This recipe, from my Dock Kitchen Cookbook, is based on the classic Keralan fish moilee. It’s a bit time-consuming because you have to make your own coconut milk, but is worth it. Homemade coconut milk is much more delicate and lighter than shop-bought. If you don’t have the time, water-down tinned coconut milk by half.
- 2 coconuts, cracked and finely grated (see note)
- 1 litre (4 cups) boiling water
- olive oil
- 20 fresh curry leaves
- 2 red onions, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 1 red chilli finely sliced
- 1½ cm (1 inch) piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 tsp black mustard seeds, ground
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- ½ tsp fennel seeds, ground
- 15 cm (6 inch) cinnamon stick, broken in half
- 3 tsp red wine vinegar
- 6 zucchini (courgettes), cut into 2¼ cm (1 inch) wedges
- 4 x 175 g (6 oz) hake fillets, or other firm white fish
- 2 tomatoes, cut into rough chunks
- sea salt
- steamed rice or chapattis, to serve
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Place the grated coconut in a saucepan or large metal bowl and pour the boiling water over it. Leave it to steep while you prepare the remainder of the ingredients.
Heat a generous glug of oil in a wide, heavy-based saucepan over high heat and add the curry leaves. When they crackle, add the onion, garlic, chilli and ginger. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 10 minutes, until the onion is soft and sweet. Add the spices and continue to cook for another 5 minutes, then add the vinegar, cook for 1 minute and turn the heat down to very low.
Lay a clean piece of double muslin in a large bowl and pour some of the coconut and water into it, quickly picking up the corners of it to make a bag. Squeeze as much liquid as you can through the bag. Repeat with any remaining liquid and coconut from and squeeze that too. Discard the grated coconut after you have squeezed it dry.
Add the coconut milk and zucchini to the onion mixture and bring to the full boil. Taste for salt and add some if necessary. Reduce the heat to medium and leave to bubble for 10 minutes. Bring back up to the boil, then add the fish and the tomato. Reduce the heat and simmer for a further 5–10 minutes, until the fish is cooked through. Serve with steamed rice or chapattis.
• To crack a coconut, place on a surface with the three eyes facing up, with a tea towel underneath. Use a heavy instrument to strike the top of the coconut until it cracks in half – be careful of the coconut water inside. Discard the coconut water. Use a coconut grater (available from kitchenware stores or Indian grocers) to finely grate the coconut flesh.