Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Kerala Fish Curry....

Kerala Fish Curry...., originally uploaded by lorises.

Here is a fish curry that has gone through some cultural changes... My friend Robin whose parents are originally from Kerala but he grew up mostly in Bharatpur in Rajasthan and now work in the forests of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and more recently in the US. Therefore Robin's cooking skill has evolved like his taste buds! He has made this mazing fish curry in traditional Kerala style with little bit of Bengali influence. This is supposed to be a special fish curry that one makes for special occasion because you need to make the coconut milk and fry the fish pieces. Here in the USA, it is easier to make coconut milk because you can just buy it from the Asian stores. Nowadays, even some grocery stores keep them in their Asian grocery section. If you are not afraid of buying the regular coconut milk then the curry taste much better than the low fat coconut milk from Trader Joes or Whole Foods. We tried both with low fat and whole coconut milk. Robin recommends it marinade the fish few hours before you cook the curry. This fish curry taste even better a day after.... oh... my mouth is getting filled up by water...!!! Thank you Robin.

For the fish curry, heres the really simple recipe
Preparation time: 40 minutes
Turmeric powder - 2 spoons
Chilly powder - 2 spoons
Red Onion - 2 large
Tomato - 2 large
Lime -1
vegetable Oil - quite a bit
Fish - suggested Tilapia (cat fish doesn't work well) - 4 big fillets (feeds 3-4 people as the only dish)
Ginger and garlic paste - 2 spoons
Coconut milk (unsweetened - this is very important) - 2 cans (I found a brand called 'goya' at Kroger to be fairly good)

A. Prepare the marinate for the fish:
1. Mix 1 spoon turmeric, 1 spoon chilly powder, salt (about 1/2 spoon) to taste, ginger & garlic paste, juice of half a lemon and 2 spoons of oil.
2. Smear the marinate on medium size pieces of fish
3. Marinate minimum for 15 minutes, best if marinated for 4-5 hours or more (I marinate over night)
4. Fry the fish in oil. Dont worry if the fish is spicy by itself, the dish wont be spicy at the end.
B. Prepare the sauce
1. Add one spoon of oil in a hot wok and when its hot add sliced onion and cook till it is soft and light brown.
family: arial; font-size: 13px;">2. Add diced tomatoes to this and let it cook till the tomatoes break down into pulp.
3. add 1 spoon of chilly powder and 1/2 spoon of turmeric powder and salt to taste. Mix well.
4. Add coconut milk and fried fish pieces (or should I say "product from step-A") and bring it to boil. You can add some water to increase the quantity of sauce but best if cooked entirely in coconut milk.  
5. Add the juice from 1/2 lime
6. Stir very gently and in one direction (clockwise or anticlockwise) so that fish pieces dont crumble.
7. Let it simmer for 10-15 minutes in low flame. Adjust salt levels. If the dish is too spicy add more coconut milk. (I usually make the dish with 1.5 cans and then use the last half to adjust the spice if necessary).
8. Let the dish stand till it cools down (tastes better when cool and even better the next day!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Payash (Rice pudding)....

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In eastern India winter is time to eat lost of home made sweet... Rasogollas and rasamalai do not count as home made and they are available throughout the year in the corner sweet shop at your neighbourhood! So it is time for making lots of different kinds of rice based sweets such as puli pithas and patisapta and payasah. New paddy gets harvested during this time of the year along with the khejure'r gur (date palm jagery) which is one the delicacies of Bengal. Traditionally rice pudding is used as a sweet made for birthday.. an equivalent of birthday cakes in the West!

This rice pudding is very different from the rice pudding in the Western culinary one... In fact, Indian rice pudding did not use egg. Here milk is boiled over simmering heat for a long time so that it is thick! Aromatic Rice (in Bengal they prefer short grain Gobindobhog or Kalijira rice) is generally used to make the Bengali style payash. There are other versions all over the India and anme ranged form Khreer in Northern part of the subcontinent to Payasam in the South. I used my mother's recipe with modifications for this one! Nalen gur/khejure'r gur is not available in the US of A easily unless you happened to live near a Bangladeshi grocery store! I find the flavor of maple syrup is very similar to khejur gur and hence substitute gur with Grade A maple syrup! Technically, they both are sap from plants. Both khejur gur and maple syrup are the sweet watery saps of the plants that are tapped from the tree trunks and then boiled for a long time to thicken it.

One of my best memories of childhood days is drinking kehur ras early in the morning at my uncle's house in the village near Bangladesh border. After the partition of Bengal in 1947, my father's family moved to West Bengal and bought some land in a village. We used to wait for the winter brake to go to my uncle's house! And then my grandma and uncle would fire the big fuelwood chulah (stove) outside in the corner of the courtyard to cook the sap in huge iron karhai (wok) for hours! We kids would hover around to see the boiling bubbling sap and taste the new hot liquid gur. Finally they would make the hard one (patali gur) and dry it the sun for couple of days before packing it up to send it to other relatives' house. They liquid gur (we call jhola gur) would be tightly sealed in terracotta pots in which they collect the sap for next few months' use. I love winter for the khejur ras and gur!
Recipe is here:

3 liter of whole milk
0.5 liter of half and half
Kalijira rice 250 grams
Raw cane sugar 250 grams or to taste
Maple syrup couple of table spoons
Raisins, cashew, pistachio and almonds (these are optional) a handful
small cardamom 2
bay leaf 1 or 2

I boil the milk in low heat for at least half an hour. I add cardamom and bay leaves while boiling the milk. Add the washed rice and let it cooked. You have to stir it a lot while cooking so that milk does not get stuck in the bottom of the pan. Once the rice is cooked, you can add sugar and raisins and other nuts and let it boil in low heat for another half an hour or so.Add maple syrup at the end to get the nice smell! you an serve it warm or cool and can be kept for a few days in the refrigerator! And please add your own recipes here in the comments....