Sunday Night Special: Green Fish Curry & Spiced Carrots
It’s strange that there were two Costco stories in the New York Times on Sunday. Technically, only one, “Spending: 24 Rolls of Toilet Paper, a Tub of Salsa and a Plasma TV,” was specifically about Costco. But they did choose to illustrate the article about Islam in the suburbs with an imam, his wife and a giant bag of Tostitos. And also printed one of my favorite quotes ever:
“The Prophet said, ‘Whoever is frugal will never suffer financially,’ ” said the imam, who shops weekly at the local store and admits to praying for its owners. He smiled. “These are the people who will go to heaven.”
So telling that he speaks fervently of a New Jersey location. I don’t know if anyone affiliated with the Brooklyn branch (that he apparently had the good sense to stay away from during his many years in Bay Ridge, just one neighborhood away from the borough’s only Costco) will be seeing pearly gates in their future.
James got up early and ventured to the soul-sucking Sunset Park location for Superbowl wings. I stayed in bed because I don’t do NYC Costcos (while still crowded, the one in Edison, NJ is a dream. They have a huge wine department and you can actually get samples because in the suburbs customers aren’t deranged and mobbing for slices of Uncrustables, thimble-sized paper cups of squash soup, organic apple wedges and kielbasa slivers).
Later in the afternoon, I did naively try to run in and out of the Red Hook Fairway for a few items. Big mistake. I ended up sweaty and angry and minus dashi and pita bread (though I had an epiphany in the organic baking aisle where I accidentally ended up after being shoved around a bit. I’d been looking for frozen grated or shredded unsweetened coconut, which you sometimes find in Asian shops and frequently find in Latin American stores. Neither exists in Carroll Gardens and the bag I had stashed in the freezer had gone bad and tasted like earwax. I’m glad I tested a pinch before using it. But you can find non-frozen shredded coconut with no added sugar near things like Newman-O’s and spelt pasta, if you happen to have those types of groceries where you shop. I try to stay away from such things).
I haven’t posted one of these look at what I made missives in a while because I haven’t done any heavy-duty weekend cooking lately. I decided to take to the kitchen this Sunday, primarily as procrastination tactic. I’m supposed to turn in some writing by end of month but would rather tackle Indian recipes than come up with punchy ways to describe non-descript dining rooms.
I bought Mangoes & Curry Leaves some time ago, and while it’s pretty to look at I haven’t cooked a single thing from the book (there might be a correlation between glossiness and perceived usefulness. Years ago I received a paperback review copy of Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweetand cooked from it a ton. Maybe if I had the whopping, coffee table version I would’ve been hesitant to use it).
I’ve been trying to eat more fish and use up forgotten freezer items so green curry tilapia was perfect. I had everything I needed except the above-described shredded coconut. The curry leaves I’d frozen ages ago seemed to have held up ok. When I was in Kuala Lumpur I visited a family that had fragrant things like curry leaves and pandan just growing in their backyard. While no fan of farming or gardening, it would be pretty cool to just step outside and snip or pluck what you need for any given recipe. I swapped flounder for tilapia because that’s what I happened to have.
The recipe ended up being more labor intensive than I’d anticipated but that’s often a hallmark of a chosen Sunday meal. I took the suggested side dish literally and made spiced grated carrots, which furthered my thrifty use things up theme. I’m scared to death of mold and passed pull by dates but I had a full fat Fage yogurt in the refrigerator that had expired four days earlier that I couldn’t bear to toss out because it was $1.79 (20 cents cheaper at the weirdo desolate Italian store on Court St. than at the Korean deli next store). I didn’t realize it wasn’t the 2% version until after I bought it and couldn’t fit it into my recent strict-ish eating regimen without like not eating breakfast, lunch and snacks for a day. So, it smelled and tasted fine (I’ve gotten a bad Greek yogurt, it’s pretty unmistakable) and I was thrilled to save it from the trash. In case you were wondering, I don’t worry about fat grams and calories on Sundays (honestly, I don’t worry about them half as much as I should during the week either. I’m not a Cathy about what I consume and you couldn’t pay me to eat Tasti D Lite. I’m not buying that Pinkberry bullshit either—frozen yogurt is not food). Sheesh, it’s the day of rest.
The two dishes were a smart pairing. The fish was hotter than I’d expected (I didn’t seed the chiles), sharp flavors slightly mitigated by the 4 tablespoons of butter/ghee you use for “tempering” the dish. The carrots were sweet and tangy. Both had earthy qualities from the black mustard seed and curry leaves. Unfortunately, I forgot that in a moment of hippiness I bought brown basmati rice at Trader Joe’s. It actually has a nice chewy quality and psychologically counterbalanced the butter and yogurt that laced everything else on my plate.
Tilapia Green Curry
About 1 1/2 pounds tilapia or other fish fillets
1/4 cup coconut oil or vegetable oil
2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
1/2 cup fresh or frozen curry leaves
2 cups water (1 cup if using tomato)
4 to 6 pieces fish tamarind, or substitute 1 cup chopped (preferably green) tomatoes
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons chopped ginger
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/2 cup chopped shallots
6 green cayenne chiles, seeded and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup packed coriander leaves and stems
1/2 cup fresh or frozen grated coconut, or substitute dried shredded coconut mixed with 1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
About 4 tablespoons ghee or butter
4 to 6 fresh or frozen curry leaves
1/2 cup sliced shallots
2 tablespoons minced garlic or garlic mashed to a paste
3 green cayenne chiles, stemmed and cut in half
Rinse the fish fillets, cut into 2-inch pieces, and set aside.
To prepare the masala paste, place the ginger, garlic, shallots, chiles, and fresh coriander in a food processor, mini-chopper, or stone mortar and process or grind to a coarse paste. Add the coconut and process or grind to a paste (if the mixture seems dry, add a little water as necessary to make a paste). Transfer to a bowl and stir in the ground coriander and turmeric; set aside.
To prepare the tempering, heat the ghee or butter in a medium heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Toss in the curry leaves, wait a moment, then add the shallots and garlic. Lower the heat to medium and cook until starting to soften, for about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chiles and cook until the shallots are very soft and touched with brown, about 5 minutes more. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a wok or karhai or a heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds, and when they have popped, add the curry leaves and masala paste. Lower the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the oil rises to the surface, about 5 minutes. Add the water and fish tamarind or tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add the salt and the fish and simmer, turning the fish once, for 3 to 5 minutes, until just barely cooked through.
Add the tempering mixture and simmer for a minute, then serve hot.
Spiced Grated Carrots, Kerala Style
2 tablespoons raw sesame oil or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
Abuot ½ cup minced onion
¼ teaspoon tumeric
1 tablespoon minced ginger or giner mashed to a paste
2 green cayenne chiles, slit lengthwise and seeded
About 10 fresh or frozen curry leaves
3 to 4 medium carrots, coarsely grated (About 1 ½ cups)
½ teaspoon salt, or more to taste
Coarsely ground black pepper (optional)
About ½ cup plain yogurt, preferably full-fat
Heat the oil in a medium heavy skillet or a wok or karhai over medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds and partially cover until they pop, then add the onion and turmeric and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add the ginger, chiles, and curry leaves and stir-fry until the onion is very soft, about another 5 minutes. Toss in the carrots, salt, and pepper, if using. Stir-fry for about 5 minutes, or until the carrots are very soft.
Turn the heat to very low. Add the yogurt and stir for a minute or so to warm the yogurt through and blend flavors; do not allow it to boil.
Serve in a shallow bowl.
Recipes from Mangoes & Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. Artisan, 2005.