What happens when a Bengali attempts to make a Maharashtrian prawn sukha?

My version of the Maharashtrian prawn sukha

Note: Scroll down if you want to get straight to the recipe

For folks who didn't know this, my surname is Karmakar like Dipa Karmakar and not Karmarkar. In other words, I am Bengali and not Maharashtrian. 

I am about to complete two decades in Mumbai though. I have eaten a fair bit of Maharashtrian food over the years. I don't think that I had ever tried to make it till last night.

Last weekend we were at the ITC Maratha Hotel where I met young chef Deepti Jadhav. Deepti's dad is Maharashtrian and mother Bengali. Deepti has been given the job of introducing Maharashtrian dishes into the Local Love section of the ITC Maratha menu. I was quite impressed by the home-like feel of the food that she had put up and took the opportunity to find out more about Maharashtrian food from her.

Chef Deepti Jadhav of the ITC Maratha Hotel

Yesterday, the folks at Gourmet Delight (an online delivery store), sent over some prawns and ilish for us to sample. I thought I would do a Maharashtrian style prawn sukha for our dinner with the prawns. 

Prawn sukha is a dryish dish where prawns are cooked in grated coconut. In the Malvan coast, as well as in Mumbai, fresh coconut is preferred according to Deepti. In Kolhapur, where she comes from, they used dry desiccated coconut as the region far from the sea. 

I messaged Deepti and got the recommended spice mix for the dish from her. The number of spices that they use at home for a prawn sukha apparently runs into double digits and I will share that with you later. I used short cuts though. I also used a lesser proportion of red chilli powder than what Maharashtrians do as neither K nor I are big on spice. The red colour in Maharashtrian dishes often comes from crushed dry red chillies according to Deepti.

She had also told me earlier that they marinate the prawns in advance so that you don't have to cook the prawns for too long. This was good kitchen hack to know.

The story of the cook last evening was pretty eventful. Here's what happened.

The folks at Lalu's at Pali Market sent over the veggies in the rain including the coconut that I needed.

Banu, our cook, came to work in the evening. She helps me in the prep when I cook. She was standing forlorn in the kitchen with a small knife when I came home. We don't have a coconut scraper at home as we don't use coconut in our cooking. She didn't know how to get the coconut out from the shell. I used my Ikea kitchen knife and showed her how to do it and for the first time ever, let her use my kitchen knife.

I came to my study to work when Banu called out to me and said that our mixer grinder conked off while she tried to grate the coconut!

I took out my stone mortar and pestle and tried to pound the coconut pieces. After two blows, I gave up and searched for the number of Ramesh in Pali Market who repairs kitchen equipment. He came over, took the grinder, fixed it and returned half an hour later and I could grind the coconut.

I went back to work and Banu called from the kitchen. The prawns were not peeled. "I have never peeled prawns  before," she wailed.

Neither had I but I have deveined them in the past and observed the fisher ladies at Khar peel them. So I showed Banu how to peel the prawns and she added another new skill to her repertoire that evening. When ordering fish and meat over the phone or online, it's good to specify how you want things cut and dressed.

Finally everything fell into place, I went for a walk, came back had a shower, and cooked.

Here's my recipe for prawn sukha. I call this dish  'Maharashtrian inspired' and not Maharashtrian as I took Deepti's suggestions on the recipe but used my own spice mixes thereby adding a rather Bengali delicate touch to it. 

A sort of 'Kamakar meets Karmarkar' affair.


Deepti Jadhav's spice mix (authentic Maharashtrian):

" Fresh coconut, degi chilli, turmeric , ginger garlic paste, peppercorn, green and black elaichi, cinnamon, cloves,white and black sesame seeds, coriander seeds, pathar phool, naag elaichi. You need to dry roast the spices and grind them before using"

What I used:

  • 500 g prawns (prawns used in Maharashtrian prawn sukha are smaller than what I used, are called jhinga and are fully peeled).
  • 1 small fresh coconut, scraped and grated
  • Tarka for flavouring the oil: 1/2 a teaspoon of black mustard seeds, 3 garlic pods peeled and sliced and 6,7 curry leaves. This tarka is similar to what is used in parts of south India too and very different from what we Bengalis usually use. 1 green chilli slit into two and added it to the mix
  • Spices: 1/2 a teaspoon each of red chilli powder (use more to make it more Maharashtrian), turmeric powder (only for marinating the prawns), black pepper powder, cumin, coriander and garam masala (store bought)
  • Seasoning: 1/2 teaspoon salt. 1 tablespoon tomato ketchup (my touch) for the red colour to make up for the low chilli powder added, sweetness and tanginess, 1/2 a lime
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. We use Canola and rice oil normally

  • Marinate prawn in turmeric, red chilli powder and lime juice half an hour of cooking. Use just a bit to coat the prawns. Subtlety is the key
  • Grate the coconut and keep aside. Lalu's later told me that they can get the coconut grated and sent too

  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan
  2. Add tarka: mustard seeds, curry leaves, green chillies and garlic
  3. After 30 seconds, add the grated coconut. Stir for 1 minute 
  4. Add spices: 1/2 a teaspoon each of red chilli powder (use more to make it more Maharashtrian) black pepper powder, cumin, coriander and garam masala (store bought). No more turmeric
  5. After a minute, when the spices get into the coconut, add the prawns gently. Add salt and ketchup
  6. After a minute, turn the prawns over and spread the coconut masala across the prawns
  7. After a minute, reduce the flame, cover the pan and let the prawn cook on a low flame for two minutes max. Turn off the gas and you are done. You know the prawns are cooked when the colour turns from translucent grey to white. 4 minutes at the most for cooking the prawns.
  8. You can eat this with pav, sliced bread, roti or neer dosa or bhakri ( a Maharashtrian bread made with rice flour)
Prawn sukha with pav

K felt it was one of the nicest prawn sukhas she has ever had. I felt that this was one of the nicest prawn dishes that I had made.

Since I had kept the spicing light, we could get the natural sweet taste of the fresh grated coconut in the dish. The prawns were of very good quality and had cooked just right and were quite juicy. There was a mild tanginess to the dish thanks to the lime juice. Occasionally, one got the taste of garlic but this did not dominate the dish.

Despite the late hour, K gamely shot me while I did a Facebook Live on the Finely Chopped Facebook page while cooking. You can catch the link here and see me cook the dish and answer questions too:

I was so happy with the final result  that I put up a little speech on social media. Here's how it went:

"Thanks to those who turned into Facebook Live while I cooked. Thanks to chef Deepti Jadhav​ of ITC Maratha for the recipe inspiration. Thanks to Gourmet Delight for sending the prawns. Thanks to our cook Banu for cleaning the prawns and scraping out the coconut. Thanks to Kainaz​ for waiting patiently while I did a video and for holding the phone to shoot though it was past dinner time. Thanks to the watchman who sent the paowalla up. While at it, thanks to Lalu's for sending the veggies and coconut home in the rains and for Ramesh for coming and fixing the mixer"

I had a chat on Maharashtrian non-vegetarian food with chef Deepti on Periscope. Here's the link to watch it

Here are some useful contacts:

Pali Market:

Lalu's Vegetables: 022- 26401236, 26409295 (they deliver veggies in Bandra and the shop is at Pali Market)
Ramesh: repairs gas burners, mixers, microwaves: 09892387330

Gourmet Delight (they sent the prawns for us to sample): https://www.gourmetdelight.in/

You can catch Deepti Jadhav's menu at The Peshwa Pavilion in the ITC Maratha Hotel