Monday, November 22, 2010

Kerala Fish Curry with Kodumpuli

This is how fish curry is made in Central and South Kerala. The main ingredient of this fish curry, other than the fish of course (haha!) is a different form of tamarind called Kudampuli(Kodukkaippuli in Tamil, also commonly known as Gambooge and scientifically named Garcinia Cambogia).

Check out details in the links below:

It is actually a fruit that grows in moist forests. It has a distinct sour taste that enhances the flavor of curries. This is how the ripe fruit looks like apparently:

The green fruit shown in the picture above is a young version, It will turn yellow when ripe. Once fully ripe, fruits are collected, cut in half, de-seeded and are sun-dried for a day. The sun-dried fruit halves are smoked till black, and are rubbed with a mixture of salt and oil before transferring to earthenware pots and tightly sealed. These will stay fresh for years. Before use, wash the pieces under running water quickly to remove any dust accumulated from the drying and smoking process, then soak these for 10 minutes in water.
 This is how the Kodumpuli looks like. This is rarely used in our part of Kerala (North Malabar region). We use the tamarind that everyone uses for Sambar and other curries for our fish and prawn curries as well. However, most of the Kerala restaurants in Chennai serve only the south Kerala style fish curry with Kodumpuli. I liked the taste and from then on, have been having this dying urge to make it. The biggest challenge was to procure this in Chennai. I have not seen it in any supermarkets in Chennai.

So the last time someone went to Kerala, I tasked them with bringing me some. Then the usual procrastination that so aptly describes me happened and these shriveled black puli pieces were left untouched for over a year.

Last week was a Seafood overdose at home. So I used this opportunity to make fish curry this style.


  • Fish (Sear/Pomfret) - 10 pieces
  • Kodumpuli - 2 pieces (soaked in warm water)
  • Shallots - 15-20, thinly sliced (do not substitute)
  • Green Chillies - 2 slit lengthwise
  • Coconut oil - 2 tbsp
  • Red Chilly powder - 1+2 tsp (for marinating and the curry)
  • Turmeric Powder - 1/4+1/4 tsp (for marinating and the curry)
  • Corriander Powder - 1 tsp
  • Mustard Seeds - 1 tsp
  • Fenugreek Seeds - 1 tsp
  • Curry Leaves - 2-3 sprigs
  • Ginger - 2 inch piece finely chopped
  • Garlic - 5 cloves finely chopped
  • Ginger Garlic Paste - 1 tsp
  • Thin Coconut milk - 2 cups
  • Thick Coconut milk - 1 cup
  • Salt to taste

  •  Marinate the fish with salt, 1 tsp chilly powder and 1/4 tsp turmeric powder and set aside for 2 hours.
  • Soak kodumpuli in 4 tbsp warm water for 1 hour.
  • Heat coconut oil in a pan.
  • Splutter mustard seeds.
  • Splutter fenugreek seeds and curry leaves.
  • Add chopped shallots and green chilly and fry well.
  • Add the ginger garlic paste and fry till the raw smell disappears.
  • Add the chopped ginger and garlic pieces.
  • Add the chilly powder, turmeric powder, corriander powder and salt and fry well.
  • Add the kodumpuli, fish pieces and thin coconut milk and cook till the fish is done.
  • When the fish is fully cooked, add the thick coconut milk and allow it to boil.
  • Remove and serve hot with rice.

Note: Usually, fish curry is made in a traditional earthenware called "Meen Chatti". I've not seen people use the spoon once the fish is added for fear of breaking them. They usually hold on to the sides of the pan and twirl it around twice or thrice for the curry to mix well. Fish curry in the Meen Chatti can be kept for days together and infact it increases its taste with each passing day.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fish Mollee

Fish Moilee, Fish Mollee... however it is called is literally Fish Stew. It is prepared pretty much the same way as we prepare the vegetable stew or the mutton stew. Kerala is known for the seafood consumption and the abundance of coconut in its cuisine. So you can well imagine what would happen when the two come together exclusively for a dish!!!!

I was very curious to understand what the word Mollee meant. I googled for it, and most of the websites/blogs claim that Mole is Spanish for stew and Mollee is the "Manglicised" version of this word. I'd like to believe that because it is a very Indian thing to extend the e's (like Shoppee). I guess this was the barter system of those days - they took our spices and taught us how to cook their dishes (albeit for them).

Apparently Indian Mackeral (Ayila) is supposed to be the best one to go with Fish Molee, but you can make it with any fish. I made mine with Pomfret. It is the thick coconut milk and the mild spices that add the flavor to this. Lightly laced with pepper and made spicy with green chillies, the sweetness of the coconut milk acts as a balance, making this dish simply yummilicious! :)

Here is how I made the fish mollee this time.

  • Fish (any variety, but try not to make it with the extremely small ones like Anchovy or Sardines) - cleaned and cut - 10 pieces 
  • Turmeric Powder - 1/4 tsp
  • Chilly Powder - 1/2 tsp
  • Pepper Powder - 2 tsp for marinating and 1 tsp for the gravy
  • Salt - to taste
  • Coconut oil - 4 tbsp
  • Curry Leaves - 3-4 sprigs
  • Small Onion/Shallots - 15-20 sliced fine
  • Green Chilly - 5 slit lengthwise
  • Tomato - 1 cut into round pieces
  • Ginger - 2 inch piece finely chopped
  • Garlic - 10 cloves slit lengthwise
  • Garam Masala Powder - 1 tsp
  • Thin Coconut Milk - 2 cups
  • Thick Coconut Milk - 1-2 cups (depending on how thick it is - I used one big pack of Maggi coconut powder and dissolved it in 200 ml water.)

  • Marinate the fish with salt, turmeric powder, chilly powder and pepper powder and set aside for 1-2 hours.
  • Heat 3 tbsp coconut oil and fry them till they are cooked (this is only to avoid the fish from crumbling while cooking - hence you do not have to deep fry it)
  • Remove the fish from the pan. Discard the remaining oil. I wouldn't recommend you to use that for making the gravy as it has a weird smell.
  • In another pan, heat 1 tbsp coconut oil. Add curry leaves, ginger, garlic, green chillies and onions and fry till they are done.
  • Add the tomato and thin coconut milk. Add salt to taste.
  • Add the fried fish pieces and bring to boil. Cook till the fish is done.
  • Add 1 tsp garam masala powder (I wouldn't recommend Everest or MDH or Badshah - these taste best when you use them for north indian cooking - You could use Sakthi or Aachi or any south indian brand for this dish. If you have Eastern Curry powder or Chicken Masala, you could add that - it enhances the taste of the dish.
  • Mix well and ensure that the fish pieces do not crumble.
  • Add 1 tsp pepper powder.
  • Add the thick coconut milk and bring to boil till the gravy reaches the required consistency.
  • Serve hot with Appam or Idiappam.
Note: If your gravy is too thin, it is probably because the coconut milk was not thick enough. You could add 1 tsp of cornflour to thicken the gravy if you like.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Chemeen Thoran - Shrimp/Prawn Masala with coconut

This one is an all time favorite.... I can just eat this - truckloads. It is very spicy, has loads of onions and coconut that gives it the ability to tickle all the varied taste buds. The bigger the prawn, the better it tastes. This can be made in a variety of preparation styles, which I would eventually post here, but this time I had this craving to eat this one and so it was. I did modify the traditional recipe a wee bit... I found an Andhra prawn masala recipe in one of the blogs and I added some extra ingredients based on that. My mother makes this dish devoid of the extra  bit and as you read the recipe, I will tell you which ingredients are a part of the original recipe and which are my inclusions.

The problem with prawns or rather the difficulty in cooking them lies with the initial cleaning and deveining part. Once that is done and you have clean meat in your bowl that's ready to cook, you can churn out wonders. My husband and mom are so fond of prawns that everytime we go out for a meal, we would invariably end up ordering atleast one dish.

It was only the week before that I saw some pics on my ex-colleague's Facebook album - that had yummy prawns and fish curry - I was so tempted that I asked for the recipes and very sweetly, his wife sent me all the recipes immediately. I wanted to make the recipe that she had suggested but that had tomato sauce in it and I was not sure if my in-laws who are visiting me would like a different taste. So i decided to stick to the traditional Thoran (obviously with a few modifications from my end).

Here are the key ingredients that I used:
  • Prawns - de-veined and cleaned - 1 kg
  • Shallots (Small/Sambar Onions)- 300 gms
  • Green Chillies - 4-5 (depending on how spicy you want it to be)
  • Coconut - 1/2 to 3/4 grated (depends on how much you like)
  • Curry Leaves - 3-4 sprigs
  • Ginger finely chopped - 2 inch piece
  • Garlic chopped lengthwise - 10-15 cloves
  • Turmeric Powder - 1/4 tsp
  • Chilly Powder - 1 tsp (adjust it according to your spice level)
  • Salt - to taste
  • Mustard Seeds - 1 tsp
  • Coconut Oil - 4-5 tbsp (you can reduce it)
  • Tamarind Paste - 1/2 tsp or Kudam Puli - 1/2 piece *(Optional)
For marinating the prawns (to be ground to a fine paste):
  • Chilly Powder - 2 tsp
  • Turmeric Powder - 1/2 tsp
  • Salt - 1 tsp
  • Ginger Garlic Paste - 1 tsp*(Optional)
  • Poppy Seeds (Khus Khus) - 1 tsp *(Optional)
  • Cashew nuts - 1/2 cup *(Optional)
  • Cinnamon - 1 small piece *(Optional)
  • Clove - 1 *(Optional)
Note - The items marked *(Optional) are my additions - traditionally, my parents never added these to the Chemeen Thoran. I wanted to make some variations and hence this. You can prepare it without all these 4 ingredients and trust me, it will only taste yummier!

  • Marinate the prawns with the ingredients above and set aside for 2 hours
  • Heat coconut oil in a vessel, splutter mustard seeds.
  • Add curry leaves, chopped shallots, green chillies, ginger and garlic and fry well.
  • Add the turmeric powder, chilly powder and salt and fry well.
  • Add the marinated prawns and mix well.
  • You may add the tamarind paste or the kudam puli if you want a tangy flavor in the dish.
  • Do not add water as the prawns will bring out water.
  • Cook covered till the prawns are done.
  • Dry the excess water and add grated coconut and mix well.
  • You can remove the Kudam Puli piece after cooking, if you have added it.
  • That's it - Tasty Chemmeen Thoran is ready to be served with rice and roti's!

Note: Apart from cleaning and de-veining the prawns, the tough parts would be to peel and chop the shallots and grate the coconut. An easier alternative would be to use normal onions and exclude the coconut and maybe you may want to substitute the coconut oil with your regular cooking oil - but trust me, it will lose the authentic flavor.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Fish Fry

This ain't rocket science, and really, I need not post it here cos all of you  know how to fry it. Well, I just wanted to break the jinx of  not being able to post whatever I have been wanting to, and the best way to do it would be with a post where I have less of writing and more of pics to show.

Fish Fry can be made with practically any fish. Rather I'd have to say, any type of fish can be fried. There are different variations of spices that are added to marinate it and this differs from region to region and cuisine to cuisine.

Pomfret(Avoli in Malayalam) and Sear Fish (Nei Meen in Malayalam and Vanjaram in Tamil) are undoubtedly the hot favorites, albeit expensive. You do not have to encounter too many bones, the meat is fleshy and it marinates well.

This is what you would find in most of the restaurants that serve fish fry. But, the homes in rural Kerala use smaller varieties of fish on a day to day basis, and when I say day to day basis, I really mean it... They cannot live without fish curry every single day.

I still remember my childhood summer vacations at my grandmothers place. There used to be one or two regular fish vendors, who'd carry the fish in baskets on their head. These day's they come in motor cycles or at least plain cycles. I'll try to get a pic of one of them when I visit Kerala next. They used to make a specific sound, akin to the coo of a bird. You could hear them from far off those days, because the number of houses in our locality were very less.What was the most interesting part for me as a child was that even the pet cats in the house would get ready for the fish vendor the minute they heard their call. As a child, it used to fascinate me to see the open mouthed fish lying in the baskets when the elders in the house would bargain with the fish vendor, their standard line being, "Ah, your fish is so expensive, XX was willing to give it to me at this price". What interested me further was that it was this fish vendor's visit that helped me get closer to the cats at home. I would always insist on buying one or two pieces of fish more than what my grandma bought, simply to feed the cats. Hmm!!!! Nostalgic indeed!

The other varieties of fish that I like as fried are Sardines (Mathi in Malayalam and Tamil), Indian Mackerel (Aila in Malayalam and Tamil, Indian Salmon (Kaala in Malayalam and Tamil) and Anchovy (Nethili in Malayalam and Tamil). I used to struggle with the fish names in any language earlier because I hated buying them here. Buying them in Chennai meant going to the dirty fish markets where you'd have more flies than fish, walking through muddy, dirty slushy water and much more. Now, with various stores like Reliance Delight, Fish and Fresh, Fish Shoppee etc selling fresh fish, buying them has become way easier. I researched on fish names and found this link that gives me names of fish in Malayalam and English.

 Well, so much for all the talk on fish names, here is how I made this fish fry.

  • Sear Fish - 4 slices
  • Red Chilly Powder - 2 tsp
  • Salt - 1 tsp (or to taste)
  • Turmeric Powder - 1/4 tsp
  • Oil - for deep frying
  • Lemon Juice - 1 tsp

  • Make a paste of the spice powders and lemon juice. Make sure you do not add too much water as it will become difficult to fry them.
  • Marinate for 2 hours.
  • Heat oil in a frying pan.
  • Place the marinated fish and fry on low with the lid on for 5 minutes.
  • Turn over and repeat.
  • Remove and drain excess oil and serve.

Haha, I told you... making the fish fry is very very simple. I just needed to write and hence this post. Well, have fun with your fish fry and trust me, nothing tastes better than fish fry with just about any dish in the world.

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