Keralan Seafood Curry.
Coming to this recipe was the death of me. I found myself in a bit of a phase where I was adding coconut milk to anything I could justify – and sometimes couldn’t justify but it never stopped me. So I was challenged, by myself only – I may add, to hunt down a recipe for a curry that I really enjoyed that didn’t incorporate a coconut milk but no matter how delicious the ingredients or extravagant the technique, I always found myself needing a creamy fruit undertone. Until I discovered this one.
Keralan cuisine is beautiful. Kerala, a state in South India, is literally known as ‘The Land of Spices’ and culturally presents food as celebrations, with ritualistic offerings. While I am relatively dramatic, I cannot say I serve my food with ritual procedures – however I do view food as a means of connection and there is nothing that connected me more to this Keralan curry than the boxes it ticked in my quest for a coconut-less curry.
I discovered that Kerala opt for a ‘stew’ approach to their meals, as opposed to the traditional ‘curry’ technique we have become familiar with. In addition to this, Kerala cuisine pull on fruit based ingredients to raise the sweetness levels of their dishes, which is exactly the balance I was looking for in the absence of coconut milk. Keralan cuisine optimises the use of tamarind paste, or ‘Pulli’, in their cooking. This can easily be bought in supermarkets and has a beautiful dense, almost mango like taste.
Traditionally in Kerala, this kind of dish is cooked with a soft white fish which is then flaked – a recipe I will be trying soon, however what I found with this was that the texture of the curry is so soft that I needed a chew, not a light flake so I opted for seafood and due to the nature of how it’s pulled together, felt I needed some green roughage so please excuse my brazen addition of baby spinach.
To a pan big enough to hold a full curry with a lid, melt down a tablespoon of coconut oil. Shame on me. I said I wasn’t using coconut MILK. I said nothing about oil. Leave me be, but if you don’t have access to coconut oil, some vegetable oil would be fine. Add some roughly chopped red onion and soften before adding a pinch of brown sugar and allowing to fry for 3 or 4 minutes.
Add a roughly chopped chili before sprinkling in a pinch of cumin, some turmeric along with a whole garlic clove grated in. Peel the skin from a fresh piece of ginger and grate this in – maybe only half a teaspoon full. Turn with a spoon and allow everything to fry for a further minute or so. Now add a big spoonful of tamarind paste before stirring to combine. Once everything has glossily combined, add some roughly chopped fresh tomatoes along with a shot glass or two of tap water and some sea salt.
Stir everything together until everything starts to bubble. Turn down the heat and a clamp on the lid and allow everything in the pan to simmer for roughly 5 minutes. Remove the lid and add the seafood to the pan (any seafood will do so long as it’s precooked like I use, however if you are using raw seafood, add the same time as the tomatoes). Finally throw in the roughly chopped baby spinach and allow to soften in the pan. Once everything is coated in the fragrant spice veneer, serve.
I recommend serving this alongside the Orange Saffron Rice from the previous post, however plain boiled rice with a douse of lime juice and snowy throw of sea salt would also be good.
The challenge was set, I accepted and I conquered. This recipe is fantastic for those nights when you want something exciting and exotic yet not extravagantly difficult to make but more so – healthy. The exclusion of coconut milk here does not effect any of the taste and does not leave you wanting the sweet creaminess of a regular curry, what it does give you instead is a warmly fragrant yet sweetly spicy tang that makes you feel virtuous and exotic.
And who doesn’t want a life of virtue and exoticism?