1kg (1 whole) lau (ash gourd)
100gm (1 cup) kucho chingri (tiny freshwater prawns, cleaned and deveined with head on)
30gm (3 tbsp) mustard oil
1 dried red chilli
1 bay leaf
1 cardamom pod
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp cumin powder
¼ tsp turmeric
6gm (1 tsp) ginger paste
2 green chillies
10gm (2 tsp) salt
18gm (3 tsp) sugar
2 tsp ghee
1 pinch Bengali garam masala
1 sprig coriander leaves
Prawns: If you can’t find tiny prawns, chop up larger prawns after frying into bite-sized 1-cm pieces.
Spices: The proportion of the spices may seem too little compared to the volume of the ash gourd (lau), but resist the temptation to increase level of spices. Ash gourd (lau) is made up of water to a great extent, which when released will shrink its quantity.
Salt: The same goes for salt. Resist the temptation to add more at the earlier stages. Check for seasoning once the water has dried and adjust accordingly.
1. Clean and devein the prawns. Smear them with ¼ tsp each of salt and turmeric. Set aside.
2. Peel the lau, and chop it in 2-mm thick strips, 4cm long.
3. Place an empty kadai on the stove. Once it has heated up fully, add mustard oil. Wait for it to give off a gentle smoke and turn pale yellow.
4. Fry the marinated prawns in it for 30 seconds. Don’t overfry, or they will become tough. Remove from the oil and set aside.
5. Temper the same (now-prawn-flavoured) oil with a dried red chilli, bay leaf, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and cumin seeds.
6. Add cumin powder and turmeric. Fry these on low heat for 2 minutes before adding the ginger paste. Fry for another 2 minutes. If the spices start sticking to the pan, you may add splashes of water and continue frying.
7. Add lau, green chillies and salt. Mix everything and cover the pan with a lid.
8. You will now have to cook this, stirring occasionally, until the spices are well braised and the lau has ‘reduced’. This can take anything from 25–40 minutes.
9. Add sugar and continue cooking until the liquid has more or less dried up. It needs to be covered and cooked on low to medium heat until the lau and the spices have braised to form a dry curried preparation.
10. Add the fried prawns and continue braising until a very light caramelisation stage is reached.
11. Finish with ghee, Bengali garam masala and chopped coriander leaves. Serve with rice and dal
Tip: This dish cooks entirely in the juices released from the lau when salt and sugar are added. No extra water needed. It needs to be covered and cooked on low to medium heat until the lau and the spices have braised to form a dry curried preparation.
How long to cover the pan and what level of heat to maintain will depend entirely on the water content of your particular lau. If you find that the lau has softened but there is still too much liquid in the pan, uncover and increase the heat to dry up the liquid.
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