Shire (शिरे) simply means coconut milk. The PP community uses a few words and terms which are quite different compared to the regular colloquial Marathi… Shire being one such instance. (Most Maharashtrians would refer to coconut milk as नारळाचे दूध… And barring the PPs, very few coastal regions would be aware of the existance of coconut milk… Typically, before the advent and eventual popularity of Thai food, mostly the expression ‘coconut milk’ would draw a blank!)
Coming back to the topic at hand.. ‘Shiryache’!
No PP meal is complete without shiryache (coconut milk gravy). On vegetarian days, typically Mondays, Chaturthi or some specific religious events there are vegetarian versions. Shiryache is very versatile… There are versions which can be had as ‘fasting food’, some are cooked using seasonal fruits and vegetables, some with prawns (कोलंबी or करंदी) and go by the name ‘sheer’ (शीर) or ‘sambhare’ (सांभारे).
The shiryache is never too spicy. On the contrary, more often than not, it has a sweet undertone balancing out the spice of the fish/mutton/chicken/veggie which usually form the hot and spicy elements in the meal. This goes well with chapatis, pav but I personally like it best with a mound of steaming hot white rice!
Another peculiarity is that once made, the shiryache is rested for at least 30 mins to an hour (in a process which PP’s refer to as निरसायला… I’m not sure that word is used by any non PP). Shiryache is usually not served piping hot. The entire flavour and taste of the dish is apparent only when served lukewarm or at room temperature! It needs to be treated delicately even when reheating as it can split if it boils over ruining the texture and look of the dish!
This recipe for tomatochi sheer is simple to prepare, is a lovely colour and has a nice mild flavour. You could even serve this as a soup. Leave the prawns out of this recipe and you have a lovely vegan version. Here’s the recipe (Serves 4) –
- Ripe Red Tomatoes – 4 large nos (Roughly chopped)
- Green Chillies – 2 nos (Roughly Chopped)
- Coriander Leaves – 2 tbsp (washed and chopped)
- Besan – 1.5 tbsp
- 1/2 Grated Coconut
- 1/2 cup peeled, shelled and cleaned prawns
- 4 cups of water
- Methi seeds – 1/2 tsp (optional – most traditional recipes would exclude this.. It’s just something that I personally like)
- Red Chilli Powder – 1/2 tsp
- Turmeric – 1/4 tsp
- A pinch of hing (asafoetida)
- Oil – 1 tbsp
- Salt and Sugar for seasoning
- In a heavy bottomed vessel, heat a tbsp of oil. To the heated oil, add a pinch of hing and methi seeds and splutter for a couple of seconds.
- Add in the tomatoes (set aside a tbsp for garnish), chillies, chilli powder, coriander, turmeric, besan, salt to taste and around 1/2 tsp of sugar.
- Cook these stirring once in a while on a medium flame and add 1/2 a cup of water. Once this reaches a boil, cover and simmer over a low flame for around 5-7 minutes till the tomatoes are cooked and the besan loses its raw smell.
- Remove the lid and cook further for around 5-7 minutes on a medium fame, till most of the liquid evaporates. The idea is to extract the maximum flavour from the tomatoes at this point. You will notice that by now the besan has cooked and thickened this mixture,
- Once this cools, run the mixture through a blender till smooth. (This step is optional. Many prefer the chunky texture in the final dish. I set aside a few chopped tomatoes and add them in later to get that effect.)
- I will attempt to explain the process of extraction of shire from the grated coconut. You need to make 2 extracts ( first thick extract known as आपशीरे and 2nd thin extract which we refer to as पाणशिरे…)
- In the same blender, add the grated coconut and a cup of lukewarm water. Blend these for a couple of minutes and strain into a bowl. Extract the maximum liquid you can from this grated coconut and water blend into a bowl (this is the आपशीरे) and put the coconut back into the blender.
- Add 1.5-2 cups of lukewarm water again to the blender and blend the same coconut again for a couple of minutes. Again repeat the process of straining and extracting the liquid from this blend into a separate bowl. This is the thin extract or पाणशिरे.
- Alternately, to simplify matters, you could use cans or tetrapacks of coconut milk readily available in stores. I find that these seem to alter the taste a bit but work just fine if you’re short of time or just plain bored.
- Add the thin extract and the reserved chopped tomatoes and prawns (if using) to the tomato-besan blend and on a medium flame, bring this to a boil stirring continuously. As soon as it starts bubbling gently, reduce the heat and simmer gently for a 3-4 of minutes still stirring the mix. The tomatoes and prawns should be cooked by now.
- Add the thick coconut milk extract. Mix well. Continue to simmer for 2-3 more minutes stirring continuously without allowing the mix to come to a boil. If it boils over, the coconut milk tends to split. If this happens, there is no way I know to rectify the dish (although it just affects the look… the dish still tastes almost the same)
- Adjust the salt+sugar seasoning. Most PPs generally prefer to add a couple of teaspoons of sugar and have this really sweet.
- Now take it off the flame and let it cool down till its lukewarm or at room temperature. This resting phase is also important as the flavours get stronger as it cools down.
- Tomato sheer is best served with a spicy gholiche bhujane (more on this later) and steaming white rice.