At this year’s Art Basel in Switzerland, which took place in June 2017, Indian contemporary artist Subodh Gupta served up a 45-minute eating and cooking performance of Indian fare to visitors. An Artnews article reports that the feast included lentil soup, bhel puri (a savoury street snack made of puffed rice and vegetables), khichadi (a rice-and-lentil dish), a thali platter of rice, papadums, okra and “a perfectly plump shrimp” and finally, a yoghurt and banana dessert. The verdict? “It was glorious”!
It is pure speculation, of course, but perhaps the aforementioned “plump shrimp” was cooked in the style of his recipe for Goan Prawn Curry which I attempted to recreate recently. It’s a pretty easy recipe to follow, much in the style of Indonesian artist Eddie Hara’s squid curry recipe featured earlier, with a gravy that is heavier on the coconut milk than the spice. As I have said before, feel free to go a little heavier on the chilli powder if you like your curries hot and spicy!
The spice blend for the curry calls for a large onion blended into a paste, as well as garlic and ginger paste. The dry spices are whole black peppercorns, chilli powder and turmeric. You begin by frying the onion paste in hot oil, then add ginger and garlic paste and saute some more before adding the dry spices and salt.
Once the spices have blended well with the oil and are fragrant, add in the coconut milk and a cup of water, bring it to a boil, add 500gms of fresh shrimp and cook on high heat until the prawns are done – but be careful not to overcook them!
That’s all there is to it! Pretty simple. The artist recommends that you squeeze half a lemon onto the gravy before serving and I think it adds just the right tangy twist to this creamy, aromatic curry. Eat it with hot steamed rice to soak up all the delicious gravy.
Want to know more about the man behind the dish? Gupta is mostly known for working with everyday objects that are ubiquitous throughout India, such as the mass-produced steel kitchen utensils used in virtually every home in the country. Particularly in this current age of migration, displacement and increasing wariness towards outsiders and the Other, his work on the rituals and symbolism of food consumption and preparation has gained increasing attention and significance. See, for example, his massive installation of used cooking pots and kitchen utensils, Cooking the World shown at the National Museum last year as part of the Singapore Biennale.
“Cooking for me is a hobby and passion, but now it’s an exploration. For me, cooking begins with my mother. I loved being with her, I was fascinated by the ritual and the ceremony in the kitchen space, how certain vessels were used for certain occasions.”
You can’t go far wrong with a recipe from an artist whose love for cooking and hanging around his mother’s kitchen as a little boy makes him a chef, not just of food, but also of memories and experience.
[Note: The recipe in this article can be found in the book, Artists’ Recipes: Contemporary Artists and Their Favourite Recipes, which you can purchase online or in stores.]
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