-cook.
To cook prawns - shell and devein prawns. Marinate with a bit of salt and turmeric. Heat oil on a pan and add prawns. Cook for about 2 minutes on each side. Drain amd keep aside.