Monday, December 2, 2013

Aiyla / Bangda / Mackerel Currry - a Kerala Fish Curry

Picture a small cottage at the side of the fields overlooking swaying coconut trees and endless stretches of paddy fields. A gentle breeze blowing across, bringing with it strains of a barely discernable song and an aroma of something nice cooking away on a wood fire stove. Now what completes the picture for Keralites? Focus onto the pot bubbling away on the stove, it is a Fish or Meen Curry, and alongside is a pot of red unpolished rice. Take this a little further - at lunchtime, these pots and plates are kept on the floor and each person is handed a plate heaped with boiled red rice and a little fish / meen curry on the side. The traditional way to enjoy this meal is by pressing handfuls of rice in the insides of the palm into balls and dipping these rice balls in the fish curry and quickly popping it into the mouth. A satisfied sigh follows after it is swallowed. A heaped plate is thus demolished in a matter of minutes and a satiated burp follows.
Today, when my mother made the fish / meen curry in a typical Keralite way it was easy to imagine the above. The absence of the many props did not lessen our enjoyment of our fish and rice lunch.  We made the aiyla / bangda fish in a coconut and coriander gravy - a pacha thenga and mallee aracha curry in the chatty. Typically, my mother's measurements are described as a little of this and either a small or big spoon of that. This time, though, she did wait for me to measure the main ingredients out. So, here goes the recipe .....

Aiyla / Bangda /Mackerel fish - 6
Thenga / Nariyal / Coconut grated - 3/4th cup packed
Cheriya ulli / Sambhar onions / Shallots - 12
Mallee / Dhaniya / Coriander pwd - 6 tbsp
Green chilli - 4
Ginger - 1.5 inch pc
Garlic cloves - 5 to 6
Curry leaves - 15 to 20
Kodumpulli - 1 pc (the Kerala kokum)
Turmeric pwd - 1 tsp
Red chilli pwd - 4 tsp (mix of kashmiri & hot chilli powders)
Coconut oil - 1.5 tbsp
Salt as per taste
Clean the fish, cut it into pieces and apply salt and keep aside. Slit. The green chillies lengthwise and julienne the ginger. Wash the kodumpully and soak it in water. Incase kodumpully and shallots are not available substitute with 2 pieces kokum and 3/4th of medium sized onion.

Add the grated coconut, coriander powder, shallots, red chilli powder and garlic into a blender jar and grind to a fine paste.
Take the chatty (or any pan) and add the ground paste, slit green chillies, curry leaves, ginger juliennes, kodumpulli, turmeric powder and a bit of salt. Add about 2 to 2.5 cups of water to make a watery thin gravy and mix well. Add the fish and put the chatty on the stove on high heat. When the curry starts boiling, lower the heat and let it cook. It will take only about 10 to 15 minutes for the curry to be done. Hold the chatty with mittens and swirl it to mix the curry. Check the curry for salt and sourness. If the curry is too sour the kodumpully can be removed. This curry should have medium thick gravy which is hot and sour. If cooking in a chatty, the chatty retains heat and the curry continues to cook for some time even after taking it off the heat. The gravy thickens during this time so adding a bit of extra water at the start helps.

When done add the coconut oil and take off the heat. Keep covered for a few minutes and then take the lid off.
Serve hot with rice and a thoren.

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