Tamarind fish curry

tamarind, fish, onion

Sri Lanka food, 188pp.
by Sarogini Kamalanathan
Four Wallas Publishing, South Perth Western Australia, 2013
Cooking on page 132–33

One of the best holidays we’ve ever had was two weeks in Sri Lanka in the late 1980s. We arrived in Colombo about 2am with two tired young children. A Mr Misken offered us a lift to the hotel if we agreed to consider an option from his travel company later in the morning. Sure, why not, we said.

So Mr Misken returned about six hours later and hauled us off to the travel company. It wasn’t his own company—he just drove for it. Anyway, the owner gave us a great spiel about 12 nights with a car, driver (Mr Misken), accommodation, breakfasts and various side trips for a grand sum of US$600. He also rabbited on about how wonderful Mr Misken was, and we signed on the dotted line before the offer was withdrawn.

As it turned out, Mr. Misken wasn’t just wonderful—he was incredible, absolutely incredible. He had been the main driver for the previous six prime ministers of Sri Lanka. Everywhere we went, everyone knew him. He didn’t need to tell us about himself because everyone we met told us about him and his amazing history.

Sri Lanka food cookbook

As we drove through the countryside, he’d casually say something like, Do you want to see the spice farm down that dirt road? We took up every option and it was fun to see how the people were so thrilled to see Mr Misken and almost equally pleased to look after us.

There’s a rather long story about how Mr Misken came to be driving for his country’s prime ministers and I promise to tell that another time. But he certainly made our trip to Sri Lanka one of our most memorable trips ever.

And the food was sensational too. Some of the best curries I’ve ever eaten were served up there. A cuttlefish curry is still most fondly remembered.

This book has won some important awards, including the Best in the World from the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. Page 32 is filled with food photographs so I moved on to page 132–33.

tamarind fish curry

Tamarind fish curry

500g firm fish steaks
1 walnut-sized piece of tamarind
1/4 cup hot water
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 onion, chopped
2 green chillies, slit lengthwise
1 sprig of curry leaves
5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 tsp chilli powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 cup coconut milk

chilli, onion, tamarind frying onions and chillies fish curry cooking

Wash and drain the fish and set aside.

Soak the tamarind in the hot water for about 10 minutes and extract the juice. Repeat three times.

Heat oil in a pan. Reduce the heat slightly and add mustard seeds, onions, green chillies, curry leaves and garlic. When the onions are caramelised, add the chilli powder and salt. Combine and cook for about 1–2 minutes. Add the tamarind juice, water and fenugreek seeds.

Bring to the boil, then add the fish and stir gently to combine. Cook for about 10 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to ensure that the fish is covered in liquid. Add the coconut milk and cook for a further five minutes.

The curry is ready when there is a thin film of oil on the top. Served with rice or roti.

Preparation: 20 minutes: cooking time: 30 minutes; serves 4.

How it played out
I took the author’s advice and used firm fish (ling) steaks and tamarind pulp. Extracting the tamarind juice was a bit fiddly, but I ran it through an old tea strainer and pressed out the juice with the back of a spoon.

I didn’t have a sprig of fresh curry leaves, so tossed in a handful of dried. Everything else was super easy to do and the dish came together quickly. Served with rice, broccoli and cauliflower.

Excellent recipe—truly delicious. Now I have two fantastic fish curry recipes. The first was another page-32 recipe—fish in tomato gravy. I’m on a fish roll!

If you love seafood, check out my travel blog for a post about the amazing fish dish we ate in China.


About leggypeggy

Intrepid overland traveller, keen photographer, avid cook—known to jump out of airplanes and do other silly things. Do not act my age.
This entry was posted in Fish and seafood, Light meal, Main dish, Rice, Stew/soup and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Tamarind fish curry

  1. Sy S. says:

    Today I had some thighs and drum sticks defrosting and was planning on a curry crock pot meal.
    Then I clicked on this blog about a Tamarind Fish Curry recipe. And the write-up said that this book, Sri Lankan Food, won some awards. So surfed the internet and saw that it was for sale in Perth, Australia for $45 Aus = $31 USA (a little expensive if you add shipping). I then clicked on the area which shows some views of pages within the book. One page had their signature recipe (I guess) “Butter Chicken.” So I printed it out and decided to use the various ingredients and buttermilk instead of yogurt… Also, the basic recipe was for baking in an oven, but I used my slow cooker. In short, my version of this recipe came out great, tasty and easy to make with a 3 1/2 high temperature used in the crock pot. I will make this recipe again… and some day perhaps I will get around to this Tamarind Fish Curry dish as well. Aside- Ceylon = Sri Lanka is one of my most favorite countries I have traveled to… beautiful and the people are friendly. However, too many years ago and don’t recall the curries I had eaten.. but do recall their “hoppers”;
    like roti flat bread but puffed up in the center.

    • leggypeggy says:

      Sy, I love the way you take a recipe and make it your own. That’s the inventiveness of the kitchen and the cook. And now I’ll have to revisit the cookbook to see if, per chance, the butter chicken recipe is on page 232. Fingers crossed.

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