(Did you miss me? Even with three lovely ladies guest posting to keep you company? Awww shucks!)
It’s been almost a month to the day since I jetted off for the biggest (and only) European adventure I’ve had this lifetime and after three and a half weeks of nothing but delicious, rich, meaty French food (and a 40+ hour journey home – sob!) I don’t think I’m quite ready to let myself realise it’s all over and start going back over the photos of everything I did and ate whilst there. Not yet anyway.
Maybe when I’ve finished digesting that last delicious baguette that we carted by train from Paris to Amsterdam.
Before I left (and oh! How I left with lofty ambitions of being online from time to time and even, maybe… blogging? Ha!), I went on a bit of a crazy curry bender.
We had, you see, been craving a good Indian curry for a while. We’d even gone to a little restaurant way up on the Central Coast when we went on our Forrester’s Beach camping adventure in order to try satisfy those cravings.
No dice. None whatsoever. It was like playing Yahtzee without the dice. Full of high hopes and crushed dreams.
We’d ordered a fish curry and yellow rice, you see, with the promise of golden, fluffy grains and a slow burning, almost earthy gravy to accompany flakes of firm white fish.
But the rice was merely speckled yellow and the fish tasted like it had been frozen since the dawn of time. The gravy was insipid, sour and slightly burnt. We drank bottles of ginger beer on our return to base to lift our spirits.
This is not that curry.
This curry – this amazingly aromatic, scrape the last vestiges of sauce from the bowl and lick the spoon curry – is something entirely different.
It is smoky with the air of freshly ground and roasted spices. Soothing from the fat of coconut milk. Slippery and unctuous as the slimy seeds of cooked okra escape to thicken the gravy. Hearty from the chunks of fresh, meaty fish.
The rice is tinted with a teaspoon or two of fresh tumeric and cooked with a twisted pandan leaf and a smattering of cloves and cardamom podes (five or six of each should do it) in the pot.
It is a sensory delight.
(It is also the cause of much pain if you forget that you are cooking curry and rub the sleep from your eyes mid way. Not that I did this. Ahem.)
The best thing is that it’s not that much work at all. Well, not as much as I thought it would be. Turns out, my well stocked pantry already contained all of the whole spices (thanks mum!) and it was simply a matter of tossing them into a coffee / spice grinder to kick start the paste.
You could, of course, make a similar curry with store bought curry paste, but it’s somehow not quite the same. The flavours are muted. The grittiness lost.
I made this curry again today, but with chicken and potatoes. Dialled down the tumeric in the curry paste and added an extra two cups of water when the paste was done to cook the potatoes in the spices. When the potatoes were half way to done and the water reduced to almost nothing, I tossed in the chicken, topped with coconut milk and simmered away to freedom and the promise of a delicious dinner for six, accompanied with soy and garlic eggplant and a green bean omelette. Not traditional Indian accompaniments, I know, but I’m not a traditional Indian.
Save this recipe for a weekend, as it will take you the best part of an hour to chop and grind and roast and cook. If you don’t want to make quite as much curry, you can (as I have done previously) take the curry paste all the way until the end of step 4, remove half and freeze it in an air tight container for another time.
fish & okra curry from scratch
you will need:
1tbsp coriander seeds
1tbsp cumin seeds
5-6 small dried chillis
1 tsp tumeric
1/4 tsp dried chilli powder
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2tbsp vegetable oil
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
275ml tin of coconut milk (I used light as that’s what we have in the pantry)
350g white fish (I’ve used Basa and Ling with equal success)
how to do it:
1. Pull out a spice grinder (you can also do this in a mortar and pestle, though it will take longer). Add the coriander seed, cumin seed, cloves, chilli, chilli powder and tumeric to the grinder and whizz until it is a fine powder.
2. Tip the spices into the base of a large pot and heat, stirring occasionally, until you can smell the oils being released from the spices and your eyes start to sting a little.
3. Add the onion, garlic and oil at this point and lower the heat. Stir to cook the onion and garlic so they release their juices. You will have a dry, slightly clumpy paste of spice covered onion at the end of this step. it will smell amazing.
4. Tip the water in and stir to form a paste. (If you are halving the recipe, stop here and remove half to freeze).
5. Immediately add the star anise, cinnamon stick and coconut milk, ensuring the heat is on low. Taste it at this point and add between 1/4 to 1/2tsp salt, depending on how you like it. You’ll notice that as you add the salt, the gravy goes from sweet and spicy to more savoury.
6. To prepare the okra, cut off the hat at the top and the tip at the end. Cut larger pieces in half. To prepare the fish, remove any large bones and cut into 2-3cm cubes.
7. Add the fish and the okra to the gravy and stir well to combine, pop the lid on and cook for about 7 minutes. Check that the fish is cooked through, if not, continue cooking until it is. Serve hot.