Kerala is a beautiful, verdant coastal region and its food is a s abundant as the waters of the Arabian sea that laps it. If you look at Kerala on the Indian map, it looks like a languishing green chilli along the coast and I find a similar sense of serenity in the people. When you visit Kerala, it does seem as though time slows down, whether you are on a houseboat, slowly gliding along the backwater canals, stopping for a bite to eat at one of the restaurants bordering the canals, or staying in one of the many Ayurevedic spas. It is full of character, but it isn’t brash.
Anjum Anand’s Fish Pappas (fish curry) is a little like that; full of delicious coastal flavours (fish, curry leaves, coconut), even green chillies and other spices, but with nothing harsh about it, It is comforting enough for everyday, but elegant enough to serve to friends. Serve with simple, perfect rice, or Tamil-style lemon rice.
Ingredients (serves 4)
- For the marinade: 600g halibut, cut into large pieces
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- 1 large garlic clove, finely grated
- 10g grated root ginger, juice squeezed out (discard the fibers)
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- Salt and ground black pepper
- For the sauce: 5 tbsp coconut or vegetable oil, plus 2 tbsp for the fish
- ⅔ tsp brown mustard seeds
- ⅓ tsp fenugreek seeds
- 15 curry leaves, fresh if possible
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 30g finely chopped or grated root ginger
- 1 Large tomato
- 45g (10-11) large garlic cloves
- 2/3 tsp ground tumeric
- 2 tsp ground coriander
- 1 1/2 tsp ground fennel seed
- 1/4 tsp chilli powder
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 400ml can coconut milk
- 4-6 small Indian green chillies, stalks removed and pricked with a knife
- 1 1/2 - 2 tbsp white wine or other vinegar
- 50g (3 generous tbsp) coconut cream
- Marinate the fish with all the remaining ingredients on the list and 2 good pinches of salt and leave for 20 minutes or so.
- Heat the 5 tbsp oil in a large non-stick saucepan. Add the mustard and fenugreek seeds. Once the popping slows down, add the curry leaves. Follow within 10 seconds with the onions and some salt. Cook until soft and just turning colour. Add the ginger and stir-fry for 30 seconds.
- As the onions cook, blend the tomato and garlic until smooth. Add to the ginger along with the powdered spices and a splash of water. Cook until the paste releases oil back into the pan, a good 8 – 10 minutes or so. Then stir fry the paste for another couple minutes. Taste: the garlic should be cooked and it should taste harmonious and a bit salty at this stage.
- Add the coconut milk and chillies, bring to the boil, cover and cook for 4 – 5 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tbsp oil in a large, non-stick frying pan and add the fish; you might have to do this in 2 batches. Fry over a medium – high heat until lightly golden on both sides. Place on a plate and repeat with the second batch. It shouldn’t take more tan 2 – 3 minutes in total for each batch.
- Add 1½ cups of water to the saucepot, along with the vinegar, and bring to the boil. Cook for 4 – 5 minutes. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Add the fish and coconut cream to the pot and cook for 3 – 5 minutes more, turning the pieces of fish halfway through. The fish should be cooked and the sauce should be creamy.