There is nothing sophisticated about this dish… It is as rustic as can be. Prepared in a hurry, with ingredients that are easily available, by people who are definitely not accomplished chefs. But boy, is it yummy! Once you have tasted it, you will never forget it, I guarantee. And of course, as can be guessed, the secret behind the goodness of this dish is the freshness of its ingredients.
The backwaters of Kerala, the small state on the south western coast of India, are well known for their natural beauty. However, something that is not so well known is the fact that the same backwaters are major channels of commerce. Boats plying on them ferry commodities and people, village to village.
To the boatmen who guide these boats through the network of waterways, the boats are their homes, especially as they are away from their villages for weeks at a time. At the end of a day, they moor their boats and settle down for the night, maybe after a visit to the shop on the banks for some daily necessities. Then it is time to prepare a quick meal in the light of the hurricane lamp. And is there anything better to cook than what can be harvested out of the water, then and there? But they have no time or patience for elaborate preparations. A chop of this, a handful of that… stir together and the boatmen’s fish or crab curry is ready… hot and spicy, enticing!
The ingredients are very basic… chopped onions, tomatoes, crushed ginger and garlic. And a bit of crushed cloves and cardamom. And a mix of coriander, chilli and turmeric powders.
The only change I have made to the original recipe – picked up from watching it being made – is that it has been mellowed down a bit, by the addition of coconut milk.
And of course, the key to the awesomeness of this dish is fresh crabs… I mean, really fresh ones.
Sauté the onions, add the powdered spices, stir in the tomatoes… toss in the crab pieces and stir together.
Add the coconut milk and cook covered for 10 minutes. A sprinkle of curry leaves makes it complete.
Serve with hot boiled rice and you will hear the lilting songs of the boatmen echo on the silvery waters on a still night.