Sunday, June 8, 2014

Milagu araicha Meen Kuzhambu - Fish Curry with ground spices

Coconut - the number of transformations it has undergone is innumerable! In India, going from being an everyday, sometimes every meal thing to being completely avoided to becoming a health food, it has come full circle. Anyway when we were growing up most people, it seemed did not know how to cook without a coconut - an exaggeration perhaps but cooking without it did not come naturally. Then about 15-20 years ago, around the time I started to cook everybody was avoiding it like the plague - the reason beings its high fat content and the suspicion that it was leading to cholesterol and the diseases that went with it.

But something else had changed in the food and life styles of people in India. Sedentary lifestyles and occupations had started becoming more common and people had started moving away from the agrarian life style. Physical activity had reduced, cars had became more ubiquitous, television had became the past time from morning to night. People got bigger and obviously the diseases associated with consuming a lot of calories and not using up all of them finally caught up. Yes! the hereto unknown Western diseases were becoming more common. Coconut in my opinion took the bulk of the blame and got booted out of the kitchen.

Now we are moving continents and are in North America. The time had finally come for the coconut to regain its lost mantle but in a different avatar as a health food fad. Once vegetarianism and specifically vegan-ism started getting popular, coconut oil and coconut milk provided the replacements for butter and milk respectively. These days not a day goes by without reading an article which extolls the virtues of coconut. In this week's Washington Post - Health Section I came across this article Coconut - Super healthful, or just super trendy? where they are even talking about coconut aiding in weight loss and also delaying the effects of Alzheimer's. But as with a lot of studies like this there is the common sense side of things. Whatever the study, coconut has a lot of calories so eating it in moderation is key.

My feeling towards coconut have evolved too. When I first got here only whole fresh coconut was sparingly available and when we bought it home, sometimes it was good and sometimes not. Saving the unused coconut was another hassle, a little bit of contamination with water and the whole thing went rancid. Even when the coconut was frozen. Slowly the pain got to me and I chose not to use coconut. If you are buying fresh coconuts and freezing, do not wash the coconut after splitting it open, pat dry, cut into small pieces and freeze.

And then about 10 years ago frozen shredded coconut started becoming available and it was much better than even the fresh coconut. No need to worry if the coconut was young or not and whether I could use it all and save the rest and several such trivial things. I use coconut without thinking about it much, the reason being I use about 2 tbsp in curries and about 1 cup while making coconut chutney. Usually it is used once a meal in a day and maybe the odd weekend when I use coconut for 2 meals in a row.

Now onto the recipe,
Every day Kongu foods do not add a lot of aromatic spices in their fish curries. It might have a few fennel seeds and that is pretty much it besides the regular coriander, pepper corns and cumin seeds that are used for the masala itself. Normally fish kuzhambu is made with the head and the tail after the rest is used for the fry, at least that is what I remember. Here in the US the head and the tail are thrown away unless you buy the whole fish and that is rare. So we make do with what we have.

Saute the coriander seeds and cumin seeds in a little bit of oil. Set aside and in the same pan saute the onions till translucent, ginger, tomatoes till mushy and coconut for a couple of minutes. Cool and blend to a paste
Keep the tamarind pulp ready. In a wide mouthed pan, heat oil and add the seasonings.
Add in the onions and green chilies and saute till the onions are translucent. Add in the fish pieces and lightly heat them up till the outside of the fish is sealed. Take them out and set aside.
Add in the masala powders to the onions and mix it in. Add in the tomatoes and saute till they turn mushy. Add in the tomatoe pulp and let it come to a boil.
Let the tamarind pulp thicken up a bit. Keep the fish pieces ready.
Add the blended masala paste and 2 cups of water and let it come to a boil and continue to boil till it reaches the consistency you desire. At this stage add the fish pieces, salt and let cook for 3-4 minutes. If using head a few extra minutes till it cooks completely. Finish with a sprinkle of fenugreek powder.

I used frozen white fleshed fish that I had bough from Costco but any fish should work for this. Tilapia, Cat Fish, Hake can all be used.

Milagu araicha Meen Kuzhambu - Fish Curry with ground spices
Preparation Time:20 minutes
Cooking Time:30 minutes
Serves : 4-6
  1. 6 filets of any firm fleshed fish or fish and head
  2. 2 tsp of turmeric powder
  3. 3-4 green chilies slit
  4. 6 clove of garlic cut lengthwise into two
  5. 3 pinches of roasted powdered fenugreek seeds powder
  6. 2 tsp of vathal kuzhambu powder or sambhar powder
  7. 1/4 cup finely chopped onions or shallots
  8. 2-3 tbsp of finely chopped tomatoes
  9. 1 cup of tamarind pulp from a small lime sized piece of tamarind or 1/2 tbsp tamarind paste
  10. seasonings: mustard seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds and curry leaves
  11. salt to taste
  12. 3 tsp of oil
  13. For the Paste
  14. 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  15. 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  16. 1/2 cup of onions roughly chopped + 1/4 cup finely chopped onions
  17. 2 tomatoes chopped
  18. 2 inch piece of ginger
  19. 2 tbsp of grated fresh/frozen coconut

  1. Wash and pat dry the fish and apply turmeric powder on it and set aside.[ If you are using fish heads and tail this is not required. No need to pat dry.]
  2. In a saute pan heat a 1/4 tsp of oil and saute the coriander seeds,cumin seeds and when they turn color slightly remove them to the blender.
  3. To the saute pan add more oil and add the onions and saute till they turn translucent, add the ginger and red chilies and saute for a minute more. Now add the chopped tomatoes and saute till they are mushy(about 3-4 minutes). Now add the grated coconut and saute for 1/2 minute. Transfer it to the blender with the other spices. Let cool and blend with 2-3 tbsp of water to a fairly smooth or a bit coarse paste.
  4. In a wide mouthed pan heat about 2 tsp of oil and when hot add the seasoning and when the mustard seeds start to pop add in the finely chopped onions and the slit green chilies. Saute till the onions turn translucent.
  5. [This is an optional step] Add the fish pieces to the onion mixture and let them heat on one side and then the other. This step seals the fish pieces and they don't fall apart when cooked. Remove the fish pieces alone and set aside. (See Note:)
  6. To the onion mixture add the vathal kuzhambu powder or sambhar powder mix and add the tomatoes and saute for 3-5 minutes till they get mushy.
  7. Add in the tamarind pulp and let it come to a boil and thicken a bit (about 5 minutes)
  8. Now add in the blended masala paste along with 2 cups of water (or depending on how watery you want it). Let it continue to boil for another 10 minutes till the gravy is mostly to the consistency you require.
  9. Add in the fish pieces and salt and let cook for another 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle powdered fenugreek powder and turn off the heat.
  10. Goes well with flat breads as well but tastes best with steamed rice. Note:
  11. Fleshy part of the fish should not cook for too long, it gets rubbery.
  12. Add the fish pieces to the gravy/masala only when the masala has reached the desired consistency. Once the fish is added cook only as long as it takes for the fish to cook through.
  13. If using fish head and tail pieces follow the same general rules.

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