Indian Food Easy Peasy: Prawn Madras Curry

Prawn Madras Curry

prawn madras

I know there still remains a mystery shrouding Indian cooking, even amongst many of the accomplished cooks and foodies that I speak to. I can hear the sitars playing evocatively as you read this…

Now, I’m not saying it’s all very easy for me and that I’m mixing my own spice blends every week and tempering spices, roasting seeds and pummeling my own pastes every night.

Eating home made Indian food has also become a treat for me, probably because of a wider exposure to other foods and cooking styles since leaving home at 17.

However, there are times when nothing but a spicy curry will do. Times when I crave warm rotis made with ghee and filled with simple potato and pea curry, or the tang of a deep maroon coloured fish curry- the sort that taunts and teases as if to say, “Do you have the minerals, girl?”. It’s a challenge to eat, but a pleasure to savour.

I can not compare to my Mother’s cooking, nor those of the aunties and grannies who effortlessly churn out perfectly balanced masterpieces for each meal (yes, that’s lunch and dinner and different dishes for each- rules according to my grandmothers).

But what I offer you here, is the same quick and flavoursome approach I use to all my cooking, taking the shortcuts that make cooking Indian food less of a hassle.

spicy prawns, tangy tomato curry sauce and rice with fried onions and mustard seeds


600g small prawns, thawed, shelled and deveined (use whatever size you have). Rinse and set aside

1/3 t ginger and garlic paste

1/2 medium onion, finely sliced

2 T olive oil

2 medium bay leaves

1 tsp dried curry leaves (if you have fresh ones- jackpot!)

2 heaped tsp medium-hot masala powder (I bring mine down from Durban in bulk and store in a fridge I keep for spices- the oils are volatile and unused spice powders are prone to weevils outside a fridge)

1 tsp garam masala (I use a blend my mother makes because it’s my favourite)

3 tsp black mustard seeds

1 tsp sugar

3T tamarind from a block soaked in 6T hot water, seeds removed and strained or 2T tamarind paste

1 and 1/2 can peeled tomatoes, blended till smooth

80ml water

salt to taste


Mix ginger and garlic paste over prawns.

Heat olive oil on medium heat in a pan and fry onions till just starting to colour. Add bay leaves, curry leaves and  mustard seeds and watch as they start to sizzle and pop for a minute or two.

Add masala and garam masala, stirring for just a few seconds.

Add tomatoes and stir. You never want the masala to cook by itself for too long- it will burn.

Add the strained tamarind paste.

Cook for 5 minutes to thicken slightly on low- medium heat.  Add water and cook for a further 5 minutes, also without the lid.

Add sugar and add salt to taste.

Add prawns and cook till opaque on low to medium heat- this will happen in 2-3 minutes.

Sprinkle with coriander and serve with basmati rice.

prawn madras curry with fragrant rice

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  1. Karen February 16, 2011 at 10:58 pm - Reply

    These look fantastic! I haven’t tried cooking a lot of indian food at home, but I really want to give these a try.
    I really like your new site, by the way.
    Karen @ Tasty Trials

  2. Ming-Cheau February 17, 2011 at 9:26 am - Reply

    Oh wow Ishay!

    Lady, you must make me this for an Indian foods dinner one day and in return I’ll make you a Taiwanese meal 🙂

  3. Ishay February 17, 2011 at 9:53 am - Reply

    @karen- hello! and thank you for visiting!
    @Ming I’m wating for Jean (ahem) to let us know when his schedule frees up!

  4. Carlette February 17, 2011 at 11:36 am - Reply

    O my this looks divine!!! well done!

  5. yano February 17, 2011 at 1:28 pm - Reply

    only one word for this recipe “wow” indian food feels just like summer “hot”

  6. Chantell Lombard February 17, 2011 at 1:59 pm - Reply

    Hi there;
    it surely does look delicious!!!!Hmmmm!!! I love indian food!! Were would i find tamarind?

  7. Linda February 17, 2011 at 2:50 pm - Reply

    Ishay, your photos are marvellous! That curry looks delicious… I’d love a spicy, juicy prawn right about now with some of that lovely rice. Yum!

  8. Ishay February 17, 2011 at 3:33 pm - Reply

    @Carlette @Yano Thank you and thanks for visiting the blog. Hope you return.

    @Chantell- if you live in Natal, this won’t be a problem. If you live in Cape Town- the spice shop in Rose Street, Bo Kaap or Atlas Trading should have blocks of tamarind, which you rerigerate. In other provinces, just ask for the Indian spice stores-there usually is one in bigger cities or towns.
    Or alt get tamarind paste which you can get in bottles from most stores that sell Thai condiments- like Pick n Pay or Woolworths.

  9. Ishay February 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm - Reply

    @Linda- thank you muchly

  10. Lyn February 18, 2011 at 6:38 am - Reply

    Ishay thanks for a great idea for dinner, cant wait to hear the families comments

  11. Frank February 18, 2011 at 10:39 am - Reply

    Hey Ishay my wife found this, IMd me the link, so this is what I’m making tonight (I do all the cooking).
    The deal is she’s cleaning the prawns.
    Thank you

  12. Ishay February 19, 2011 at 10:24 am - Reply

    @Lyn I hope they enjoy it and you have fun making it
    @Frank Thanks for visting- come say hi again! Deals like that only make it fair, I reckon 😉

  13. Hugh February 21, 2011 at 11:03 am - Reply

    Ok, mission accomplished – my mouth is watering!
    Great-looking prawn curry, sounds simple enough that I can try it & not have a catastrophe in the kitchen.

    • Ishay February 22, 2011 at 11:13 pm - Reply

      Bet you can do it, and do it well!

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  15. Dave June 1, 2011 at 12:18 pm - Reply

    Couldn’t get tamarind but followed the rest of the recipe as is. Absolutely fantastic ! a really authentic Indian taste as good as any restaurant I have eaten in. My friends loved it. Recommend anyone to try it. So simple.
    Thanks Ishay

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  18. Robin Lancaster March 14, 2012 at 11:43 am - Reply

    WOW … I am a Durban Curry fanatic. I gaurd it as our heritage, a treasure of South Africa. Your curry looks fantastic and genuine as though you too adhere to the Durban style. A style of cooking I fear we are losing to the more pouplar Northern Curry dishes. I will give this prawn curry a try very soon. I am in Cape Town and use Atlas Trading Leaf Masala. I assume that should be ok?

    • Ishay March 15, 2012 at 10:00 pm - Reply

      Hello Robin. Thank you for your comment. I do hope you enjoy making this. You can control how much masala you want, of course. Durban style, or something with a little more mercy 😉

  19. Sureshni Pillay September 20, 2013 at 9:22 am - Reply

    Hi Ishay
    Will be attempting this on Sunday, just checking something with you, do you think that the flavour will resemble that slightly of crab curry? Or should I follow your crab curry recipe and just substitute with prawns?I have a crazy craving for crab curry but unfortunately I cannot get crab here in Cape Town.

    • Ishay September 20, 2013 at 12:11 pm - Reply

      Hi there, use the crab curry recipe – leave out the coconut milk if you prefer. You may find frozen crab at the fish shops in Woodstock. Have fun!

  20. Rick Sing October 3, 2014 at 10:03 pm - Reply

    I tried this for cooking prawns the first time in my life and it was simply awesome.What i did was to fry the prawns first lightly with the garlic,then added it later , to the chutney.Anyway awesome yummy recipe. Thanks from sunny SA.

    • Ishay October 3, 2014 at 11:28 pm - Reply

      Great suggestion Rick. Thanks for trying it out

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