Every year, around this time in April, there is a rather curious and peculiar culinary tradition that plays out with an almost clockwork precision all over India's coastal belt. This happens till just before the mighty monsoons besiege us, come mid-June. Call it superstition or plain old science-backed fact, but in these coastal communities – particularly along Maharashtra's Konkan belt and Goa – fresh fish is almost never consumed in months without the alphabet 'R' in their names. This means, from the month of May through to the end of August, the otherwise seafood-obsessed communities are forced to rely on a steady supply of dried fish.
This is why copious amounts of sea food - be it bombil (Bombay duck), sardines, mackerel and many other varieties of fish are laid out to desiccate and dry out under the harsh, unyielding summer sun. Some laying flat, under the protective 'veil' of fishing nets and muslin cloth, while others strung up on latticed stands made from bamboo poles.
Particularly in Maharashtra's Malvan region, there is one such seafood product that shines the brightest (pun intended!) during this period. I'm talking about the tiny, barely 2 mm-long prawns called jawla. These minuscule crustaceans are delicious to eat when made into a host of dishes and accompaniments like a spicy curry, a ground-up chutney or one of the many dry, vegetable-enhanced side dishes called bhajis that the prawns find themselves as the main ingredient in.
One such bhaji is the Sukha Jawla Wanga Batatchyachi Bhaji that sees the jawlas sharing space with bits of quarter fried baby wangi (brinjal or eggplant), and boiled batata (potato) cubes. All this jazzed up with a larder full of spices, souring agents like kokum, raw mango and lime juice and garnished with coconut scrapings and chopped fresh coriander leaves.
And while I've always loved this preparation, which can also be made by stuffing the jawlas and potatoes in the whole brinjal, I'm sad to say that I've never really attempted to make it myself. Till now that is!
So, I was delighted, when on a recent trip to Jaipur of all places, I was shown how to make it from scratch. It so happened that I was staying at the Fairmont Jaipur, where the hotel's chef de cuisine, Ajinkya Shettye-a local Mumbai lad-not just made a bowlful of the divine bhaji for me, but he also readily parted with his family's recipe for the dish. That very same recipe is reproduced ad verbatim below for your cooking and dining pleasure.
Please go ahead and follow my 'Three R Philosophy' when it comes to such hard-to-come-by recipes. Read, Recreate and Relish!
Sukha Jawla Wanga Batatchyachi Bhaji Recipe:
Recipe courtesy: Chef Ajinkya Shettye, chef de cuisine, Fairmont Jaipur
- 100 gms sukha jawla (tiny dried prawns)
- 2 large onions (chopped)
- 2 medium tomatoes (chopped)
- 50 gms coriander (chopped)
- 2 green chilli (chopped)
- 1 potato boiled (diced)
- 2 baby brinjals (1/4 fried)
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- 5 curry leaves
- 20 gms fresh grated coconut
- 20 gms raw mango (julienne)
- 10 gms kokum (garcinia)
- 2 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 1 tbsp tamarind pulp
- Salt to taste
- 2 tsp cumin seeds (whole jeera)
- 2 tsp mustard seed
- 2 tbsp Malvani masala powder
- 1 tsp red chilli powder
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp coriander powder
1. Soak jawla in cold water. Drain away excess water and keep it aside.
2. Place a pan on medium-high heat. Once hot, add coconut oil with mustard seeds, jeera seeds, green chillies and curry leaves for tempering and stir for a while.
3. Add chopped onions, then tomatoes till translucent. Simultaneously add the ginger-garlic paste till golden brown.
4. In a bowl mix all dry powder masalas with 50 ml water and make a slurry of this. Then add this mixture to the pan, stir well for 2 minutes till cooked thoroughly.
5. Take the soaked jawla and add into the pan and stir it well for 2 minutes.
6. Add boiled potatoes and 1/4 fried baby brinjals, kokum, lime juice, and tamarind together with salt and mix them well for 2 minutes.
7. Turn off the flame, add raw mango and freshly grated coconut to the bhaji, cover with a lid for 5 minutes to get all the flavours to mix well. Adjust salt to taste, if needed.
8. Serve the bhaji garnished with freshly chopped coriander and eat with chapati or bhakri.
About Raul DiasA Mumbai-based writer, Raul is an ardent devotee of the peripatetic way of life. When not churning out his food and travel stories at a manic pace, he can be found either hitting the road for that elusive story or in the company of his three dogs!