Blog - Curry Twist

Jungle Shrimp Curry In Costa Rica

“Pura Vida!” is Costa Rica’s unofficial slogan, a Spanish phrase that literally means “pure life” but is also used as a greeting, to bid farewell, or to express happiness and satisfaction. It could easily be a description of Costa Rica itself with its sunlit sandy beaches, sprawling forests teeming with wildlife, and towering mountains from which cascade sparkling waterfalls and rivers.

Costa Rica is a nature-lover’s paradise, and whether your idea of a good time is surfing the waves, trekking up a mountain path, zip-lining over the trees of a cloud-forest, or simply lounging on the beach, there will always be something to make you happy.

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Tamarindo, a popular, tourist town on Costa Rica’s Northern Pacific coast, offers a chance to experience all of this. With lovely soft sand beaches, warm waters, legendary sunsets and an easy going lifestyle, Tamarindo is especially popular with surfers and expats. From Tamarindo you can take convenient day trips to nearby waterfalls, rain forests, volcanoes or wildlife refuges.

One of the most remarkable sights is the Rio Celeste waterfall, where the water of the Celeste river cascades into a pool with an unearthly turquoise color. Ancient legends describe how the gods dipped a brush into the pool and used it to paint the sky. More recent research attributes the blue colour to reflection of light from fine particles the water picks up as it goes through the nearby Tenorio volcano. To get to the pool takes a stiff climb up a hill and then down a long flight of stairs, but it is well worth the effort.

If you are looking for a more accessible destination the Llano de Cortés falls are spectacular and descend into a shallow pool where swimming is both permitted and encouraged. On a hot day a plunge into the water is one of the most refreshing experiences you can imagine.

More than a quarter of Costa Rica’s land is taken up by forests and wildlife refuges, and exploring these areas is one of the best ways to experience the country. There are many different ways to see the forests, but the most relaxing method is to sit back on a boat that takes you along one of the rivers that thread through the forest. An entire vista of mangroves and other types of trees unfolds on both sides, which you can enjoy without any exertion necessary.

If you are looking for a more active experience then take a walk through the rain forest. There are many trails that you can follow through the national parks, with varying levels of difficulty, from an easy stroll to multi-day expeditions.

As you travel through the forests you will find that they are teeming with wildlife. Monkeys chatter in the trees while iguanas and sloths hang from branches. Toucans, ospreys, herons and hundreds of other birds fly overhead, and every now and then you will spot a crocodile lurking in the water or sunning itself on the riverbank.

When in Costa Rica, be sure to try a Casado in a local soda. Despite sounding cryptic, it is really very simple, and delicious! Sodas are family run diners where locals hang out to eat cheap and cheerful meals. Here you can sample generous portions of authentic Costa Rican food in the form of a Casado - a ‘marriage’ of traditional dishes such as black bean rice, fried plantains, fresh salad and grilled seafood or meats, often served with a fried egg over top. When it comes to eating like a local, nothing beats a Casado at a nearby soda!

There is no dearth of fine dining in Tamarindo and you are going to be spoiled for choice! We had many a memorable meal sitting right on the beach, gazing out at the incredible view while digging into skillfully prepared fresh seafood. I don’t know if it was the perfect setting creating the right mood, but every ceviche (citrus marinated raw seafood), grilled octopus or roast fish that we had was better than the last! Some of the outstanding restaurants we ate at and highly recommend are Pangas Beach Club, Seasons by Shlomy, La Palapa, Cafe Tico, Green papaya, Nogui’s and Langosta Beach Club. And if you’re looking for a place to stay close to the beach, try the newly renovated, ultra comfortable apartment Casa Ravinder.

We had heard rave reviews about a popular little restaurant in Tamarindo, called Shrimp Hole. Operating from the tiniest kitchen imaginable, with a select menu specializing in shrimp, this lovely place serves fantastic food. We first had Jungle shrimp curry here and it’s mildly spicy, creamy and coconutty flavours evoked delicious memories of India. I couldn’t wait to recreate it as soon as I got back home!

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Make this easy, tasty curry just before you’re planning to serve, as reheating shrimp makes them rubbery. You can make the curry sauce ahead of time and just add shrimp at the last minute when warming up the sauce. An accompaniment of plain cooked basmati rice, Coconut Rice or Peas and Rice is a good way to soak up all the delicious flavours!

Jungle Shrimp Curry

2 tbsp oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or minced

1/4 inch piece of ginger, minced

1 tsp (or more to taste) good quality Indian curry powder or use Malabar Masala Powder

Salt to taste

2 large ripe plum tomatoes, finely chopped

1 can (14 fl oz) premium coconut milk

1 lb large raw shrimp, peeled and de-veined (about 30-32)

1 tbsp fresh lime juice

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves

Warm oil in a large skillet set over medium heat.

Add onions, garlic and ginger to skillet and saute until translucent and lightly browned, about 6-8 min.

Add curry powder or Malabar Masala Powder (if using) and the salt. Stir for 1 min until spices are fragrant.

Add chopped tomatoes and cook for about 6-8 min, until they soften and break down. Mash them with the stirring spoon to incorporate them into the sauce.

Add the coconut milk, stirring gently to blend it in. Cover skillet and bring contents to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 5-7 min until sauce thickens slightly.

Add shrimp, cover and continue to cook over medium low heat until shrimp are cooked through, about 6-8 min.

Switch off heat, uncover skillet and fold in the lime juice and fresh coriander. Taste and adjust the seasonings if required.

Serve right away.

Serves Four

Kerala Fish Fry In Kovalam, India

Our first glimpse of the tropical paradise that is Kovalam, was of the famous lighthouse with its distinct candy stripes. We were headed to the most popular of its three beaches - Lighthouse beach, named after the landmark lighthouse. We fell in love with Kovalam's relaxed atmosphere, sandy beaches, breathtaking views, gently swaying palm trees, warm waters and fantastic food. It is easy to see why Kovalam is such a popular tourist destination!

Kovalam at one time, used to be a sleepy little fishing village. Although it has now been taken over by hordes of tourists and resorts, fishing is still an important part of everyday life here. Fishing boats pull up right on to the beach with their haul of fresh seafood early every morning and supply local restaurants and shops for miles around. The boats are covered with thatched mats when they are done for the day, adding local colour to the beach!

Wandering around on the soft, sandy beach, admiring the beautiful views while dipping our feet in the warm water made us hungry and we decided to try one of the numerous beach shacks lining the fringes of the beach. We were sure the seafood would be really, really fresh!
We were not disappointed. The Kerala fish fry at the Kingfisher Cafe was spicy, fresh and piping hot and the calamari was like nothing we've ever had before. Done Kerala style with spices and a crisp batter, it was melt in the mouth tender. We wrapped our delicious seafood in a flaky Kerala Parotta (flatbread) and gobbled it all up.

Fish Fry

In Kerala, rice flour is used to coat the fish and crisp it up. I find that all purpose flour works just as well. I also like to add an egg to the marinade to bind it all together. The final roll around in the breadcrumbs is important to add colour, flavour and crispness to the fish fry.
Serve with a fresh green herb chutney, lemon and red onion rings.

For a different kind of Fish Pakora, try this recipe!

1 1/4 lb cod or haddock fillet

4 cloves garlic

1 inch piece ginger

1 green chili

20 fresh curry leaves

Salt to taste

2 tbsp each: lemon juice, all purpose flour

1/2 tsp each: ground black pepper, turmeric, cayenne pepper, paprika, ground coriander, whole cumin seeds

1 egg, beaten

1 cup each: breadcrumbs, oil for frying

Cut fish into large pieces. Place in deep mixing bowl.

Mince garlic, ginger, green chili and curry leaves together in food processor. Transfer to bowl with fish.

Add salt, lemon juice, flour, spices and egg. Toss gently to mix well. Cover and marinate fish in the refrigerator for 15 min to an hour.

Place breadcrumbs in shallow bowl. Warm oil in deep skillet over medium heat.

Dredge each piece of fish in breadcrumbs to coat all over. Drop gently into oil and fry for about 3 min per side or until fish is crisp, golden and cooked through. Do not crowd the pan, do this in two-three batches.

Transfer to a paper towel lined plate. Serve right away.

Serves four-six

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