Fish curry and nostalgia
It’s a well-acknowledged fact among family and friends that my mother’s fish curry is one of the very best you can eat. The great news is that it’s simple and easy to play with. Fry the spice paste longer and you have a richer flavor, cook for a shorter time after adding the coconut paste and you have a fresher creamier coconutty taste, temper with mustard, shallots and curry leaves and you have an indulgence. You could make this curry with any medium or large sized fish that has been cut into pieces, though you should keep an eye on the cooking time and adjust it according to how meaty or delicate the flesh is. Swap out the Kodumpulli (Kerala tamarind used specially for fish) for regular tamarind paste/kokum/sour tomatoes/raw mangoes and it will work just as well. Make sure you adjust the amount of souring agent to the tang that’s right for you. Malayalees like this rather hot and sour but it’s absolutely a personal choice. And remember, when it comes to buying fish, fresh always trumps frozen.)
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Indian, Kerala
  • Fish – .5 kg (cleaned and cut into curry size pieces)
  • Curry leaves – 3 sprigs
  • Coconut oil - 2-3 tablespoons (We malayalees think this curry tastes best with coconut oil but feel free to replace with mustard or any other cooking oil you prefer)
  • Chilli powder (mild) – 1.5 tsp
  • Kerala tamarind (kodum pulli) – 2 pieces (you can replace this with the ingredients mentioned in the note above)
  • Sugar - .5 teaspoon
  • Grated coconut – 1cup
  • Chilli powder (hot) - 1 tsp
  • Turmeric - ⅓ tsp
  • Fenugreek powder – scant ¼ tsp
  • Garlic cloves , peeled - 4
  • For pounding
  • Ginger, scraped – 1 inch piece
  • Garlic cloves, peeled - 6 small cloves
  • Shallots, peeled and ends trimmed - 6-10
  1. Add 1 sprig of curry leaves to the fish and set aside.
  2. Coarsely pound together the peeled ginger, garlic and shallots. (You can also coarsely grind this in a mixie but pounding these aromatics together in a mortar helps release and meld the flavours much better. On the other hand the chopping action of the mixie blade oxidises the ingredients, altering the flavour slightly)
  3. Grind together the grated coconut with 1tsp chilli powder, fenugreek powder and turmeric to a fine paste, adding as much water as you need for the mixture to grind well.
  4. Heat 2-3 tablespoons of coconut oil in an earthen ware pot (preferably) or a wok. Add the pounded shallot mixture along with the remaining 2 sprigs of curry leaves. Stir for about a minute till the shallot pieces start to turn golden.
  5. Add the mild chilli powder. Stir well on medium heat till fragrant, while making sure that the spice doesn’t burn. Turn heat down to low.
  6. Add the coconut paste and stir well for about 3-4 minutes. Add ¼ cup of water (my mother rinses out the mixie jar with this water to ensure that she uses up all the flavourful paste stuck to the walls of the jar). Stir well and then add just enough water to let the fish pieces be submerged when you add them in. (About 1 to 1.25 cup should be enough)
  7. Add 2 pieces of tamarind along with salt and sugar. Bring the gravy to a boil over high heat before gently slipping in the fish and bring it to a boil.
  8. Let the curry boil for 2 minutes and then shake the pot gently. (Do not stir or you may end up breaking the fish up). Cook on low heat for a couple more minutes till the fish is cooked through but tender.
Recipe by Bombay Chowparty at