The pineapple has to be one of nature's most well considered gifts to tropical dwellers. What I love most is its ability to cross over from raw to sweet to savoury recipes, with complete ease, a triple threat of the culinary world, if you will. Imagine an existence, if you can, without pineapple tarts, pineapple upside down cake, sambal nenas (pineapple sambal), Hawaiian pizza (hah! busted!!) pina coladas or a juicy, golden, stickily sweet wedge of cold pineapple, on a blistering day at the height of summer!
I would eat them a lot more, if not for their prickly, armour-like skin and pesky, tongue shredding 'eyes', I do like pineapples enough though to have learnt from a young age, how to skin them and deftly remove the eyes without mangling them; watching one turn and roll against the knife blade, in my grandmother's worn, wrinkled and masterful hands was worth a month of lessons in culinary school.
Or, if you didn't have a kitchen wizard of a grandmother and never figured your way around a prickly pineapple, you could just buy it already skinned, de-eyed and cored, waiting to be the star ingredient in your favourite flamboyant cocktail, dessert, curry, rice dish, salad or relish.
This curry is hands down, my favourite way to enjoy its juicy lusciousness. The chunky, sweet yet sharp slices make a wonderful counterpoint to the spice of the curry and the richness of the plump prawns. If you've never tried a curry with pineapple in it, all I can say is "what are you waiting for?!" I don't think I've ever seen pineapple in an Indian curry, but it's a very common and relished addition to Kristang (Portuguese Eurasian) curries, Malay and Peranakan gulai (curry made with fresh herbs and spices, without curry or spice powders) in Singapore and Malaysia and often appears in Thai curries too.
Prawn and Pineapple Curry (Curry Nanas or Gulai Nenas) is a simple dish based on what my grandmother called "chilli, bawang (onion), belacan (shrimp paste) rempah (spice paste)". This unprepossessing mixture of just three very basic ingredients, is the starting point for innumerable Eurasian, Malay and Nyonya dishes. I thought it was kitchen alchemy paste, the way my grandmother parlayed it into uncountable mouthwatering dishes.
I leave you now, with my grandmother's recipe for this lovely curry. With the weather beginning to cool, even in this part of the world, where it's perennially and piercingly sunny, its summery ingredients and autumnal hues, makes this both a fitting farewell to summer, as we ease into shorter, less sultry days, and a welcome to the first, tentative days of fall, or for us, the heat taming monsoons. The tail end of the year here, lacks the spectacle of the change from summer to autumn but there is still a palpable shift in the ether, a winding down as it were. It's my favourite time of year for a number of reasons. The bewitching twilight hour arrives sooner and even the cricket song, a shrill, frenetic annoyance on sweltering mid year evenings, becomes less frenzied, almost calming, as the little critters' collective chirping loses its urgency. Oh, and we may not do Halloween, but my birthday's round the corner....
To my readers in the Northern hemisphere, I wish a gloriously golden and bountiful autumn. I hope you enjoy every minute of Nature's most hauntingly beautiful palette while it lasts; I wish I could. Do you detect a note of envy? Yes, you do.
Prawn and Pineapple Curry
Prep 30 mins Cook 20 mins Serves 4
15 dried chillies, seeded, soaked until soft then squeezed dry
10 shallots, peeled
5 buah keras (candlenuts or use macadamia nuts), toasted and crushed
2 cm length turmeric, peeled
1 tbsp belacan, crumbled
2 stalks lemongrass, tops and coarse outer leaves discarded, bottom end bashed until split
2 thick slices peeled galangal (blue ginger or lengkuas) bashed until split
500 ml (2 1/2 cups) water
3 slices tamarind (asam keping)
1/2 a ripe but firm pineapple, skinned, cored and cut into thick quadrant slices
600 g (about 24 moderately large prawns), whiskers trimmed, deveined, left unshelled
1- 1 1/2 tsp salt (add 1 tsp first and taste before adding more)
1 - 2 tsp sugar (add more if pineapple is sour, less if it's sweet)
Laksa leaves (Vietnamese mint or polygonum - optional)
Combine spice paste ingredients and pound or process to a smooth paste.
Heat about 5 tablespoons oil in a pot and when moderately hot, add the belacan and stir until crisp and no longer fishy smelling. Add lemongrass and galangal and stir for about half a minute.
Add the spice paste and stir until fragrant and spice mixture separates from the oil.
Add water and tamarind and bring to a boil. Lower heat and add pineapple slices. Simmer for 2 minutes then add prawns and simmer another 3 - 4 minutes or until prawns are cooked through. Do not overcook or prawns will toughen up.
Add salt and sugar to taste, stir then turn off heat. If gravy is tangy enough, discard tamarind slices. If left in the gravy, they will continue to secrete their sourness into the curry.
Dish out, garnish with laksa leaves if using, and serve with white rice, fried salted fish (ikan sepat or salted gurame is best) and sambal belacan.