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Thursday, 25 June 2015

Cheat Smart - Coconut Prawn Curry and Red Rice

I'm all for a little cheating.
But only on our diets! :)
In all other aspects of life, I would only ever advocate the path of inordinate virtuousness. For, you see, I am the personification of inordinate virtue.

No, but seriously, coming back to food and nutrition, no matter how disciplined we might be, we all need to cheat every now and then to keep our sanity - I certainly do!
So, odd as it seems, it’s actually easier to stick to a healthy eating plan if you cut yourself a bit of slack every now and then.

I would only ask before you cheat, that you do two things:
1) That you recognise you are cheating when you're cheating
2) That you cheat for something that's worth it

With regards to my first point, it's simply being aware that you are cheating. In other words, recognise, acknowledge and accept that you are using up your brownie points (pun not intended!)  - so don’t eat your treat mindlessly in front of the TV or computer. Unfortunately, the lives we all seem to lead don't embrace eating and enjoying our food; we are obligated almost, to try and be productive at all times.

Don't be.
Rebel a little.

Have you heard that wonderful song by Ottis Redding - "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay"?
It goes like this:
"I'm sittin' on the dock of the bay
Watchin' the tide roll away, ooh
I'm just sittin' on the dock of the bay
Wastin' time"

I love these words. They sound so dreamy and faraway. And so hopelessly impractical. Which is why I love these words. Because being productive 24/7 is highly overrated.

So - and really this is true for every time you put food in your mouth, and especially so for cheat meals -  take your time, sit down, focus on your food and thoroughly enjoy every last bit.

With regards to my second point - make it count. Cheat smart.
And this really depends on you individually.
Because there's a big difference between enjoying your favourite foods once in a while and eating everything you adore. The key to maintaining some degree of control, is deciding what you want, how much you want, and then soldiering towards it in its most intense and tasty form.

See, for me, willpower is like a muscle - it can be trained. And I've trained myself over the years that even when I want to cheat, I will rarely crave, say a donut. Or french fries. I just won't. And you will see that as your body becomes healthier - and cleaner - even the foods that you cheat with will become less and less unhealthy. Your body, over time, will learn this. Instinctively. Effortlessly.

So instead of grabbing a a large bagel with your coffee as your treat and distractedly downing hundreds of doughy calories, splurge on something worth savoring. Something you love.

For me, because I don't have a sweet tooth, I crave savoury hits of flavour - the more complex the better. This is the kind of stuff that's got hints of sweet and hints of sour and hints of heat and hints of umami (but naturally) all packaged together beautifully into one delicious dish.

I'm going today for Coconut Prawn Curry and Red Rice, a food that's admittedly not top of the list on the naughty spectrum, but rice (even if its blushing) is still carbs and my prawn curry would not taste half as good without the liberal amounts of (high calorie) coconut milk I put it in. So, I am still cheating - I'm just cheating smart.

First things first, what is red rice?
Red rice, for the uninitiated, is generally unhulled or partially hulled rice which has a red husk. It's distinctive for it's nutty flavor, and as the germ of the rice is left intact, it has high nutritional value relative to other carbs. Ironically, it is much cheaper than regular white rice. When I let myself drift back, years and years ago to my childhood days in Madras, it was always the household help who would eat red rice. Unbeknownst to my mother, I'd often barely touch the lunch my parents and I were served on the dining table, and then I'd sneak in to the kitchen afterwards, while they were eating, sitting cross legged on the floor on large stainless steel plates and ask for their rice. Even then, within the inner workings of my 4-year old brain, I had it figured out that what they were eating was far, far tastier than what we were being served.

Now Goan prawn curry (not totally confined to Goa as it does travel up the konkan coast to Mangalore, albeit with a few variations) for those who haven't tried it before - is a revelation. 
Plump, juicy, tender prawns in a coconut rich, hot and sour curry is simply glorious. Try it, I assure you, you will become quite addicted.

Here's what you need:
- 1 tbsp sunflower oil
- 250g raw prawns, peeled and deveined
- 1 onion, finely chopped

- 1 tbsp ginger, grated or cut finely
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 4 dry kashmiri red chilies
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 5-6 curry leaves (optional)
- 3 tbsp tamarind pulp or 1 raw mango chopped length wise into 2 pieces or 3 tbsp tomato paste (whatever you have handy)
- 400ml can full fat coconut milk
- 2 tsp sugar
- Salt to taste

Here's how you do it:
Marinate prawns with little salt and set aside.
Heat the oil and once hot, fry the onion, ginger, garlic and chilli for 5 mins until starting to soften. Next add in your sour ingredient - the raw mango or tamarind paste or tomato paste, sugar and salt and mix well. Stir in the prawns and cook until the prawns turn pink. Finally, turn the heat down, add in the coconut milk and simmer for 2 mins on low heat.

I do my tadka separately. I fry the curry leaves and red chillies, in hot oil until sizzling and aromatic, then I stir it into the finished dish: to me, this quick and simple final touch really lifts the flavours. 

I cook the red rice the exact same way I cook regular white rice. I use a little olive oil to soften the rice, because the husk makes it naturally tougher. So, first I rinse the rice in water. Then I heat some oil in a pot, add in the rice and stir for 2 minutes. I add water and bring the whole pot to a boil. Then, I lower the heat, cover the pot and cook until liquid is fully absorbed. 

To serve, spoon the prawn curry - decadently rich, piping hot, and aromatic - over the rice and garnish with some coriander leaves.

Then devour it. All by yourself.
Because you deserve it.
Because you're worth it.

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