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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