Think of Kerala and vivid images come to mind. When a state advertises it self as ‘God’s own country’, you know they have something different to offer. The idyllic backwaters, the green coconuts, Ayurvedic massages… it gives you a feeling that you’re transported far away from modern spaces. And the food. Oh the glorious food. Meat, fish, seafood prepared with delicious coconut oil and tempered with curry leaves and mustard seeds. Sour from the tamarind paste and velvety from fresh coconut milk, Kerala cuisine has such fantastic variety that one can never get bored.
Personally, Kerala is still the only state in Southern India I’m yet to travel to. I seriously don’t understand how I’ve managed not to for so long. But I’ve tasted authentic food from the region from childhood days. And the taste has lingered for so many years. Majority of the population believe South Indian cuisine consists of Dosas, Idlis and Vadas along with Sambar. They couldn’t be more wrong. Different in dialect, the philosophy spills over to food. The spice base, taste, ingredients, style of cooking change from region to region.
A close friend’s mother cooks a fantastic beef fry. It’s so spicy, rich in oil and so delicious that the only accompaniment you need is fluffy white rice. In Delhi if you’re searching for a good meal from the southern state, look no further than the Kerala Staff Canteen near Jantar Mantar (I had mentioned this place in an earlier post ‘Affordable Eating in Delhi.’)
Buying beef in Delhi becomes difficult because you get buff. Buying fish is far easier. If you keep the basic ingredients at home like coconut milk, tamarind, mustard seeds and curry leaves, a quick and easy lunch/dinner option becomes a Kerala style fish curry. I make this dish quite often for friends and is always a crowd-pleaser.
Ingredients (For 2)
500g fish fillets. (I use Basa but for the best curry use King fish or Neymeen)
250ml coconut milk
100ml tamarind paste (Made by soaking tamarind in hot water)
2 small onions
2 inches of ginger
4 garlic cloves
2 green chillies
Handful of curry leaves (I always have dried leaves in stock)
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
Half teaspoon red chilly powder (Add more if you like it spicy)
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 small tomatoes
Salt to taste
4 tablespoons of vegetable oil (Use coconut oil if available)
In a non-stick utensil heat the oil. At the same time blitz together the onions, garlic, ginger and chillies. Once the oil is heated through, add the mustard seeds and curry leaves. When the seeds begin to sputter, add the blitzed vegetables and brown.
In a small bowl make a thick spice paste with the turmeric, red chilly powder and a bit of water. Add the paste to the browned vegetables. Once the spice paste is cooked through, add the coconut milk and tamarind paste. (If you want the curry to be very watery, add about the same amount of water to the coconut milk). Dice the tomatoes and add at this point. Put in the fish which I dice to make it bite sized, bring the curry to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes or until the fish is cooked through. Add salt as per taste.
Some prefer to marinate the fish in salt and turmeric and then pan fry it before adding to the curry. I don’t like it personally because I prefer the melt in the mouth reaction.
With rice, curd and some prawn pickles as accompaniments, this fish curry will hit the sweet spot on a lazy summer afternoon.