In Kerala, where this dish originates from, the banana leaf is used for wrapping the fish, like the French classic fish en papillote. Did you know that this (wrapping fish in banana leaf) method of cooking in Kerala dates back to thousands of years? Surrounded by the Arabian Sea on the entire West Coast of the state, historically, Kerala attracted the Portuguese, the Dutch, Chinese and Arab traders from time immemorial because of the spice trade. I believe this definitely influenced the culinary expressions. I served the fish with coconut rice. (Recipe included)
3 tablespoons coconut oil plus more to oil the pans
500 grams onions, sliced
30 grams ginger, roughly chopped
15 grams garlic, roughly chopped
1 large green cayenne chilli
1 tablespoon coriander powder
1 tablespoon garam masala powder
½ teaspoon hot chilli powder
1 teaspoon Kashmiri chilli powder
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
250 grams tomatoes finely chopped
60ml coconut milk
800 grams white fish fillets (use warehou or moki or gem)
4 banana leaves (I used frozen)
Salt to taste
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
In a large fry pan, heat the coconut oil. Add the sliced onions and cook until golden brown (will take about 20-25 minutes).
While the onions are frying, pound the ginger and garlic in a mortar and pestle to a fine paste. When onions are brown and sufficiently reduced, add the ginger and garlic paste. Sauté for 2-3 minutes.
Add the green chilli, ground coriander, garam masala, and chilli and turmeric powders along with the pepper. Cook for a couple more minutes.
Add the tomato and salt. Sauté until it turns into a mash.
Stir in the coconut milk. Cook for a few more minutes. Remove from heat and cool.
Wipe the fish with kitchen paper and cut the fillets into four even sized pieces. Season with salt and pepper.
Lightly heat the thawed banana leaf on direct flame. This will help it mould.
Place a fish fillet on the prepared leaf. Put about 3-4 tablespoons of the onion mixture on top. Wrap the banana leaf tightly. Repeat with the remaining fillets.
Place a large fry pan over medium heat and add a little coconut oil. Place the banana leaf wrapped fish bundles on the pan. Cook for 8-10 minutes, turning the parcels every 2-3 minutes so it is evenly cooked through. To add freshness and a bit of zing, finish with lemon juice or serve with a lemon dressed coleslaw made with green apple, radish and red cabbage. I served mine with the coleslaw. Serves four.
250 grams Basmati rice
100ml coconut milk
225 grams grated coconut (I used a combination of frozen shredded and grated)
75 grams cashew pieces
6 tender green chillies, quartered lengthwise
6 sprigs of curry leaves
4-6 dried red chillies, cut into 2-3 smaller pieces and seeds removed
2 teaspoons channa dhal (split chick pea)
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
2 tablespoons coconut oil
Salt to taste
Put the measured rice in a sieve and thoroughly rinse the rice in water until the water runs clear. Place rice in a large (30 centimetre wide microwave safe) glass bowl.
Add the coconut milk, a teaspoon of salt and water. Mix and microwave on 70% power for 20 minutes. (My microwave is 1100 watts so if yours is lower wattage adjust cooking power accordingly).
When rice is cooked, remove from bowl and spread onto a large platter to allow the grains to dry out. On the hot rice, throw in half the green chillies, half the curry leaves and half the grated coconut. Once rice is warm, add the remaining coconut and mix to combine.
Dry roast the cashew pieces until golden and crispy.
In a small sauce pan or a small kadai (Indian style wok), heat the coconut oil on medium heat. When hot, add the channa dhal and fry till they turn pale brown. Add the dried red chillies, followed by the mustard seeds. Use a spoon to stir them around so they fry evenly. You will know the mustard seeds are fried sufficiently when they start to crackle. When you hear the mustard seeds crackling, remove from heat and add the curry leaves and remaining green chillies. You have just done a popu!
Mix the popu into the rice well with a paddle spoon. Taste to adjust seasoning and now it is ready to serve. Serves 4 generously.