Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Malabar Style Chemmeen/Prawn Biryani

Subaida, Umma and Baappa stepped into my world when I was a toddler, without even realizing that they were becoming a thread in my childhood fabric. When Subaida walked into our lives to baby sit me and later to take care of my toddler brother, she was just a teenager, staying in a small house at the end of our street. She used to call her parents Umma and Baappa (mom & dad) and I guess that’s how we all started addressing the couple in the same fashion. She was an average brown skinned girl with a beautiful smile on her face which gave a natural blush to her otherwise humble face.

It was those mehendi stained hands of Subaida that sprouted my obsession for Mailanchi/Mehendi (henna). They had lots of Mailanchi plants, the leaves of which she stone grounded into a smooth paste and applied on her hands and feet; me and my cousin, G chechi used to be green eyed whenever we saw those bright reddish stains left on her palms as the paste we made never gave results close to hers. Since she knew I was crazy about applying Mailanchi on my hands, Subaida sometimes shared the freshly ground paste with me and my mother. The next day, on my way to school, as always I would catch her either washing vessels or filling pots at the road-side water-tap, wearing a full skirt and a tight blouse and ‘Thattam’, a long scarf covering her head. I was always excited to talk to her on such days to show off the artistic design my cousin or mother drew on my hands, using the paste she gave. I must admit that the modest art work on her hands still had a brighter shade than mine! The secret she shared was adding some sugared lemon juice occasionally on dried up paste! We owe it to Sulaiman, Subaida’s brother who was my mother’s 911 agent for getting her life-saver nasal drops whenever my father was at work and she wanted a refill badly.

Subaida’s Baappa
, Saayu as everyone called him, had a pettikkada (small shop) at the main road where we waited for our school bus. That pettikkada served as a shelter for us during the rainy days while waiting for the bus to come. On a desk supported by wooden boxes, Baappa lined soda bottles which came locked with a marble on the bottle neck; glass jars filled with Kappalandi muttai (candied groundnuts), naaranga muttai (candied lemons), lollipops and had some outdated copies of the bi-monthly publications like Mangalam, Deepika hanging from a rope along with the homemade naaranga achar (pickled lemons) sachets Umma made at home. Those kappalandi muttai and naaranga achar sachets always tempted me but it was my brother, a nursery brat at that time, broke my father’s Lakshman Rekha. One evening while walking back from the bus-stop, he devoured those candies and casually informed my father “ Acha, saayu-nte kadayil oru 50 paisa-de ‘pattu’ undu..” meaning, “Dad..I have a 50 paisa debt at Saayu’s shop”. My parents were quite alarmed and amazed at their 5 year old’s ‘cool’ behavior and mastery over the colloquial language!!

Baappa earned his living mainly by selling soda sarbath (lemon soda) and Beedi to men coming to pray at the juma masjid (mosque) behind his shop. This mosque was another target of my curiosity as I saw only men coming to the mosque wearing white mundu (wrap-around) and full sleeve shirt, with a hand-kerchief tied on their head, to cover their hair. After washing their hands and feet in a small pond in the compound, I got a glimpse of them kneeling on a mat offering prayers. It was years later I realized that those men were coming for Niskaram (prayer). Baankuvili (call for prayer) was another fascinating mystery to me for a long-long time. Mosque was crowded with men especially during the festival days of Ramadan and Bakrid. Passing by Subaida's house during that festival time was like self-inflicting excruciating pain as the aromatic neichoru (ghee rice) and kozhicurry (chicken curry), which Umma cooked, made unsolicited entry into our nostrils, making our life miserable. We were on top of our excitement whenever we got an invite to attend Subaida’s sibling’s Nikah (marriage) as for us it was not only an opportunity to relish their ghee loaded fragrant Biryani but to experience the orange squash and ariyunda they served at the Mailanchi kalyanam, a function on the previous day of nikah.

Subaida, Umma, Baappa are all proud members of the Kerala Muslim community who is renowned for their rich Biryani and meat preparations with a distinct touch. However, there is a sub-group called Malabar Mappilas who crown the northern coast of Kerala with their flavorful and rich cuisine. Though my paternal family, hailing from a historically significant Muslim dominated area, is affluent in northern Kerala specialties like ‘pathiri’, paper thin-soft-flat rice breads, our exposure to Moplah (Malabar Muslims) flavours has always been limited. I started learning about the Moplah style cooking in large scale through blogs like Malabar Spices and Indian Potpourri. Lucky enough, I was gifted with a copy of ‘Malabar Muslim Cookery’ authored by Ms. Ummi Abdulla who is considered the pioneer in introducing Moplah cookery to the rest of the world. Will elaborate more on this book in my next post and for the time being, let me share a classic Malabar recipe I enjoyed from her book:

Malabar Style Chemmeen/Prawn Biryani
(Recipe Source: Malabar Muslim Cookery’ by Ms. Ummi Abdulla. I slightly changed the measurements and methods to suit my cooking conditions.)

Step 1: Make Biryani Masala/Dry Spice Mix
  • ½ tsp fennel seeds
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • ½ tsp Shahjeera/caraway seeds /Sahjeerakam
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 cardamom
  • 1 flat cinnamon ( 1” inch length)
  • ¼ tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1 whole mace
Grind everything to a fine powder. This yields around 2 tsp masala but you will require only 1 ½ tsp for making this dish.

Step 2: Cook Flavored Rice
  • 2 ½ cups Basmati rice
  • 5 cups water
  • 2 cups thinly sliced big onion
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 tbsp ghee
Wash and drain the rice on a paper towel. When it is medium dry, heat ghee in a large skillet and adds thinly sliced onions and sauté till it is transparent. Add rice and stir continuously for 2-3 minutes in low heat. Microwave Method: Transfer everything to a microwave safe bowl with 5 cups of water (2 cups of water for 1 cup basmati rice) and adjust the salt and pop it in the microwave and cook for 23-25 minutes or until rice is done. Stove-top Method: Boil water in a heavy bottom cooking vessel, and when it comes to boil, add all the ingredients and bring it to a boil again and then reduce the flame and cook covered in low-medium heat, until rice is fully done and water is absorbed. Using a fork, gently fluff/separate the rice, so as not to get sticky.

Step 3: Make Chemmeen/Prawn Masala
  • ½ kg Chemmeen/Prawn/shrimp, shelled and cleaned
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • Salt to taste
  • Around ¾ cup Oil for shallow frying Chemmeen/Prawn/shrimp
  • 2 cups thinly sliced onions
  • 3 tbsp finely chopped ginger
  • 3 tbsp finely chopped garlic
  • 4 ½ tbsp green chillies (around 15-16; adjust according to your tolerance level)
  • 2tsp coriander powder
  • 1 1/4 tsp Biryani Masala, powdered earlier
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 ½ to 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro/coriander leaves, chopped
  • ¼ cup mint leaves chopped
Make a wet marinade with chilli powder, turmeric powder and salt and apply it on prawns and leave it for 20 minutes in room temperature. Meanwhile grind ginger, garlic and green chillies into a paste and keep aside. Heat oil in a pan and shallow fry Chemmeen/Prawn/shrimp to a light brown colour and remove. Add sliced onions to this leftover oil and sauté till light brown. To this, add the ground ginger-garlic-green chilli paste and fry for another 2 minutes. Add coriander powder, stir well and add ½ cup water and salt to taste. Let it cook till the gravy is thick and at this point add fried prawns, lemon juice, chopped coriander leaves and mint leaves and 1 ¼ tsp Biryani masala/dry spice mix. Stir well and let everything come together for a minute and remove from the fire and keep aside.

Step 4: Layering and Final cooking
  • 4 tbsp ghee
  • ¼ tsp pinches of Biryani Masala
The final part of the cooking can be done either in a conventional oven or on stove top. Decide on your preferred cooking method and based on that decision, choose your cooking vessel. Pour 2 tbsp ghee into your cooking vessel; spread half of the rice at the bottom, followed by the Chemmeen/Prawn masala and sprinkle ¼ tsp biryani masala; spread rest of the rice as the top layer and drizzle 2 tbsp ghee. Conventional oven Method: Preheat oven to 350 F. Close the oven –safe dish with aluminum foil and cook for 30 minutes. Stove top Method: As per the original recipe, remove half the rice ( from the vessel you cooked rice earlier) to a plate ; pour the Chemmeen/Prawn masala, sprinkle biryani masala and then transfer the rice, set aside in the plate, back to the cooking vessel. Keep a tight fitting lid and cook over very low heat for 5 more minutes. Note: I haven’t tested this method and hence I am not sure of the outcome.

To Serve: After the final phase of cooking, let the dish rest undisturbed for minimum 30 minutes on your kitchen counter. Before serving, stir the entire dish gently, mixing rice with the Chemmeen/Prawn masala and plate it. Serve with Pickle, puli inji, Pappadam and Onion-yogurt salad (Thinly sliced big red onion, 1 small green chilli chopped and mixed with yogurt and a dash of salt) or any one of these condiments.

Cooking schedule I followed:
  • Wash and drain the rice
  • Marinate Chemmeen/Prawns
  • Make Biryani Masala/Dry Spice mix
  • Make the chilly-ginger-garlic paste for Prawn masala and get the onions sliced
  • Roast and cook rice
  • While rice is cooking, make Chemmeen/Prawn masala
  • Layering and final phase of cooking
  • Serve.
Verdict: We liked this dish and felt it is a Biryani preparation that is designed to highlight the flavour of Chemmeen/Prawns. It does not have the customary frou-frou of caramelized onions, nuts and raisins in between the layers or as garnish and yet it comes out tasty and personally I felt it was more “home-style”. Tasty and Easy to put together on a weekend !

You may also check out

Egg Biriyani Chicken Biriyani Vegetable Ghee rice Erachi Puttu

You can check out this picture of pettikkada which looks similar to that of Baappa's.


No part of the content ( articles, photographs, recipes) of this blog may be reproduced without my written permission.Copyright © 2007-2010 Kitchenmishmash.blogspot.com. All rights reserved.


  1. i think i have told you before..the recipes you write are accentuated by the vivid tales behind it..sometime i wish that before you publish the post you should send me a parcel of the same so that i can read while relishing it along!!:-D
    as I write this am making fish curry..so thats a consolation..but now I am craving for chemmeen biriyani at the same time..:-)

  2. Hey, first time here. I dont eat meat, but I was amazed by the detailed instructions, you have tremendous patience! Beautiful pics on your labels as well, makes me want to read each one of them.

  3. Loved the pettikada description. My favourite pettikada was one near kozhikode beach, it had those amazing "uppillitta manga". Those mango pieces were simply out of this world. Still drooling remembering them. Nobody makes them these days I guess.

  4. that looks so yummy! can't remember the last time i had biriyani. and those prawns are HUGE!

  5. ohhh gosh tht story was so real!!
    ur description of the pettikada rekindled the memories of those white colored gas mittai and also those naranga mittai, which even my parents never allowed me to eat..
    yummy biriyani too!!

  6. who knows...we might be talking of the same ambols!! my ambols is now in cochin..and urs??

  7. This made a nice read, Shn! Just earlier, a Maloo friend was recommending Kerala biriyani from some restaurant and when I asked her what was special about it, she said they probably added coconut milk and that it would be white, not yellow!
    I've noticed there's no coconut in your recipe, the comment was just an observation.

  8. omg... omg...... i don have time to read it prplyyy but iam cming bk for more.... the pics r amaziinng... willl try this out this sunday!

  9. Hi Shn..another lovely post which makes a lovely read for all of us..
    I loved the biryani masala that you shared...

  10. Prawn briyani looks delicous...you have lovely blog..first time here..

  11. Mishmash! if prawns werent this expensive i d eat them evryday... and the pettikada is so ... hmmm...REAL. now a days its bcme difficult to find a proper pettikada, with tht pink candy and narangamutaii,
    The biriyani seems to be quite diff to make, but then iam trying it. and hey i keep showing ur blog to my mom, now she loves it as well.
    could you plz post a recpie for 'spring rolls' sometime the future. :)

  12. Mathew, yes you have :) and i dont forget compliments that easily :D Thank you :) yeah, you all deserve a parcel for reading my mile long posts....chemeen biryani craving can be satisfied this weekend....less time consuming and less heavier than CB & MB :)

    Divya, thank you :)happy to know that you enjoyed this page ....there re lots of veg recipes too ...you can try them if interested :) Thanks again for dropping by :)

    Seema, thank you :)oh i love uppilitta manga ...especially the chammanthi with it...here once I tried using the bottled one but it wasnt as smooth as the ones we get back home....yes, ppl do still brine them...my paternal family still gives us our share :)

    Divya Vikram, thanks :)

    Nags, yeah ...here we get the bigger ones....but not as yummy as our naadan small variety :)

    Divz,white colored gas mittai...oh i can feel it in my tongue now!! :D Looks like we re talking about the same ambols...:)

    Sra, Thank you :) Sra, to my knowledge and based on my experience we dont add coconut milk in biryani. Sometimes, for making meat kurma for the biryani, we add 1-2 tbsp of ground coconut mixture for a nice texture but no coconut milk. If you re referring to the white colour of rice, it could be coz sometimes we dont add turmeric powder or saffron to get that yellow shade. As you know, restaurants always tweak the authenitic recipes and come out with fancy ones and name it as they like :)

    Vidya, thanks and quite happy to know that your mom liked my page....its a pleasure to know that experienced hands approve my efforts, sort of a proud moment :)) this biryani is not at all difficult, Vidya...it is the easiest when compared to time consuming and process oriented chicken/mutton biryani.....may be the steps in the recipe gave you that impression, it was just to help the beginners in the cooking...go ahead, trust me, it is easy to put together :)

    Swati, thank you very much :)

    Priti, thanks a lot for dropping by...welcome here :)

  13. I'm wondering why I had to read this when I'm unwell and under the weather!! I'm craving biryani and cleopatras now:) Only if someone could parcel me some....hint, hint!;)

  14. wht a drooling and tempting pic...superb...i love ur blog aand u rock with ur recipe..keep up ur good work....loved asusual ur ecipe..i am fan of prawns..

  15. first time here.wonderful collection of kerala food recipes.I am crazy of these food items.Will try this tomorrow

  16. first time here.wonderful collection of kerala food recipes.I am crazy of these food items.Will try this tomorrow

  17. Another beautiful narration.!!Great pictures as always..Even I got a copy of Ummi Abdulla's Malabar muslim Cookery & Epicure Cook Book.Valuables.Waiting for next on menu.

  18. Shn,
    Thats why I love coming to your blog, so nice and a touching story.
    I used to to get my hands painted with henna too, and the trick is sugared lemon juice for that dark colour touch..
    Prawn Biryani is simply awesome , will try out someday .Thanks for sharing such varied cultural stories and recipes .
    hugs and smiles

  19. Wow!Looks absolutely tummy! Can't wait to try this one....and your story was so interesting too...love your blog...has some great Kerala recipes. I've tried a few and followed your painstakingly detailed instructions and never gone wrong. Thank you so much!

  20. Hey Shn, its been ages since I dropped by your blog - infact any blog. Am just trying to catch up...and as usual your chemeen biriyani has caught my fancy. I am a chemeen fan any day...and I am sure this one tasted equally yummy as it looks awesome...

    Happy Onam dear.

  21. This feels very authentic.

    Is it possible to grind those dry spices in a coffee grinder since I don't have a food processor

    Pardon my ignorance if it sounds weird but I'm broke and inexperienced and maybe overly ambitious?

  22. Jyothsna, i also wish the same many a time whenever I bloghop....i understand the feeling :)

    Suma, thanks a lot for this continued support :)

    Solai, thank you......warm welcome here and let me know how it turned out for you :)

    Ann, thanks :)

    Jaya,when someone says they 'love' coming to my page, that just makes my day :) Thanks a ton....:)

    Chitra, i am soooo happy to hear that......reapply appreciate this feedback :)

    Shella, I hope you re reconciling with the past and getting back to life......nice to see you here....take care !

    Asha, I was overly ambitious when i started cooking....so not to be blamed for that....yes coffee grinder is perfect :)


  23. Hello..was just surfing and found ur blog..to be honest wit u..i tried ur prawn briyani and was cooking it contionously for 3days..till my son told me to stop it.it was simply delicious..thank u so much for such lovely recipes.m making the briyani again tomorrow for my neighbour..will try other recipes too ..soon.

  24. dear shn,
    first of all,thank u somuch..........actually,it s long pending.....i have been aconstant visitor to u r eblog...have triedout a few recipes ...but never actualy left any comment...sorry not that i havnt meant to just that with 2 little kidsdont actually get a lot of time to write at one go.....but today,i really wanted to say thank u to you ..hats off to people like uwho go to all the trouble to do somet6hing like this....

  25. Hi Shn,
    i tried making it and WOW! it came out just perfect , enjoyed by family and friends .I am Going to Link it in my next post..
    hugs and smiles

  26. Wooooowwww...what a nice write up....Loved reading it...Normally I dont read so long written stuffs. But urs are so amazing that I read them in all post. My house back in kerala has a pettikkada just next to the main gate of the house and a mosque opposite to it.....all ur story took me there!Nice pics u got.Keep it up.

  27. I liked the pettikada and naranga muttai part. Took home a copy of this recipe for my wife to try out; hope she gets it right. Since my culinary expertise is limited to poaching eggs and microwaving stuff from the fridge; I had to google out the malayalam counterparts for the likes of fennel/cumin seed for her.

    Nice post. Keep penning !

  28. Shn,
    Thankyou for the wonderful recipe. Made this last night and paired it with with puli inji. It was a big hit with my family and friends.

  29. I made this biriyani today..excellent...!!!! Thanks a lotttt dear!!!!

  30. Hi Shn,
    Had this biryani for lunch today.The house still has lingering aroma of mouth wat ering dish. For us the star finish of a good biryani is the fried onions so I half of it from the rice and topped it. Thks very much for a fantastic recipe.R egards Angela

  31. how many people does this serve? I am planning to prepare this for my son's birthday.

  32. Hi,
    I tried ur receipe yesterday and wat to say.....as u said abt ur egg biriyani,the only word i can use is fantastic.My family liked it like anything.thank u so much for this receipe.Keep posting wonderful receipes like this.

  33. HI
    your posts are all really awesome. i turned to be a fan of yours. especially the photos makes me mad. my mouth is full of water. i love those traditional kerala cusine.

  34. have been thinking of making prawn biriyani for few days. came to see if it is any different to what my mom prepares. It's very similar to what we prepare except for that,when we prepare ghee rice, we add cardamom,cinnamon sticks,cumin and cloves after sauteing onions. We also add curd to gravy, but thats optional:)thx for the recipe.

  35. Can I seriously come over for lunch soon? ...... your recipe sounds so yummy.....


  37. A friend of mine sent me the link to your blog - my husband and I are now hooked :-)
    I tried this biriyani yesterday and it was mouth-watering! Trying to decide what to attempt next..
    Keep 'em coming!

  38. Mishmash, I tried this Biryani last weekend and it came out EXCELLENT. This is the best ever Biryani I made and tasted. Keep posting more Kerala recipes.


  40. Nice recipe.. we tried.. Sajina Ponnani

  41. Hello Mishmash,

    I tried your recipe yesterday. Also the karimeen pollichathu. My husband and I loved it. Planning to make it again this week end for my parents. Keep up the good work.



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