Oh turmeric, you make everything look like sunshine. This fish curry is no exception. Not surprisingly, curry took over fish n' chips as the national British dish several years ago. I remember the first time my husband ordered a curry at a local take away restaurant. We were students in Nottingham, which should say something of the quality of the Indian restaurant. The chicken was in a fire engine red sauce and I was more than a little scared. Over time, curry grew on me until I was seriously hooked. There is a time and a place for a take-away curry, preferably a rainy Friday night paired with a few lagers and some good telly.
One of the best places to head after a long night drinking in London is Brick Lane, or in Manchester, Rusholme (aka the "Curry Mile"). Both are packed with curry houses and everyone seems to have their favorite. In London, our friends had an affinity for the one with the creepy painting of Princess Diana on the wall.
It should be said that as westerners, we have no idea what an authentic curry actually is. Chicken tikka masala may be an Englishman's idea of Indian food, but it doesn't appear anywhere in India. Unfortunately, much of the spiciness has been taken out of both Indian and Thai food for the western palate.
I'm not saying that the fish curry below is authentic, nor am I going to claim to know how to make garam masala from scratch, but the two curries below are both very special to me.
The first is a fish curry that is so gorgeously yellow that it literally makes me happy when I reach for the turmeric in the pantry. It's a fabulous dish both in the summer and in the winter. In fact, it's from Nigella's cookbook, Forever Summer, which in itself to me means that if you cook anything from it, no matter what time of year, it will feel like summer.
The second curry is probably more authentic. It's from a colleague I worked with in London, Monila Kotecha, and her family is from Gujarat in northwestern India. We were together after work at the local supermarket picking up ingredients for dinner before we went home. She headed straight to the veggies and I followed her.
If you think of nothing but grease and fat when it comes to curries, try both of these. Both are fresh and delicious. If you're going to make one for a crowd, I would choose the fish curry because it doesn't keep as well as the veggie curry (which I could eat for days on end.)
Keralan Fish Curry
Adapted from Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson
2 1/2 pounds of firm white fish (In England, I like to use haddock, but I used halibut here and it was delicious)
2 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 medium onions, halved and cut into fine half-moons
2 long red chillies
2 inch piece of fresh ginger
pinch of ground cumin
1 can of coconut milk
1-2 tbsp concentrated tamarind
1 tbsp liquid fish stock OR half a fish stock cube*
*In Engand, you can buy Benedicta's Touch of Taste fish bouillon concentrate. You can get fish stock cubes as well, but I tried 2 cups of fresh fish stock that I bought frozen at Whole Foods. Instead of adding the hot water, I just added the 2 cups....see below.
Cut the fish into bite size pieces. In a large bowl, rub them with a little salt and 1 tsp of turmeric. Cut your onions into half moon pieces. Cut the two whole chillies, unseeded, into thin slices. Peel the ginger and slice them into thin match sticks.
Heat the oil in a large, shallow pan. Add the onions and a little salt to stop them browning. Cook for about 5 minutes until soft. Add the chillies and ginger, along with a teaspoon of the turmeric and the dash of cumin. Fry them with the onions for a few minutes.
Pour the can of coconut milk into a measuring jug and add a tablespoon of tamarind paste and the fish stock cube. Add boiling water from a kettle to measure 4 cups total. If you're using 2 cups of fish stock, warm it up in a saucepan before adding.
Add the liquid to the pan and stir to make the curry sauce. Heat until just simmering. At this point, you can taste it and add more tamarind if needed. All of this can be done well in advance if you need to. When you're ready to serve, add the fish to the hot sauce and heat for a few minutes until just cooked through, but still tender.
Serve with basmati rice (which I like to cook with a crushed cardamom pod - fish it out before you serve.)
Monila's Vegetable Curry
1 tbsp of vegetable oil
1 red pepper, cut into strips
1 onion, halved and sliced into half moons
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped finely
1 inch of ginger minced
12 new potatoes, halved
1 cup of peas (frozen if needed)
3 handfuls of spinach
1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
4 cups of tomato sauce or passata
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp garam masala
pinch of cinnamon
handful of fresh coriander (cilantro)
3 tbsp greek yogurt plus some on the table to serve.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large frying pan. Fry the chilli, onions, ginger, garlic and spices on low heat until golden brown. Add the tomato sauce and a splash of water. Bring to the simmer. Add chopped pepper and potatoes and cook for 5 minutes, then add the cauliflower and some chopped stems of the fresh coriander for an additional 5 minutes. Add the peas for 2-3 minutes then the spinach. When all the vegetables are cooked but firm, then finish with some freshly chopped coriander and a few tablespoons of greek yogurt.
If you're going to add meat to this, add 1 crushed cardamom pod, a few cloves and a little more cinnamon.
Serve with Basmati rice and/or naan bread.