Blog - Curry Twist

Tomato Shrimp Masala In KanyaKumari, Kerala

I first visited Kanyakumari with my parents when I was a little girl. The spectacular sunset we saw from the shores of the southernmost tip of India still stands out in my memory. Situated at the junction of the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, Kanyakumari or Cape Comorin as it is sometimes called, is the only place in India where you can see the sun rise as well as set!

A gigantic statue of Thiruvalluvar watches benevolently from a distance as you near Kanyakumari. An eminent poet and philosopher, he is worshiped as a saint and people take the short ferry ride to go out to the rock on which his statue is situated.

People also come to Kanyakumari to visit famous temples that were built here many centuries ago. Suchindram, just outside of Kanyakumari was built around the 8th century and is an important pilgrimage site for Hindus. A beautiful architectural marvel, it has fabulous stone carvings, huge statues of Hindu gods and towering musical carved pillars built from single blocks of granite.

We were captivated by the many colourful houses and buildings that dot the landscape of Kerala. On the drive out to Kanyakumari, we came across bright green, purple and blue houses, and my favorite - hot pink walls! They livened up the countryside and our photographs!

The countryside is also very scenic with mountains in the distance, burbling streams, coconut groves, paddy fields and lush greenery.

Stopping by the side of the road to drink fresh coconut water out of a tender green coconut, then scooping out the sweet coconut flesh and savouring it while admiring the view makes the trip even more enjoyable!

Restaurants in Kanyakumari range from offering regional South Indian vegetarian cuisine, to locally sourced fresh seafood, cooked into curries. Some of these restaurants are situated right by the water front, offering great views along with tasty food.

We never tired of eating many varieties of fresh, delicious seafood in Kerala but our favourite was this spicy shrimp curry with a thick, rich sauce clinging to the shrimp. Wrapped up in a morsel of warm naan or Kerala parotta (pan fried flaky flatbread), it made a fantastic lunch.

Start your meal with Spicy Tomato Rasam - a wonderful soup to whet your appetite, then follow up with this delicious shrimp curry!

For more Kerala favourites, try this easy, crispy fish recipe or this fantastic Mutton Biryani.

Tomato Shrimp Masala

2 cloves garlic

1/2 inch piece ginger

1 green chili

2 tbsp oil

1/2 tsp black mustard seeds

20 fresh curry leaves

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 large, ripe juicy tomatoes, chopped

Salt to taste

1/2 tsp each: cayenne pepper, turmeric, ground coriander, ground cumin, garam masala OR 2 tsp Malabar masala powder

1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 tbsp each: chopped fresh coriander leaves, lemon juice

Mince garlic, ginger and green chili together in food processor.

Warm oil in deep non stick skillet over medium heat. Add mustard seeds and curry leaves. Fry them for about 30 sec, then add minced garlic mixture.

Saute for 1 min, then add onions. Saute until lightly browned and softened, about 8 min.

Add tomatoes, salt and all the spices or Malabar masala powder. Cook for 5 min until tomatoes break down and are well blended into the sauce.

Add shrimp, cook for about 5-7 min until shrimp turn pink and are no longer raw.

Fold in fresh coriander and lemon juice.

Serve right away.

Serves four



Dim Sum In Hong Kong

Hong Kong was built as a city where people from different parts of the world could come to exchange goods and money, but over the last two centuries it has become celebrated as a crossroads for ideas and cultures. The British seized the island to establish a base from where they could trade with China, but it was soon populated by people from every part of the British Empire. Parsi traders from Bombay, Gurkha soldiers from Nepal and Sikh policemen from Punjab were as common a sight in early Hong Kong as the English and Scottish merchants who ran the banks and trading companies, or the Chinese businessmen, tradespeople and peasants who were drawn by the opportunities available in the city. This history has made Hong Kong one of the most unique places in the world, an intoxicating swirl of languages, fashions and cuisines that never seems to pause or sleep!

There is much to see and explore in Hong Kong. Kick off your sightseeing with a visit to Victoria Peak. The highest point in Hong Kong island, Victoria Peak is reached by a steep tram ride, culminating in spectacular views of the city and harbour below. A ride on the historic Star ferry is another must and you will be transported to a bygone era, when for about a 100 years, the only way to cross over from Kowloon to Hong Kong island was on this ferry. The views of the skyline alone are worth the mere pennies it is going to cost you for the ticket!

One of the joys of walking around the different neighborhoods of Hong Kong is sampling street food. Food stalls or Dai Pai Dongs as they are known, are always bustling with hungry people looking for a cheap and tasty snack, but it is at night that they truly come to life. Hong Kong's legendary night markets feature not only excellent food stalls but also discounted designer clothing, household goods, toys and souvenirs. We had fun strolling through the famous Temple Street night market just watching the action, inhaling the intoxicating aromas and trying to identify the huge variety of food on offer!

Hong Kong is justly famous for its world class cuisine. But for us, the main reason to go there was the chance to eat authentic dim sum all day long! And we weren't disappointed. Step into any restaurant, even if it looks like a hole in the wall and you will be assured of amazing food. Although there are very few dim sum restaurants left with old fashioned dim sum carts, we managed to find one!


Lin Heung Tea House is the oldest tea house in Hong Kong and dates back to 1926. The food there is good but we had also gone for the experience (of which we had heard a lot!). We had to fight our way through the lunchtime chaos, grab a couple of stools and share a large table with locals. There was no menu, the food carts were mobbed before they even made it out of the kitchen, the conversation around the table was lively (even though we didn't understand much of it) and the people sitting around us were really sweet in helping us choose dishes. All in all, it was an enthralling experience - a taste of a bygone era!

Chinese traders from Hong Kong and Shanghai settled in India a couple of centuries ago and opened restaurants. The food they featured was specially designed to appeal to their new clientele, and combined elements of both Indian and Chinese cuisines. Hakka food, as it came to be known, uses a lot of fresh coriander, mint, ginger, spices and chilies as well as soy, sesame and vinegar to create unique dishes that only an Indian would recognize!

 Hakka style dumplings are hugely popular all over India and are sold as street food from pushcarts in crowded bazaars, in food courts of large upscale malls and in Chinese restaurants everywhere. The stuffing in these dumplings can vary from vegetables, leafy greens, noodles, chicken or mutton to paneer and curry!

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Chicken dumplings tend to get a bit dry. I find the combination of chicken and lamb to be a good balance in terms of flavour, richness and juiciness. In my recipe, fresh herbs and spices add extra flavour to the dumplings, making them the perfect Indian Chinese fusion. Serve with dipping sauce and a pot of jasmine tea!

Hakka Chicken and Lamb Potsticker Dumplings

1 medium onion, quartered
2 cloves garlic
1-inch piece ginger, halved
2 green chilies, stemmed
1 cup loosely packed fresh coriander leaves and tender stems
½ cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
1/2 lb each: ground lamb, ground chicken (not breast meat)
1/2 tsp each: garam masala, ground coriander, ground cumin
2 tbsp each: rice vinegar, soy sauce
1 egg
1 pkg dumpling wrappers
Sesame oil as needed

For Filling:
Process onions, garlic, ginger, green chilies, fresh coriander and mint in food processor until well minced. Transfer to a deep bowl. Add lamb, chicken, spices, vinegar, soy and egg. Mix well until well combined. Refrigerate covered until needed.

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For Dumplings:
Place a wrapper in the palm of your hand; add 1 tbsp meat mixture in center of wrapper. Moisten edges of wrapper with water. Fold over both sides to enclose filling, press tightly or pleat edges to seal completely. Repeat with remaining filling and wrappers.

Warm a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add 1 tbsp sesame or vegetable oil. Swirl to coat pan. Place about half the dumplings in a single layer (or as many as pan can hold). Do not over crowd pan. Pour 1/4 cup water around edges of dumplings, cover pan and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to medium low and cook 10 - 12 minutes or until water has been absorbed and bottoms of dumplings are lightly browned and crisped. Transfer to serving platter. Repeat with remaining dumplings.

Makes about 30 dumplings

Special thanks to Adora Tam for making the dumplings in these pictures!

Spicy Fish In Cozumel, Mexico

When I stepped onto the shores of Cozumel I was probably as far from India as you can possibly get. But geographical distance does not necessarily imply the absence of any connections, as I discovered when I heard the fascinating legend of "La China Poblana". 

The story told across Mexico today is of a young woman in seventeenth century India named Meera who was kidnapped by Portuguese pirates near Cochin in Kerala. She was carried to the Philippines in 1619 where she was bought by a Spanish ship's captain and taken to his house in Puebla, Mexico. There Meera became a Catholic and took the name of  Catarina de San Juan. After the death of the captain, Meera supported herself as a seamstress, making colourful blouses and skirts inspired by designs from her native India. She began to see holy visions and was reputed to be able do miracles, becoming famous as La China (which, at that time in Mexico, meant any person from Asia), of Puebla. When she died at the age of 82, she was venerated as a saint and her grave in Puebla became a pilgrimage site. Meera's colourful dresses are now considered Mexico's national dress and still referred to as China Poblana. 

 

 

Mexico took Meera's sense of style to heart and in return it transformed the food of India by introducing chillies to the cuisine. Puebla is also famous as the place where mole poblano was created, a dish that combines two of Mexico's greatest gifts to the cuisines of the world: chillies and chocolate.

Spices form another great link between East and West. When Columbus set sail he had no idea that he was going to discover a new continent, for he was in search of a route to Asia where he could buy spices, especially the famous pepper of Kerala. Instead he landed in the Caribbean where he discovered a new plant - chilli peppers that were as yet unknown outside the American continent, but which in subsequent years, Spanish and Portuguese traders carried around the world. 

Chilli plants arrived in India only a few decades before Meera made her voyage and Indians took to them with gusto. Indian food was never the same once cooks discovered that a pinch of cayenne gave it an unforgettable bite! India gave Mexico La China Poblana and got back a whole new world of flavour in return. I would call it a fair exchange!

Many years of my childhood were spent in Cochin where I grew to love Kerala cuisine, imbued with the flavours of red chilies, black pepper, curry leaves and coconut. Kerala cuisine has many common elements with that of Mexican food such as the use of chillies, ground cumin, fresh coriander and coconut.

I like to think that this typical Kerala fish curry, rich with tomatoes and spices, especially chilies, is something Meera would have enjoyed in Cochin and perhaps created variations of in her new home in Mexico.  

Fish curries are generally made in a traditional earthenware pot also known as a Chatti, for the aroma and flavour it imparts to the dish. The fish is never stirred with a spoon. Instead, the chatti is gently shaken from side to side to ensure even cooking and to avoid breaking up the fish as it cooks.
The first marination of the fish in lemon juice helps get rid of some of its strong aroma while the second marination adds to its flavour. Adding coconut milk right in the end helps mellow the heat, while adding creaminess to the sauce. Serve it with Coconut rice for a nice balance of flavours.

Kerala Fish Curry

1 1/4 lb skinless Halibut fillet, cut into 2 inch pieces

1 tbsp lemon juice

1/2 tsp each: salt, turmeric

A small piece of tamarind, about the size of a large marble

1/2 cup hot water

1 tsp each, divided:  ground coriander, ground cumin, dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi)

1/2 tsp each, divided: cayenne pepper, mustard powder, ground ginger, garam masala

2 tbsp oil

6 cloves garlic, smashed

20 fresh curry leaves

1/4 tsp black mustard seeds

1 cup (about 6) canned whole plum tomatoes, pureed

1/2 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk

2 tbsp each: chopped fresh coriander, chopped fresh curry leaves

Place fish in large mixing bowl. Add lemon juice, salt and turmeric. Marinate at room temperature for 15 min.

Meanwhile, soak tamarind in hot water for 15 min. Mash it occasionally to soften.

Drain fish, pat dry with paper towels and transfer to clean bowl. Add 1/2 tsp each of ground coriander, ground cumin, dried fenugreek leaves and 1/4 tsp each of cayenne pepper, mustard powder, ground ginger and garam masala. Toss well to coat fish with spices and marinate at room temperature for 15 min.

Strain tamarind through a fine sieve and reserve extract, discarding the fibrous residue left in the sieve.

Warm oil in deep skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, curry leaves and mustard seeds. Saute for 1 min until seeds begin to pop and garlic turns lightly golden. Add pureed tomatoes, tamarind extract and remainder of the spices. Stir to mix, cover skillet and cook on low heat for 5-7 min.

Add marinated fish and coat gently with the sauce. Cover skillet again and cook for about 10 min on low heat until fish is cooked through, shaking skillet occasionally for even cooking. Fold in coconut milk and cook uncovered for another 4-5 min until mixture starts bubbling, shaking skillet occasionally. Fold in chopped fresh coriander and curry leaves.

Serves four