When I visited the Taj Exotica, an immensely beautiful hotel in the Maldives, the shrimp curry was out of this world. It turned out to be the chef's mother's recipe. Her name is Baija Banu, and she is from Orumanayoor in the Malabar region of Kerala. The chef Ashfar says the secret of the flavor is the aromatic oil infusion of the mustard seed and curry leaves in the curry. Of course in Kerala, they cook fish in a terracotta pot and use coconut oil, and that has a particular taste. The shrimp in that region are ocean prawns and are really fresh and large.
1 cup fresh grated coconut or 1 can (14 fl oz) coconut milk or 1/3 cup coconut cream
1 tablespoon tamarind pulp
3 tablespoons oil
1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
16 curry leaves
1 cup onions, sliced
1 heaping teaspoon grated ginger
3 cloves garlic
4 green chiles, cut in half lengthwise
1 whole dried red chile
, broken into pieces
1 teaspoon red chile powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
2 chopped tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
11 ounces uncooked peeled shrimp
2 tablespoons oil or butter
2 shallots, peeled and sliced
If using grated coconut, soak it in 1/2 cup warm water in a bowl and set aside. After half an hour, squeeze out the coconut milk. Soak the tamarind in 1/2 cup water for about an hour. Then squeeze the tamarind juice into water. Strain and set aside.
In a shallow pan with a handle, heat the oil and add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add 10 curry leaves, and after a few seconds (they let their flavor into the oil) add the sliced onions and sauté, stirring for 5-7 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, and green chiles. After 2 minutes, add the dried red chile and the red chile, turmeric, coriander, and cumin powders. Add 2 tablespoons of water and let the spice powders cook for a further 2 minutes, stirring so that they do not stick to the pan.
Add the chopped tomatoes, 1/2 cup of water, and tamarind water. Turn the heat down and let it simmer for 5 minutes. Then add the coconut milk and salt and stir. If you want a super-smooth curry, strain it into a pan. Taste for seasoning. Add the shrimp and cook over low heat until done. Shrimp cooks quickly; this should only take 2-3 minutes.
To add a finishing touch to the curry just before serving, put 2 teaspoons of oil in a ladle and hold it over the heat. When hot, add the sliced shallots, wait for 30 seconds, then add the remaining 6 curry leaves and after 10 seconds, pour it over the shrimp. Cover with a lid and let this aromatic infused oil seep into the curry for a few minutes. It is now ready to serve.
Best served with white rice.