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Cajun Prawn Biriyani #FoodieReads

I don't remember when I ordered this book - Serving Crazy with Curry: A Novel by Amulya Malladi* - but I read it this week as a diversion from thinking about the heavy responsibility of re-opening a school in the middle of this on-going pandemic. That is a tale for another time...

On the Page

I wanted to like Serving Crazy with Curry more than I did. The characters were initially interesting and reminded me very much of some families I knew when I was in the same place Shobha attended. (Go, Bears!) The parents were immigrants from India; the kids were either American-born or very Americanized. And the clashes of the cultures were palpable in both my memories and this novel.

In the book, Devi is ravaged by immense pressure to marry and become a traditional Indian wife. Her sister, Shobha, had an arranged marriage and, from the outside, has a charmed life. She's a CEO of a company in Silicon Valley with a husband who is a professor at Stanford. 

So, Devi decides to commit suicide. Her attempt is thwarted when her mother finds her and she is forced to move back in with her parents and her maternal grandmother who is on an extended stay from India.

As she did when she was a child, as a coping mechanism, Devi refuses to speak. Instead, she cooks constantly. Devi had always questioned the usual way of making dishes. "'Why can’t we add parsley in the dal?' Devi would ask. 'Because Indians don’t use parsley, only coriander', Saroj would say. 'Why can’t we make a duck curry or rabbit curry instead of a chicken curry? Do we always have to have the same kind of chicken curry?' Devi would want to know. 'Because Indians don’t eat duck or rabbit or deer or any of those other repulsive meats', Saroj would respond" (pg. 16).

To help Devi recover, Saroj grudgingly relinquishes the household cooking duties and Devi creates riffs on traditional Indian classics such as curry chicken made with blueberries and Cajun prawn biriyani. "Devi made a ginger, apricot, and mint chutney, along with a good amount of chipotle chili peppers found in a bottle, hidden deep down in Saroj’s everything-is-in-there pantry. The end result was a fiery, smoky, tangy concoction that beat the pants off of Saroj’s mint chutney" (pg. 69)

All of those culinary adventures were inspiring, but I found the book incredibly disappointing. Without spoiling the book, what could have been a poignant story about difficult relationships between mothers and children (G'ma and Saroj, Saroj and Devi), the challenges of marriage (Saroj and Avi, Shobha and Girish), and even sibling rivalry and conflict devolved into a trite tale that was abruptly tied up with a bow.

On the Plate

But, as I mentioned, Devi's time in the kitchen was inspiring. I loved this passage: "Growing up, Devi’s memories of hot-hot biriyani were associated with special occasions. On Saroj and Avi’s wedding anniversaries, Saroj would make biriyani; on birthdays, she would make biriyani. It was her standard 'happy news' dish. Shobha’s marriage has been arranged, let’s make biriyani" (pg. 85).

 In response to her Cajun prawn biriyani, Devi's grandmother declares, "This is excellent biriyani…the spices, Devi…just wonderful,' Vasu said, smacking her lips in satisfaction during dinner. Devi was pleased the Cajun prawn biriyani was receiving so much praise" (pg. 86). So, I decided to try to make my own version.

Biriyani is a family favorite. My Enthusiastic Kitchen Elf has been making his version since he watched Chef April Bloomfield make lamb biriyani with Chef Stevie Parle on The Mind of a Chef nearly a decade ago. We've made it with beef and with lamb; I've even taught a group of middle schoolers how to make it. But seafood biriyani isn't something I usually think to make.

Usually I make our own blend of spices that includes cloves, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, fennel, cardamom, turmeric, black pepper, and more. However, since I was inspired by Devi's Cajun prawn version, I just used some Old Bay seasoning instead. I did make a batch of homemade naan to serve with it though.


  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • splash of olive oil
  • 1 cup onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 1/2" knob fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 cup cubed potatoes
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 1 cup coconut cream
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 Tablespoons vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar)
  • 1 to 2 pounds prawns
  • 2 Tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning
  • freshly ground salt, to taste
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste

  • 4 cups basmati rice cooked
  • pinch of saffron threads, soaked in 1/4 cup boiling water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • fresh herbs (I used a mixture of cilantro, parsley, and mixed greens)

Homemade Naan
  • 2 cups flour plus more for rolling
  • 3 teaspoons organic granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast 
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 Tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 cup warm water 
  • 2 Tablespoons butter, melted, for brushing on finished naans


Peel and devein your shrimp. Place them in a large mixing bowl. Massage the Old Bay Seasoning into the prawns. Let stand for 10 minutes.

In a large pan - we used a Dutch oven - melt butter in a splash of oil. Stir in the onions and carrots. Stir well. When the onions begin to turn translucent, add in the potatoes, garlic, and ginger. Cook for 5 minutes, then add in the tomato sauce, coconut cream, water, and vinegar. Stir well to incorporate all of the spices that might be stuck to the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are fork-tender, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. If the sauce is too thin, turn up the heat and cook until reduced, stirring constantly to keep from burning. Once the sauce is to your desired thickness, nestle the prepared prawns into the sauce and cook until opaque, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Fold in the fresh herbs and set aside.

Soak your basmati rice in cool water while you make your naan dough. Drain the rice and cover it with boiling water. Add a pinch of salt. Let it boil for five minutes. Drain the rice, then return it to a covered pot to let it steam.

Place saffron in a small bowl and pour boiling water over it. Let steep for 5 to 10 minutes before assembling your biryani.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Spoon some of the prawn curry into the bottom of your dish.

Layer it with rice. Add a drizzle of saffron water and a sprinkle of freshly grated cinnamon.

Repeat: curry, rice, saffron water, and cinnamon...until the pot is full. Cover the dish with foil and place in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes and finish up the naan while it cooks.

Homemade Naan
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together yogurt, olive oil, and 3/4 cup warm water. Stir the yogurt mixture into the dry ingredients with a fork. When a shaggy dough forms, dust your hands with flour and knead gently into a soft, slightly sticky dough. If the dough is too wet, add in a little bit of flour. As soon as all of the dry ingredients are incorporated, stop kneading.

Lightly oil a clean bowl and transfer the dough to the oiled bowl. Cover with a damp kitchen towel. Place in a warm spot for 60 to 90 minutes, or until about doubled in size. This will depend on how warm your kitchen is.

Once the dough has risen, dust a work space with flour and roll the dough into a cylinder. Slice the dough into six equal portions, then roll each piece in flour to keep them from sticking.

Warm a large cast iron pan - I used griddle - over medium-high heat until very hot. Using a rolling pin, roll one of the dough balls into an oval shape about 1/8-inch thick. Mine were approximately 4" x 8". Brush the pan with a thin layer of butter.

Gently lay the dough in the pan and cook until the top is bursting with air bubbles and the bottom has darkened in spots, approximately 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the naan over and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes more until the the bottom is lightly browned and blistered in spots.

Remove the naan from the skillet and brush with melted butter. Place the naan in a tea towel-lined dish to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining naans, adjusting the heat lower if necessary as you go. Like pancakes, I usually find it necessary to lower the heat after the first naan. Serve naan warm with warm biryani.

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Click to see what everyone else read in February 2021: here.


  1. I'm sorry the book was disappointing. The premise sounded good and your shrimp briyani looks amazing so it wasn't a total loss.


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