Sunday, February 21, 2010

Something's Fishy In Kerala!

My two Italian grandmothers were amazing cooks, but after them the foodie gene in my family seemed to have skipped a generation. The homemade pasta, gnocchi, gravy and cookies of my childhood gave way to my moms' "personal Chef", some guy named Boy R Dee. Maybe you've heard of him.
  Beside all the usual Italian favorites, I also grew up eating fish dinners on Fridays. I use the term fish loosely because the "fish dinners" usually served at our house came frozen solid with a picture of a smiling fisherman on the box. I think it was the guy in the slickers' American cousin. Living in San Francisco there wasn't much excuse for this sort of fish behavior. One of the largest Fisherman's wharves on the west coast with a huge variety of seafood was just blocks away. So, how the heck did that guy in the slicker seem to get in our fridge so often? To be truthful, we also had fresh fish on occasion, but by the time it got to the plate, it looked more like something that would be flung into the air after someone called "pull!." No one ever asked what kind of fish it was.
  With that kind of early experience, it took me years to get into cooking fish. I'd had too much finny trauma. Then I started cooking Indian food and began exploring the wonderful fish dishes that the cuisine offered. It was a whole new and delicious world. I was finding my inner Nemo.
  The book Prashad has a lot of fish dishes in it, and since I've been reading it lately I decided to harpoon myself some fish.
  This recipe is done with pomfret but since we don't have any of that up here in Sonoma, I used basa instead which is a nice mild firm fleshed fish. Since the origins of Basa are in Southeast Asia, I figured it would be a good match for what I was doing which was
                     Fish with Tamarind Curry

I was able to whip this up pretty quickly for lunch for the two of us using about 3/4 of a pound of fish. To  make it for 6 people  as the main dish for a meal, you'll need a little more. Start with :

1.) 1 and 1/2 lbs of fish chunked into pieces and set aside
Heat 2 Tbs of vegetable oil in a heavy pan or kadhai
When the oil is hot toss in
2.)  1 tsp black mustard seed
 When the seeds start to pop toss in:
3.)  1/2 tsp fenugreek seed
4.) A 1 inch piece of finely chopped ginger
5.) 4 green chilies splint longways down the middle
6.) 1 crushed clove of garlic
7.)  2 onions thinly sliced
  Cook this down until the onion is soft and translucent.

Then toss in
8.) 1 tsp of turmeric
9.) 1 Tbs of coriander
Fry it up for about 2 minutes then add in:
10.)  1 cup of coconut milk
11.) 4 peeled, chopped tomatoes ( since there aren't any good fresh tomatoes around here about now, I might suggest one 16 oz can of good quality chopped tomatoes)
12.) 2 Tbs of tamarind puree

Bring all of this to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer it all for 5 minutes.
Then add the fish to the mixture

Simmer it all again for about 2 to 3 minutes or until the fish is cooked through.
13.) Add salt to taste and then scatter a few curry leaves about the top.
I served it with a cauliflower and pea dish and some nice roti.

 There it is. Nothing in a box. Nothing frozen, and no guy in a bright yellow raincoat hanging around the kitchen...unless that's the way you roll.


  1. Oh yummy Kathy. Basa is a nice mild fish, very versatile. Would really like to try this recipe one day; all that spicy goodness is just my style!

  2. I love Basa its perfect to stuff also we use it alot here n Florida this sounds like a keeper for me~

  3. I wonder if this will work with monk fish. Have heaps at home.

  4. Well written post and aromatic dish!
    Check this tomato chutney. I think you might like it.

  5. @penny,
    you are soooo lucky. Monkfish is sooooooo expensive here. Bet it would work.

  6. Hey Kathy, great curry recipe, and I've had more than I can remember. This is pretty much the way I was taught to make fish curry in the South Indian style. Great post!

  7. So funny - I think you and I have a lot in common re: our culinary backgrounds. My mom's personal fishmonger was Mrs. Paul. ... I, too, have staged a recovery. I need to get this cookbook; I love this recipe and I'd like to see more!

  8. You've reminded me of my childhood -- Mrs. Paul's fish sticks and frozen vegetables. I think Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique got all our moms out of the house (which was a good thing), but the cooking definitely suffered. Our generation (at least the foodies among us) is rectifying that. Beautiful dish!

  9. Hello Kathy,
    Loved reading your blog, the colorful pictures and most of all your enthusiam to cook Indian food. The fish with tamarind and Shrimp are very similar to what my mom and aunts make at home in India. We just did a cooking demo on Shrimp Malabar and in the past had done fish molee. When cooking at home, I use mostly Vietnamese Basa for fish curries. I also use cod and tilapia. Along with cooking demos, I also take people on a personalized tour to India. I have a group from March 17 thru 28th and cannot wait to expose them to culture and cuisine of Kerala. Well written! Thank you.

  10. Hey,
    First time here. Love this fishy dish. Looks mouthwatering. Love your space too. Following you!



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