Sunday, December 30, 2007

Spicy fish in coconut milk /Meen Curry

Fish is a big part of Kerala non-vegetarian food culture. The meal is often planned around the fish dish which in turn depend on the fresh fish available that day. Growing up we always had some kind of fish dish for lunch and dinner. In rainy season, when fresh fish is scarce, the dried fish would make an appearance.

There are numerous ways to prepare fish Kerala style: stewed in coconut milk, pan fried with spices, cooked with fresh ground coconut, spiced up with coccum, raw mango, or erumban puli (Averrhoa bilimbi). Ripe and even unripe tomatoes are used in flavoring. Sometimes fish is wrapped in banana leaves with a layer of shallots and ground green pepper (unripened black pepper) picked off the vine just that day. The whole package is slowly roasted in a clay pot or a kal chatti (turned rock vessel) traditional Kerala cooking vessels. The fish cooks in its own juice and comes out fragrant, tender, and absolutely delicious!

The day starts with the fisherman coming to the door with his fresh caught wares. He announces his arrival with loud hoots "oooh" as he cycles down the narrow roads, balancing a large basket of fish precariously behind him. He would take off the jute cover to reveal the bounty inside: shining sardines, glistening mackerels and pom frets, king fish, mullets, black and flat pearl spots, crabs, shrimp some still twitching, as fresh as can be! People gather around the basket, commenting on the freshness and haggling to get the best price.

The recipe that follows is for a basic fish curry in coconut milk. Numerous variations can be made by varying the ingredient used for tartness: mango, coccum, tomato, tamarind, erumban puli. The smooth taste of coconut milk tones down the fieriness of the curry.


*fish - 1 lb
onion - 1 small + (1/4 cup thinly sliced for optional garnish)
ginger - thumb size
green chilies - 4 (+/- to taste)
curry leaves - 6
cayenne powder - 1 tbsp (+/- to taste)
turmeric - 1/4 tsp
tomato - 1 small sliced
coconut milk thin - 1.5 cups (second extract)
coconut milk thick - 1/2 cup (first extract)
white vinegar - 2 tsp
ghee - 2 tbsp (optional)
oil - 3 tbsp
salt to taste

* Almost any variety of fish may be used. Some options are Pomfret, King Mackeral, Mullet, cod and so on..


Crush onion, ginger, green chilies to a coarse mixture in a food processor or with a mortar and pestle. Heat clay pot and add 2 tbsp of oil. When oil heats up, saute the crushed onion mixture and curry leaves till the raw smell disappears.

Make a paste of cayenne and turmeric with a little water and add to the sauteed onions. Fry for 2-3 minutes till the raw smell disappears. Add sliced tomatoes. When the tomatoes and onion are well blended, add the thin coconut milk and salt.

When the coconut milk comes to a boil, reduce heat and add fish. Simmer for 5-10 minutes till the curry starts to thicken. Add the thick coconut milk and heat through. Add vinegar and take off heat.

Heat a tbsp of ghee in a pan. Fry the sliced onions till golden brown and add as a garnish. This step is optional. Serve with rice or chappathi.

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Friday, December 7, 2007


Olan is a quintessential Kerala dish. It is made by cooking winter melon in coconut milk by itself or with dried beans. I like to make it with red mung beans. Black eyed peas works well too.

Soak beans overnight for easier cooking. If you have a pressure cooker, it takes just a few minutes.

red mung beans - 1 cup
*winter melon sliced thinly into small pieces - 2 cups
green chilie - 2 (+/- to taste)
curry leaves - 5
onion small - 1/2
red chilie flakes - 1 tsp
**coconut milk - 1 cup

Clean and wash mung beans. Slit green chilies and add to the beans. Add enough water to cover 2 inches above the beans. Pressure cook beans till fully cooked. Add the sliced winter melon to the cooked beans and simmer for 3 - 5 minutes. Winter melon cooks fast. Now add coconut milk. Simmer till the curry thickens.

In a food processor or with mortar and pestle crush onion and chilie flakes. Heat oil in a small pan and saute the crushed onion and chilie mixture till slightly brown. Do not allow to burn. Add the whole mixture along with curry leaves to Olan. Mix well and serve with rice.

* winter melon is available in Asian grocery stores.

**Canned unsweetened coconut milk may be used in this recipe. I prefer to use fresh coconut milk. Extracting fresh coconut milk a laborious process but well worth the effort. Blend pieces of fresh coconut with warm water till pulverized. Strain the milk. Repeat the process 2 more times with the remaining solids. Reserve the milk and discard the solids.

The first extract would have a thick consistency and is generally used for finishing the dish, and is saved to add to the dish at the end. Fresh coconut milk freezes very well.

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