I was taught this curry when I did a cooking class with Manju’s Cooking Class in India. It was a really fun day, and if you happen to find yourself in Bangalore with some free time, I highly recommend getting in touch with Manju and taking a few classes.
Kerala is in Southwest India, and its dishes are usually spicy and pungent. Coconut, tamarind and a variety of spices are common, and include everything from vegetables to meat and fish. This curry is traditionally cooked in a Kadai or Clay Pot – here, I am using a clay pot that I purchased for under $10 at my local Asian supermarket. A wok, or deep frying pan would work equally well.
This curry has a gorgeous deep red color, mainly obtained from the Kashmiri Mirch chili powder. It’s less hot than some chili powders I have tried, but it has this vibrant color that I absolutely love. If you cannot find this powder at your local market, then a regular dark red chili powder will substitute well.
You may use any firm fish you like – in this instance I used black cod. Certainly not the cheapest fish at the market – but this looked particularly good when I was faced with a variety at the fish counter. Regular cod, halibut or even tilapia would be a good choice for this recipe.
This curry is finished with a spicy seasoning/tempering, which you pour on top of the curry just before serving. I highly recommend making the tempering – because as well as being traditional, the flavor of this dish is not the same without it! When tempering, make sure you are using an oil that can cope with the high heat required. Olive oil is not a good choice – I recommend Ghee if you have it, otherwise, peanut or coconut oil is a good substitute.
This particular seasoning is made from melting the ghee (or coconut oil) until smoking and then frying the mustard seeds until they start to pop.
When adding the tomatoes to the dish, fry them until they release their juices and then stir occasionally until they start to become dry. This will intensify the flavor and ensure the curry is not too runny when you add the coconut milk and water.
You can make the tempering during the time it takes to cook the fish. It’s very simple and comes together very fast.
- For the Curry:
- 1 T Ghee or Coconut Oil
- ½ lb Fresh Firm White Fish, Cut Into Bite-sized Pieces
- 1 Cup / 240ml Coconut Milk
- ¼ / 60ml Cup Water
- 1 Medium-Sized Onion, Chopped
- 2 Small Fresh Split Green Chilies*
- 3 Medium Tomatoes, Chopped
- ¼ t Mustard Seeds
- ¼ t Fenugreek Seeds
- 1 Split Green Chili
- 2 Cloves Garlic, chopped
- ½" Piece Fresh Ginger, chopped
- 1 - 1.5 t Kashmiri Mirch Chili Powder (depending on spice-level required)
- ¼ t Turmeric Powder
- ¼ t Cumin Powder
- 1 t Coriander Powder
- ½ t Salt
- For the Seasoning:
- ½ t Mustard Seeds
- 2 T Shallots, chopped
- 2-3 Pieces Split Dried Red Chili*
- 8 Curry Leaves
- Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in the pan until hot over a medium high heat and add the mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds. Cook for 1 minute until the seeds start to pop.
- Add the onion and green chili and fry for about 2 minutes, or until onion just starts to color.
- Add garlic and ginger and stir for 30 seconds.
- Next add in the chili powder, turmeric, cumin and coriander powder. Cook, over a low heat, stirring occasionally for about 2 minutes, or until the powders cease to smell raw.
- Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for about 3-4 minutes, until the tomatoes start to dry a little in the pan.
- Add the salt and ¼ cup of the coconut milk and ¼ cup of water. Bring up to the boil, turn down the heat and and cook over a medium low heat for about 5 minutes.
- Now add the rest of the coconut milk to the curry, stir, and now gently add the fish.
- Cover and cook over a medium flame for about 3-4 minutes, or until the fish is just cooked.
- While the fish is cooking, make the Seasoning:
- Heat 2 t oil in a small pan over a medium high heat, add the mustard seeds and once they start to pop, add the shallots and chili and fry until onion is light brown in color. Add the curry leaves and cook about a minute, until they start to crisp. Remove from the heat, and keep to one side.
- Gently transfer to a serving dish, top with the seasoning and serve with rice and/or roti.
** Break the dried red chilis in half if small, into three if larger. These chilies are not meant to be eaten, but picked out of the dish if they land on your portion.
The Kashmiri Mirch adds quite a bit of heat to this dish and splitting the chilis releases the oils, and some of the seeds, so you will likely find you do not need to eat the cooked chilis!
Make sure you use the Fenugreek Seeds - the leaves have a completely different flavor and are not usually used in Kerala-stye cooking.
Coriander powder is used in the curry, but not the leaves in Kerala-style cooking. However, this is your dish, so feel free to use the leaves as an extra garnish if you wish!
Nutritional breakdown is approximate and for general information only, and will vary depending on specific brands and measurements used.