In his fascinating book “An Edible History Of Humanity” Tom Standage identifies the origins of the Black Death in the lucrative fourteenth century spice trade. He deftly recaptures the way in which Jani Beg, the khan of the Golden Horde attempted to deter Genoese traders from exploiting the port of Caffa for trading slaves by catapulting them with the plague ridden corpses of his own army. As the few remaining survivors fled westwards they carried the plague home with them in their ships. (For some reason this struck a particular chord with me, quite possibly because my mother’s maiden name is Beg).
Ironically, popular Western belief dictated that spices or “splinters of Paradise” as they were called, could also purify the corrupted air and offer protection from the plague. Standage discusses the Muslim curtain which blocked European access to the East and the aggressive race to bust around this stronghold and be the first to form a direct link with precious exotica such as cloves and cinnamon. He recounts the way in which Vasco da Gama and his crew of thugs savagely looted unarmed Muslim ships off the coast of India, and used the prisoners for crossbow practice. How the hands, noses and ears of these prisoners were cut off and sent ashore while the mutilated captives were bound and burnt to death in their own ships. It’s so easy for us today to just stroll casually past the glorious technicolour bounty of little screw top jars on our supermarket shelves and forget that their relationship with these shores has a long and blood-seeped history.
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1 lb peeled, deveined prawns
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp nigella seeds
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground roasted cumin seeds
3 tbsp chopped green coriander
1 fresh chilli finely chopped
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 can of well stirred coconut milk
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
3 shallots, finely chopped
15 fresh curry leaves or 20 dried ones
1 tsp methi/dried fenugreek leaves
– combine the prawns, garlic, turmeric and chilli powder and marinade for a few hours, or overnight if possible.
– Combine the tomato puree, salt, sugar, garam masala, cumin, fennel, nigella, coriander, chilli and coconut milk.
– heat a frying pan and add the vegetable oil. When hot, add the mustard seeds.
– As soon as the seeds begin to splutter add the curry leaves, methi/fenugreek leaves and shallots
– Once the onions start to turn, add the prawns and stir fry until they start to turn a gentle shade of puce
– Add the spiced coconut milk and continue until the prawns are cooked through
– turn off the heat, add the lemon juice and coriander. Serve hot.