Ma was a formidable person. She came to help my grandmother look after my mother when she was born. When my mother got married, Ma moved to my parents’ flat and was an integral part of our household. We were her family. We all called her Ma, or ‘mother’, which may have seemed strange to outsiders, who probably saw her as a regular ayah or bua (a traditional nursemaid – having a live-in carer to look after the children was a common practice in Indian households who could afford to keep one).
When Ma died, I could not go to her funeral. In the Islamic tradition, my brother carried her down to her grave: this is usually done by a child or relative. Ma would have been pleased to have seen the send-off she got: the local bazaar was closed in her honour and the street outside our house was full of people who came to pay their respects. A lady of substance. This is the prawn dish she always made for me whenever I returned home from England. It’s a simple, heart-warming, no-fuss dish, that only takes 45 minutes or so to make. I eat Ma’s Prawns with plain boiled rice.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes
150ml mustard oil (see notes below – if you can’t find it, use vegetable oil)
1 tsp ginger paste
1/2 tsp garlic paste
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 1/2 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
2 green chillies, slit in half
1 tsp salt
1.25kg raw peeled prawns, deveined
fresh coriander, to garnish
Put the onions in a food processor and blitz to a paste.
Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan over a medium–high heat. Add half of the onion paste and cook until it turns light brown. Add the remaining onion paste, ginger, garlic, turmeric, chilli powder, cumin, ground coriander, green chillies, salt and 4 tablespoons of water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
Remove the lid, increase the heat and cook the paste until you can see the oil coming to the surface. Add the prawns and cook, uncovered, over a medium heat for 10–15 minutes until the prawns have changed colour and are cooked through.
Serve immediately, garnished with coriander.
After training as a laywer, Asma began cooking the food and recipes of her family and homeland at regular supper clubs. Receiving critical acclaim, she went on to open her all-female run restaurant Darjeeling Express, and has now encapsulated her much-loved recipes, interwoven with stories and beautiful prose in her cookbook, Ammu. Extracted from Ammu by Asma Khan (Ebury Press, £26) Photography by Laura Edwards
— cook’s notes
If you are using mustard oil you need to heat it to smoking point to reduce the pungency of the oil. Please ensure your kitchen is well ventilated so the oil does not set off the smoke alarm. Leave the oil to cool slightly before starting the recipe.