I spent the best part of two years as a chef in Bombay. It’s a bustling, chaotic city that is predominately vegetarian – some of them Jain, strict vegetarians who won’t eat vegetables with roots below the soil. I’d often turn to Goa, India’s smallest state, to escape the clatter of the city and for a fix of meat and fish. Each time I arrived in Goa, I would be greeted by the same taxi man. And when I reached the beach, I’d be welcomed with hugs. It’s a wonderfully warm place, in more ways than one, and I would spend most of my time there learning to cook the typical dishes, such as sausage pao and sweet-and-sour fish curries.

This particular Goan meal draws inspiration from a trip in January when, in my favourite restaurant nestled inland in the north of the state, we ate a stunning feast of different dishes, including pork sausage fry, egg appam and beetroot chutney. The centrepiece of the meal was a meen curry, a sour and spicy fish dish like those they serve in toddy shops, the south Indian drinking establishments that serve alcoholic drinks made from palm trees. This would normally be served with mashed tapioca, but we’re serving it with bright lemon rice, a refreshingly light thoran and a sweet and sour pineapple pickle.

Toddy shop meen curry with hake and samphire

If you can’t find it, kokum – a sour fruit commonly used in Goa – can be susbstituted with tamarind. Halibut is a handsome alternative to hake.

Serves 4
1 tbsp coconut oil
20 curry leaves
1 onion, sliced
1 tbsp each of garlic and ginger, crushed
2-3 green chillies, slit lengthways
3-4 pieces kokum
1 tbsp chilli powder
1 tbsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp ground fenugreek
250ml coconut milk
4 x 200g hake/halibut steaks
300g samphire

1 Heat the coconut oil in a large pan, add the curry leaves and then the onions and cook until they are soft and start to brown.

2 Add the ginger, garlic, green chilli and cook over a medium heat for another couple of minutes. Then add the kokum, chilli powder, coriander, turmeric and fenugreek and stir for a minute or two to cook the spices – take care not to burn them.

3 Next add the coconut milk, bring to the boil and season with salt. Gently put the fish pieces into the sauce for a few minutes, and cook on a low heat until just cooked. Add the samphire to the sauce at the end to heat through and serve.

Pineapple pickle

5 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp black mustard seeds
30 curry leaves
1 whole dried kashmiri chilli
1 small pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into 1cm cubes
1 tbsp dried kashmiri chilli powder
1 tsp ground turmeric
4 tbsp coconut or white wine vinegar
70g jaggery or brown sugar
A pinch of salt

1 Heat the oil in a large pan until hot. Add the mustard seeds – they should pop straight away. Next, add the curry leaves and 1 whole dried chilli, then the chopped pineapple. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the chilli and turmeric powders.

2 Once the pineapple is nearly cooked, add the vinegar, sugar and salt. Cook for 1-2 minutes on a high flame until the oil has separated from the spices and the pineapple is cooked, but still with a little bite. Remove from the pan and serve at room temperature.

Lemon rice

400g basmati rice
1 litre water
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp black mustard seeds
1 tbsp channa dal
20 fresh curry leaves
1 tsp ground turmeric
Juice of 3 lemons
Salt, to taste

1 Wash the rice in cold running water until it is no longer starchy and runs clear. Drain well.

2 Bring 1 litre of water to the boil in a large saucepan, then add the rice and cook, uncovered, for 8–10 minutes, or until the grains are cooked. Drain with a sieve.

3 Heat the oil in a large pan to a high heat, add the mustard seeds and channa dal and let them pop.

4 Next, add the curry leaves and the turmeric and stir for 1 minute. Add the cooked rice, lemon juice and salt, then gently mix together.

Hispi cabbage and carrot thoran

3 tbsp coconut oil
1 tbsp black mustard seeds
20 fresh curry leaves
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 dried kashmiri chillies
30g fresh root ginger, finely grated
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
250g hispi cabbage, finely shredded
2 carrots, diced
2 fresh green chillies, slit in half
100g fresh or frozen grated coconut

1 Heat the oil in a large saucepan set over a medium heat. When hot, add the mustard seeds followed by the curry leaves, cumin seeds and dried chillies. Stir for about 30 seconds, then add the ginger, turmeric, salt and black pepper and fry for 30 seconds.

2 Stir in the cabbage, carrots and green chilli and cook, covered, over a medium heat for 5-7 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender, adding a little water if they start to stick.

3 Stir in the coconut, heat through for a minute and serve.

  • Will Bowlby co-runs Kricket, a modern Indian restaurant in London’s Pop Brixton @kricketbrixton
  • This article was amended on 19 March 2016 to correct an error in the first paragraph. An earlier version mistakenly stated that the population of Bombay is predominantly Jain.

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