Madras Fish Curry

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With this curry you needn’t worry about fat content, calories or a – typically Indian – neverending list of ingredients. The recipe is so simple, I was surprised the short cooking process turned my rather bland fish fillets into a fantastic, beautifully scented Indian treat.

Having tested already several dishes from Rick Stein’s India. In Search of the Perfect Curry, I should have known that, like always, I wouldn’t be disappointed this time. His book has completely changed my – apparently false – idea of the place this category of products occupies in Indian cuisine and encouraged to explore more from this fascinating, well developped chapter. His Squid Curry (posted here) was and still is one of the most delicious Indian and in general seafood dishes I have ever had. Contrary to squid, fish curry is something easily found on restaurants’ menu, but it has always seemed the most neglected dish. Nominated by the author as his favourite curry, this tangy dish proves that not only a fish Indian dish can be genuinely exciting, but it can also become a staple light and quick weekday meal.

As usually, I have slightly modified the recipe, so check Rick Stein’s book to read the original.

TIPS: Fresh curry leaves can be difficult to obtain for many of you, but if you have a possibility to buy them, do not hesitate: their powerful pungent aroma makes this curry unforgettable. At worst you can use dried or frozen leaves, but do not expect a similar strength. I don’t think there is a substitute for curry leaves, so if you cannot get them, just skip them.

While curry leaves are sold in Indian or Pakistani grocery shops, tamarind paste can be find in Chinese/Vietnamese shops too and, in general, it should be much more easier to obtain.

Keep on tasting the dish and adjust the acidity: I found myself adding much more tamarind paste than advised because somehow tangy sauce went better with this fish.

Tamarind is sold in three forms (from what I have noticed): fresh (I have never used), plastic-wrapped blocks, which are diluted in hot water and then strained to obtain a “juice” or ready-to-use pastes (jam consistency) in jars. I prefer blocks because they keep for years and are tangier. (See below how to use them.) Tamarind pastes/jams are ready to use but since I stopped using them a long time ago I have no idea which amount corresponds to the below tamarind “juice”, so if you use this form, keep on tasting and adjust to your preferences.

Preparation: about 30 minutes

Ingredients (serves 4 if served only with rice and a vegetable side-dish):

700 g (about 1,5 oz) firm fish fillets or whole fish chunks, cut into big pieces (the author suggests oily fish as the best, but my lean fish fillets were also delicious)

a 4 cm square of tamarind block

3 tablespoons oil

1 big onion

3 big garlic cloves, crushed or grated

1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds

1 tablespoon Kashmiri chilli powder (or any chilli powder you have)

1 tablespoon powdered coriander

1 tablespoon turmeric

30 fresh curry leaves

400 g (about 14 oz) canned tomatoes or fresh chopped tomatoes or chunky tomato sauce

2 very hot green chillies or 4 medium hot

salt to taste

Put the tamarind block square into a glass or bowl and pour about 150 ml boiling water over it. Stir well until it dissolves more or less and put aside. (If you have tamarind paste/jam, start with one tablespoon and then adjust the taste; I have no idea how much of this product should be used).

Chop the onion.

Salt slightly the fish fillets or chunks.

Cut the small chillies lengthwise into thin strips or if they are bigger, into diagonal slices.

Give the tamarind liquid a good stir and strain, pressing to a fine strainer.

Heat the oil in a pan and fry the mustard seeds for 30 seconds.

Add the onion and stir fry for about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic and stir fry until the onion becomes light golden (make sure none of them burns).

Add the ground spices (chilli powder, coriander, turmeric) and the curry leaves.

Stir fry for about 1 or 2 minutes (you might need to add some oil here if the spices stick too much).

Add the strained 100 ml of tamarind “juice”, the tomatoes, the chillies and season with salt.

Let the sauce simmer for 10 more minutes.

Adjust the flavours (adding more tamarind juice if needed).

Place the fish delicately on top. Cover and cook until the fish is ready (5-10 minutes).

Serve.

 

Spicy Korean Mung Bean Sprout Salad

ssproutsaladI would have immensely enjoyed sharing with you my very recent memories of the fantastic lamb roast I made during Easter holidays… Unfortunately, no matter how much I tried, there was no way I could make it look less disgusting, not to mention attractive, so maybe some other day… In the meantime, I would like to talk about one of the most delicious things I have ever made with mung bean sprouts. This salad might not look like the most exciting dish in the world, but at least it bears some resemblance to its main ingredient, the thing I couldn’t have said about my poor roast…

I like and eat mung bean sprouts for several reasons. First of all  they are one of those products always grown indoors and, as such, have no real season, so I can enjoy them throughout the year. Moreover, they are one of my favourite light and healthy “fillers” in spring rolls, filo rolls, stir fries, noodles and various mixed salads. I have recently discovered thanks to Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall’s mild sprout salad they are also delicious as the main ingredient of a cold side-dish. This fiery, but otherwise very similar salad also comes from Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall’s Growing Up in A Korean Kitchen, a fascinating and very personal cookery book.

As usually, I have proceeded to some modifications. First of all, this recipe is designed for soybean sprouts, which are much more difficult to find for me, but luckily quite similar in texture to mung bean sprouts. Unlike the author, I didn’t boil the sprouts for two minutes, but only blanched them for about 30 seconds because I wanted them to remain more crisp. I have also slightly modified the amounts and the way of using spring onion, so check Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen to read the original recipe.

TIPS:

Do not forget to wash thoroughly mung bean or soybean sprouts before eating, just like you would proceed with any other vegetable. Apparently, recent serious intoxications some of you have probably read about might have been avoided by a simple thorough washing process, but many people considered this clean-looking product not worth the effort…

If you have never used sesame oil, I advise buying it in a Japanese or Korean shop (or maybe simply Asian). The only time I bought a bottle of good quality, cold-pressed organic sesame oil made in Europe I discovered something I dislike so much I still wonder how to use it (and it wasn’t rancid). I think Asian sesame oil is made from roasted, not raw, sesame seeds.

This salad is apparently served both at room temperature and very cold. I prefer it cold, so I have quickly rinsed the blanched sprouts in very cold water. If you want to serve it at room temperature, skip this step.

I would define Korean chilli powder as medium hot (it is not as hot as for example the powder used in Indian cuisine). It is slightly sweet in taste and its texture is flaky, so it’s often called “chilli flakes” instead of “powder”. If you use very hot chilli powder, cut it with mild chilli powder.

The author suggests either chilli threads or chilli powder here. Since I only had the latter, I have no idea what the taste difference will be, but chilli threads will certainly be more beautiful.

Preparation: about 20 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

150 g soybean or mung bean sprouts

2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 small clove garlic, grated or crushed

freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

1 teaspoon Korean chilli powder (flakes)

1 green onion stalk, chopped and separated into the white part and green part (you can also use chives if you don’t have spring onions)

You don’t need to do this, but try trimming the ends of sprouts. It does make a difference.

Wash the sprouts thoroughly.

Blanch them in boiling water for 30 seconds and then immediately rinse them with very cold water. Drain.

Combine the sprouts, the sesame oil, the garlic, the black pepper, the white part of the green onion and the soy sauce.

Put into a serving bowl.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds, the chilli powder and green part of the spring onion.

Baby Spinach Salad with Sesame Seeds

spinachsalad_Recently I have been leafing through my old recipe notebook I had used for long years before the existence of this blog. I was surprised – and even shocked – to see so many fantastic but forgotten recipes. This simple salad of Asian inspiration is one of the many dishes I regret not having made for such a long time. I have no idea when and where I found this recipe, but I remember I used to prepare it already ten years ago. At the time raw spinach leaves were a completely novelty to me and most people I knew, not to mention toasted sesame seeds or the presence of soy sauce in the vinaigrette. All this made such a salad appear utterly exotic. Nowadays, raw young spinach leaves seem as natural as a lettuce, while sesame seeds and soy sauce have become a staple in my kitchen, but I’m glad I dug out this old recipe because I still enjoy the mixture of flavours as much as I did ten years ago.

TIPS:

When I prepared this salad ten years ago I certainly didn’t have rice vinegar or sesame oil, but since now I use both products regularly, I wanted to see if they would improve the taste. And they did. If you don’t have either of them, use any oil you like and any vinegar you have.

It is very important to toast the sesame seeds just before sprinkling them onto spinach leaves. It improves the flavours greatly and adds a lovely toasted aroma “old” toasted seeds no longer give.

The ratio of the vinaigrette’s ingredients is the one I prefer. Taste it and adjust to your own preferences (obviously, if using normal soy sauce, you might prefer to use a smaller amount).

Preparation: 15 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

2 big handfuls of young (baby) spinach leaves

1 tablespoon (or more) white sesame seeds (not toasted)

Sesame vinaigrette:

low sodium soy sauce+sesame oil+rice vinegar in 1:1:1 ratio

freshly ground black pepper

Wash and dry the spinach leaves.

Place the sesame seeds at the bottom of a clean pan.

Warm the pan at low heat and when the seeds start to pop, cover the pan, wait ten more seconds and put aside.

Place the spinach leaves in a big bowl.

Pour the vinaigrette on them and stir delicately, coating all the leaves.

Transfer to a serving bowl.

Sprinkle with freshly toasted sesame seeds and serve.

Light Chicken Terrine with Green Peppercorns

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As a child I always liked Christmas celebrations but only because of the presents. When it came to food, Easter was my happiest festive time. Contrary to Polish fish-centred and vegetarian Christmas, Easter menus offered a bigger choice of dishes, including crazy amounts of eggs to indulge in (even when they were still considered unhealthy…) and homemade cold meats, pâtés or terrines. The approaching Easter is the perfect excuse to make my beloved chicken terrine I have recently modified by the addition of green peppercorns.

If you know French-style pâtés or terrines, I must explain how this Polish product differs from them, especially since French terms are used in English. First of all, both French pâtés and meat terrines are usually made with raw meat, while Polish terrine is baked with precooked meats. Another difference is the texture: while French products have a harsh texture (terrines have even very big chunks), Polish terrines are very smooth because everything is mixed or finely ground before being baked. Seasonings vary between cooks, but nutmeg is almost always present and its smell during the baking process always puts me in a festive mood.

I always hesitate about the name I should give this Polish product, but I think the chicken version should be called “terrine”, since I’ve never see chicken pâtés apart from those baked in pastry crust (“pâté en croûte”). To be frank, the difference between French “pâté” and “terrine” is quite blurry and even though there are some “strict” cases, one butcher can name “terrine” what another one labels as “pâté”. I must add here that, contrary to what is thought abroad, only a minority of French pâtés are made exclusively with liver, acting usually as secondary ingredient; most people are actually not fond of 100% liver pâtés and these are always called “pâté de foie” to differentiate them from “normal” pâtés (obviously, foie gras terrine is the exception, but it’s never called “pâté” anyway). “Terrine” is a very similar product, but with a broader meaning: apart from meat or/and liver, it can also be made with fish, seafood, vegetables or even fruit or chocolate (when served as a dessert). Terrine is usually prepared in a rectangular dish (called… “terrine”) and can be very light if made with seafood or chicken (for example “bound together” with jelly instead of fat or simply pressed).

Going back to the Polish terrine, I have been modifying my mum’s recipe for years and nowadays I usually prepare my terrine with chicken.  Shopping is easier and the result is lighter, so I can indulge in it without remorses. I have already posted here the basic poultry terrine recipe and this one is almost identical apart from the addition of pickled green peppercorns, which add a spicy kick. I have been eating French duck terrines and pork pâtés with green peppercorns for years, hence my idea to spice up the Polish terrine the same way.

The preparation is long, but very simple. Once it has cooled down, the pâté/terrine can be kept in the fridge for about one week or frozen until the day we want to use it, so if you make it for a bigger family, it’s worth preparing a double or triple batch. It can be served as a starter, as a snack, on small canapés or crackers and it goes particularly well with all kinds of pickles (pepper, chilli, gherkins, onions, beetroots and even kimchi!) and cranberry or bilberry jam/sauce. Personally I love it with a fiery horseradish sauce and/or my Pickled Sweet Peppers.

If you don’t like green peppercorns, you might like this basic milder version:

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TIPS: As the recipe title suggests, nutmeg is the main seasoning, so unless you hate it, do not skip it (at least for the first time). Every time I tried omitting it and putting other seasonings instead, I was very disappointed. Do use freshly grated nutmeg because it loses its aroma very quickly.

The choice of lean poultry (chicken or turkey) unfortunately means a slightly less juicier terrine than the one made with pork and/or beef, since fat is absent. It doesn’t bother me at all, but if you do want to make sure it’s slightly fatty, add about 10 tablespoons of chicken or duck fat into the mixture before baking.

This terrine/pâté can be frozen in big or small portions and even though the crust will not be crunchy, the taste will stay more or less the same.

You can use either deboned, skinless turkey or chicken cuts or a whole small chicken. The latter version will of course take a bit more time, but it can prove cheaper. If you want, you can skin the chicken before the first, cooking stage. This way the stock you add to the pâté will be less fatty.

Preparation: 2,5 – 3 hours + cooling time

Ingredients (fills a 20 cm x 10 cm baking tin):

500 g/about 20 oz chicken breast, or a mixture of leg and breast meat or a whole small chicken (you can also use turkey cuts)

green part of 1 leek

1 parsley root or a couple of parsley branches

1/4 celeriac or 2 branches celery

1 big carrot

1 medium onion

100 g/about 4 oz chicken livers

2 slices white, sandwich bread

1/4 nutmeg (freshly grated)

3 heaped tablespoons semolina

2 teaspoons green pickled pepper corns

pepper, salt

2 eggs

2-3 tablespoons oil or duck fat

(dry breadcrumbs)

If you use a whole chicken, place it in a big pan filled with water. If you want, you can skin it beforehand. Add the carrot, the halved onion, the leek, the celeriac and the parsley. Season with salt and pepper and cook on a medium heat until the meat well cooked. The whole chicken will take much more time than cut up meat.

If you use separate meat cuts, cut the meat into equal chunks. Put them in a pan filled with water. Add the carrot, the halved onion, the leek, the celeriac and the parsley. Season with salt and pepper and cook on a medium heat until the carrot is very soft and the meat well cooked.

When the meat or the chicken are cooked, remove them from the stock and wait until they cool down.

Pour 500 ml/about 17 fl oz of the stock into a small pan and cook the livers for 15 minutes.

Put the livers aside.

Place delicately the bread slices in the stock remaining after the livers have been cooked and let them soak for one minute.

Put the livers, the meat (if you use the whole chicken, remove the meat from the carcass, making sure there are no bones or skin), the soaked bread, the carrot and the parsley root (discard the branches) in a food processor and mix into a smooth paste. (Do not throw away the stock in which the meat was cooked!).

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Put the mixed meat into a bowl.

Add the nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper and taste if there is enough salt (this is the best moment to taste; afterwards tasting might be a bit unpleasant with raw eggs and semolina). Be generous with ground black pepper: this poultry version tends to be a bit bland compared to the pork pâté for example, so freshly ground black pepper gives it more character.

Stir in the eggs, the semolina and about 125 ml (1/2 cup) of the stock in which the meat was cooked at the beginning.

Mix well with a spoon.

Line a baking tin with baking paper or grease it and sprinkle with breadcrumbs.

Spoon the terrine mixture into the baking tin, smooth the surface with a spoon and sprinkle it with oil or melted duck fat.

Bake about one hour until the top is golden brown and don’t pay attention to the unpleasant smell from the oven (it will be irresistible once the terrine has cooled down).

After it cools down either freeze it or keep it refrigerated (tightly wrapped in cling film) for one week.

Vietnamese Salad with Kohlrabi (or Mock Green Papaya Salad)

mockpapaya_Raw kohlrabi sticks have been my favourite healthy snack since early childhood. As an adult I tasted cooked kolhrabi and it was so awful, losing its refreshing crunchiness and delicate flavours, I was completely put off trying to incorporate it into any dish, even cold. When I saw Shu Han (from Mummy I can cook) make Thai salad with kolhrabi instead of the customary green papaya I found the idea extremely tempting, but then completely forgot about it. Luckily, kohlrabi is available most of the year, so it’s – almost – always a good moment to experiment.

If you have never bought kohlrabi, apparently also called “German turnip” or turnip cabbage”, it does look a bit like a big turnip, but has light green smooth skin and when you peel it and taste it, it might make you think of an extremely delicately flavoured radish (though if you wait too long after peeling, kohlrabi will start smelling a bit cabbagy). Some people cook it, but personally I think it’s the worst thing one can do with this vegetable. It loses its unusual freshness and becomes similar to any turnip really.  It also loses its precious vitamin C and maybe other healthy elements too.

Shu Han made a Thai green papaya salad. I made a Vietnamese one. Both are a bit similar and probably equally good (I have never tasted the Thai version). The famous Vietnamese green papaya salad is very simple to prepare, especially if you skip, like me, dried beef and fried shallots. Just like I do when making it with green papaya (see the post here), I followed the recipe from “Vietnamese Street Food” by Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl and I hope it’s at least close to the genuine thing.

While tasting this mock green papaya salad I was surprised to see how small the difference was. The kolhrabi is maybe slightly sweeter and less dense in texture, but otherwise I didn’t think it spoilt the original recipe in any way and I certainly liked it as much as the real thing. Thanks to this modification I was thrilled to use local organic vegetables instead of produce pumped with pesticides and probably also sprayed for transportation… (one of the reasons I try not to buy green papaya too often). Thank you so much, Shu Han, for this excellent idea!

TIPS: When buying kolhrabi, try to choose the one with the smoothest skin and don’t take the biggest specimens. The smaller it is and the smoothest the skin, the juicier and the crunchier it will be.

If you prepare the sauce in advance, bear in mind it becomes hotter with time. It also loses the lime’s fresh aroma, but keeps its acidity of course.

Preparation: 15 minutes

Ingredients (serves 2 as a side dish):

1 medium kolhrabi

a big handful of soybean/mung bean sprouts

3 Asian spring onions (white and whiteish parts only) or 1 Asian shallot (advised in the original recipe)

1 heaped tablespoon toasted and roughly crushed peanuts

1 heaped tablespoon fried onion/shallot (I have skipped it)

leaves from 4 branches of coriander

Sauce:

1 small bird’s-eye-chili, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, thinly sliced

2 flat tablespoons sugar or Agave syrup

1 tablespoon fish sauce

juice from 1/2 lime

(shredded dried beef)

Peel the kohlrabi and cut it into long matchstick threads or julienne it (a julienne peeler is the best tool here).

Combine it with the sprouts (you can cut them in two), chopped spring onions and coriander leaves.

Mix the sauce ingredients and pour them over the vegetables.

Stir well, sprinkle with peanuts and serve.