Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Kolmi No Patio

A few years ago a friend went to India to visit her parents in Poona for a month.
A few days later, I received an e-mail from her asking me if I had a recipe for Prawn Patia.

[Prawn Patia (Kolmi No Patio) is a well-know Parsee dish - Curried shrimp in a thickish tangy curry sauce. Usually served with a plain lentil side dish, and rice.

Quote: "My mother still wants you to give her the best Kolmi Patia recipe you can think of. She claims she has been winging it all these years, and after tasting her latest effort, I believe her."

Going through some old e-mails just now I re-discovered what I sent her then.
So, just for the hell of it, here it is


Half pound prawns - shelled, deveined, rinsed.
Half dozen (or less) fresh green chilies.
Half dozen (or less) cloves of garlic.
A little bit of fresh ginger (approx. fingertip sized amount).
Two medium onions, chopped.
Two or three tomatoes, chopped (more if skinned and deseeded).
Half TBS tamarind pulp.
Fresh lime (for a squeeze of juice).
Vinegar (for a dash or jigger).
Between half to one TBS jaggery / palm sugar (golden sugar may be substituted).
Four TBS chopped cilantro / kothmir.
Oil, ghee, water (as needed).
One teaspoon EACH: Ground coriander seed, ground cumin (preferably both toasted before grinding).
Half to one teaspoon EACH: Cayenne, Turmeric, Garam Masala (Delhwi or Northern style).

Soak tamarind pulp in one cup hot water for half an hour. Kneed and strain. Set aside.
Grind chilies, garlic, ginger to a coarse paste.
Prepare the gravy first: Fry onion in oil and ghee till golden but not browned, on medium heat. Add the chilies garlic ginger paste, stir well, add turmeric, stir well, add remaining ground spices, stir well. After a few seconds add the tomatoes, tamarind water, jaggery, dash of vinegar, and salt. Once it has boiled for a minute or so, taste, and adjust the sweet-sour balance as appropriate - add more vinegar or jaggery.
Cook for five to ten minutes to develop the flavour and thicken the gravy - it should be semi-thick, not runny or soupy.
Add the prawns to the pan. Add the chopped cilantro once the colour of the prawns changes, and stir briefly. Note that prawns cook very fast - it only takes two or three minutes for them to change colour.
Adjust flavour with a quick squeeze of fresh lime juice, and remove from heat.
Serve with moong dal simply cooked, yellow rice, and rotli.


1. For a somewhat more intense prawn flavour, boil the shells and a couple of extra prawns (chopped) in the water in which you will soak the tamarind.

2. Some curry leaf / kari patta may be added to the gravy at the same time as the tomatoes. They need not be removed later.

3. Some cooks add fenugreek / methi and coconut milk. But this is neither standard nor necessary.

4. Garam masala: The reason why Delhwi garam masala is specified is because, due to the inclusion of ground coriander and cumin, it is appropriate to add during early stages of cooking. If you are using a Sindhi garam masala, add just a pinch near the end of the cooking time, and increase the proportion of ground coriander and cumin.

5. Aromatics: Two or three whole cloves can be added, as well as pinches of ground cinnamon and star anise. Sour dishes benefit from aromatics, but should not be overwhelmed with them. The use of tomatoes begs for a touch of cinnamon.

6. Proportions: Adapt quantity of chilies, garlic, and tomatoes as needed. There is great variation in chilies, with d'arbol being very hot, serrano resinous in taste and milder, and jalapeno zesty-peppy. Garlic, while not as variable, may not please all people equally. And sweet tomatoes will give a different taste to the dish than slightly unripe tomatoes. The sour taste of the dish depends primarily on the tamarind, with tomato, vinegar, and lime juice filling it out. As for the spices, it is seldom good to use too much turmeric, and it should always be cooked to remove the raw taste. But it is good for the skin and the digestion, and does add flavour. One inch of turmeric root is roughly equivalent to one teaspoon.

7. Measurements: One teaspoon is an amount roughly equal to a fingertip in volume (unless one has unusually small or large fingers), and can easily be measured out in the palm of the hand. There are three teaspoons to the tablespoon, which is roughly equal in volume to the thumb from the ball to the nail. There are sixteen tablespoons in a cup.

8. Prawns should not be overcooked. It is actually best to slightly undercook them, especially in a sour dish such as this. They only take a very short while to cook, even if they are large. What are often called giant tiger prawns are actually estuarine crayfish or langouste, and should be treated as if they were small lobsters instead.

9. Cayenne: commercial cayenne is actually African birdpepper grown bred to a specific heat level. But it is seldom fresh, and flavourwise it is not very good even when it is. The same can be said about paprika. Instead of cayenne and paprika, I prefer to use ground toasted dry Thai peppers and sweet Spanish pepper. If you have access to a sweet and brilliantly red pepper powder, one or two teaspoons of that may also be added, in addition to whatever hot red pepper powder you actually prefer to use.

10. Ghee is clarified butter (regular butter also can), Garam Masala is a mixture of aromatic spices (pinches of cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and black pepper can be substituted), rotli is a type of flatbread. Everything else, except kari patta ('curry leaf', optional in any case), should present no problem.



The back of the hill said...

[Comment as of 06/19/07]

For Dhansak, look here:


B. Mithiwala said...

Prwan patio is one my faves.
In my humble estimation it is a more characteristically Parsi dish than Dhansak, which is too heavy for frequent indulgence.

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