Blog - Curry Twist

Grilled Fish In The Algarve, Portugal

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The Algarve is the region along the southern coast of Portugal, the southernmost point in Europe, from where Portuguese explorers first sailed  to Africa and then onwards to India. The sea dominates the landscape here, from the towering cliffs at Sagres, to the sun-baked sandy beaches of Albufeira.

Today tourists throng the beaches, soaking up the glorious sunshine. Between the gleaming new beach resorts you can still find ancient villages where local fishermen pull in the day's catch, just as they have done for centuries, and spread it onto nets to dry. Area restaurants make use of all the wonderful variety of seafood available. Sitting in the shade, sipping a cold glass of white wine and feasting on fish, while gazing out at the breathtaking scenery - what more can one ask for?

Fresh fish is prepared very simply in Portugal so as not to hide its delicate, natural flavour.  We often ate it grilled with just a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and pepper and sometimes a bit of chopped garlic and parsley. The many varieties of freshly caught fish each had their own distinctive flavour too, which could be savoured in every bite. We tasted salmon, sea bream, sea bass, sardines, halibut and many other kinds of fish new to us.

One of our most memorable experiences was at a restaurant called A Grelha, near the beach resort where we were staying. We were lured in by the savoury aroma wafting through its doors, but found it hard to know what to order since there seemed to be no menu. The only phrase we understood was "grilled fish" and sure enough, a cheerful man bearing a laden tray stopped by and deposited a whole grilled fish, head and tail included, on our plates every few minutes. Wondering how much this was costing us, since we had not yet seen a menu, we stopped after 4 pieces each. Our waiter seemed most disappointed and tried his best to entice us to eat more! It was only then we realised that this was an eat-all-you-can restaurant, where for a very reasonable price you could fill up on every variety of fish possible. To make him (and us!) happy, we went back suitably hungry the next day and did justice to the food this time! Eat-all-you-can grilled fish is a concept more restaurants need to introduce!

Goan cuisine too, reflects its coastal influence with its wide variety of seafood. Having been a Portuguese colony for over 400 years, typical Goan cuisine is a skilful blend of Portuguese and Indian ingredients, and is unusual, delicious and unforgettable!

My recipe for grilled fish, Goan style can be cooked on a barbecue in the summer and baked in the oven in the winter. It tastes great either way! 

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If you're nervous about flipping the fish, grill it skin side down, then transfer to a baking tray and broil in the oven till the top is lightly browned and cooked through. For variety, you can substitute jumbo shrimp in place of the fish, using the same marinade. If you'd like to prepare a complete Goan inspired meal, try serving Goan Paella and Chicken Samosas as well!

Goan Grilled Fish

Ingredients: 

1 1/2 lb salmon fillet or any other fish of choice

Salt to taste

1/2 tsp each: ground cumin, ground coriander, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, turmeric, garam masala, sugar or 1 tbsp Bottle Masala

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 inch piece ginger, minced

1/4 cup each: thick coconut milk, white wine vinegar

1/2 lemon 

Place fish skin side down on large flat tray.

Combine all remaining ingredients, except lemon and slather over top of fish. Marinate in refrigerator for 1 hour or longer. 

Preheat barbecue to medium heat. Place fish on grill and cook until flaky and cooked through, about 6-7 minutes per side, depending on thickness of fillet. 

Serve with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice over top. 

Serves four - six

 

 

Chicken Samosas In Lisbon

For an Indian visiting Portugal, a trip to Lisbon's Belem Docks carries a special significance, for it was from here that Vasco da Gama  sailed in 1498 on the voyage that finally succeeded in finding a sea route from Europe to India.

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Along the Avenida India that borders the harbour, a magnificent monument commemorates all the Portuguese voyagers who set out from this spot to explore the world.

Vasco da Gama sailed in search of spices, which in the middle ages were brought from India to Damascus or Alexandria by Arab traders and then carried to Europe by Venetian merchants. Their cost, by the time they reached the markets of London or Paris was so great that only the very wealthy had the money for them.

After da Gama returned to Lisbon with spice-laden ships, the price of pepper fell so much that even ordinary people could afford it. European tables were never the same again!

Vasco Da Gama is a national hero in Portugal, commemorated in museums and monuments. His tomb lies in the great Jerónimos Monastery overlooking Lisbon harbour, where it is given pride of place over those of mere kings and queens.

The wealth from the spices brought back from India by Portuguese merchants made the tiny European country the hub of a great empire that spanned the globe.

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Traditional Portuguese food is simple and uncomplicated, celebrating the freshness of the ingredients. Grilled seafood and meats are usually cooked with just a drizzle of olive oil, salt and sometimes garlic. The freshness and quality of the ingredients shines through in every bite. Robust stews of pork simmered in red wine or salt cod cooked in many imaginative, delicious ways are also the pillars of Portuguese cuisine. Cinnamon, while not generally used in savoury dishes, is sprinkled abundantly on desserts like rice pudding and custard tarts.

The Portuguese established a colony in India in the enclave of Goa, which  developed a fascinating hybrid, Indian-Portuguese culture and cuisine over the centuries. It was a two-way trade in recipes. Goan cooks made vindaloo, combining the Portuguese style of cooking in vinegar with Indian spices.

To our surprise one of the most popular dishes in Lisbon was Chamuças, which turned out to be a close cousin of our familiar Samosa. Chicken Chamuças are a staple of every cafe menu! Liberally doused with curry powder and fragrant with the aroma of fresh coriander, they are delicious to nibble on while waiting for the rest of the meal to arrive. In fact, they are downright addictive!

Although most samosas in India tend to be vegetarian, stuffed with the traditional filling of spicy potatoes and peas, chicken samosas are hugely popular in Goa. The pastry is usually hand made and the samosas are deep fried. I find phyllo pastry to be an easier alternative and baking the samosas instead of deep frying them ensures that you can have more than one!

These samosas are easy to make and great for serving at parties. If you have any leftover chicken mixture, serve it with naan the next day. You can also add vegetables such as cooked diced potatoes, carrots, zucchini or peas to the chicken.  If desired, the ground chicken can be substituted with ground beef, lamb or pork. Serve the samosas with a fresh coriander or mint chutney. 

Chicken Samosas

2 tbsp oil

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 inch piece ginger, minced or grated

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 tsp curry powder or Bottle Masala

Salt to taste

1 lb lean ground chicken

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

1 tbsp lemon juice 

8 sheets phyllo pastry 

Vegetable oil cooking spray

 

Warm oil in deep non stick skillet set over medium heat. Add cumin seeds, sizzle them for 30 sec. Add garlic, ginger and onions, saute for 5 min or until lightly browned.

Add curry powder and salt, cook for 30 sec. Add ground chicken and saute for 8-10 min until chicken is dry and cooked through, stirring occasionally and breaking up lumps.  Fold in fresh coriander and lemon juice. Cool mixture in refrigerator until needed. Chicken mixture can be made up to 2 days ahead of time.

Preheat oven to 400F. Line baking tray with parchment paper.

Working with one sheet of phyllo pastry at a time (keep remainder covered with plastic wrap or damp towel), spray pastry lightly with cooking spray. Top with another sheet of pastry and spray again. Cut pastry into 4 long strips. Spoon 1 heaping tsp of chicken mixture onto bottom edge of pastry strip. Fold end of dough over chicken to form a triangle. Continue folding this way for the entire length of pastry strip. Place, seam-side down, on baking sheet, spray top lightly with cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap. Repeat with remaining phyllo sheets and chicken mixture.

Remove plastic wrap and bake samosas for about 12-15 min or until they are golden and crisp. 

Makes 16 Samosas

 

Paella In Barcelona

Paella Fideuà at Can Majo, Barcelona

Rice traveled a long distance to get to Spain, first introduced in the middle ages by Arabs who brought it all the way from India. The Spanish word for rice, "arroz", is derived from the Arabic "roz". Spanish cooks mixed rice with garlic, onions, tomatoes, meat and seafood to create the most iconic dish of their cuisine - paella. In a strange twist of history, paella was brought back to India by the Portuguese, who introduced it to their colony in Goa.

One of the chief attractions of visiting Spain was our chance to eat authentic paella, which we found has as many variations as biryani does in India! A visit to Barcelona led to a marvelous new discovery: Paella Fideuà, made by substituting rice with thin short pasta such as broken up spaghettini. A good place to try Fideuà is Can Majo, a restaurant situated right on the beach with a gorgeous view of the water. Our Fideuà, cooked and brought to us in a traditional paella pan, had very similar flavours to a classic rice paella - the same smoky aromas, the perfectly cooked seafood, the glorious tint of saffron. However, the texture was different - firmer, with a lightly browned crust on top and deliciously unusual!

Goa was a Portuguese colony for over four and a half centuries, and the cuisine that evolved there is a unique fusion of flavors, blending Indian spices and ingredients in Iberian recipes. In my Goan paella, basmati rice, spices, herbs and coconut milk combine with chorizo, paprika and seafood to create a delicious dish that incorporates the best of both cuisines. 

Goan Paella

Goan Paella

This paella is easy to eat with a fork as the seafood has been shelled before adding to the rice. If desired, you can leave the mussels and shrimp in their shells for a more dramatic presentation. nd if you want to substitute noodles for the rice, you can have your very own version of paella Fideuà, Goan style!

1 lb fresh mussels, scrubbed and picked over

1 cup basmati rice

4 tbsp oil, divided

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

4 each: whole cardamom, cloves

1/2 inch stick cinnamon

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 sweet red pepper, finely chopped

1/2 cup thinly sliced smoked Spanish Chorizo sausage

2 boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into small pieces

whole canned plum tomatoes

Salt to taste

1/2 tsp each: garam masala, cayenne pepper, smoked Spanish paprika, saffron strands or 1 tbsp Bottle Masala

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

3/4 cup canned coconut milk, well shaken

1 cup water

20 large shrimp, peeled and deveined

10 large scallops, cut in half widthwise

1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander

Place mussels in large saucepan, discarding any that are open. Pour in 1/2 cup water or white wine, cover pan and bring to a boil over high heat. educe heat to medium and cook 5 min or until mussels are just cooked. Stir a couple times in between. Discard any mussels that are unopened. Remove mussels from shells and reserve (you should have about 1/2 cup of mussels). Discard shells and cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, wash rice several times under running water, then cover with water and soak 10 min. Drain well in sieve. Reserve.

Warm 2 tbsp oil in large wide bottomed heavy saucepan or paella pan set over medium high heat. Add cumin seeds, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon. After a few seconds, when the spices splutter and smell fried, add the onions, garlic, sweet pepper, chorizo and chicken. Saute for 7-8 min or until vegetables are softened. Reduce heat to medium, add tomatoes, crushing them with your hands. Add salt and all the spices. Cook 5 min or until tomatoes have thickened into the sauce. Add wine vinegar, coconut milk and water. Stir gently, then bring to a boil. Add drained rice, mix in gently. Cover pan tightly and bring contents to a boil. Reduce heat to very low and cook 20 min without uncovering the pan in between.

Meanwhile, warm remaining oil in skillet over medium high heat. Add shrimp and scallops. Cook 2-3 min or until shrimp are no longer pink. Do not overcook. Remove from skillet, discarding juices.

Scatter shrimp, scallops, reserved mussels and fresh coriander over rice. Cover and let rice sit 10 min before you mix it gently and serve.

Serves four