I mentioned in an earlier post that I made this dish for the Shabbat meal during Passover. Unfortunately, we did not take any photos. However, this is so delicious, I want to share it with you anyway. And to be perfectly honest, it does not make the most spectacular visual presentation, but the taste is amazing and even picky eaters enjoyed it. I saw the recipe in the Washington Post just before the holiday and because Frances and her sister were also observing Lent, I knew that I needed to make fish as my main course. Since we also wanted to observe the laws of Kashrut where we didn’t mix milk with meat, this opened the door for me to make my Parsley Soup as a starter and to allow dairy in some of my appetizers.
The story of the Bene Israel is an interesting one and I encourage you to read about them. The community, mostly residing in Mumbai, is small, but their food traditions are definitely worth exploring. Some people believe that they are one of the Lost Tribes of Israel.
The only ingredients that you might have to spend a bit of time searching out are tamarind paste and fresh curry leaves. They are both available online and at any good Indian grocery store. Curry leaves have no good substitute and are not the same as curry powder. I bought mine through Amazon and froze what I didn’t use. Since this dish was so popular, I feel confident that I will make use of them in the future. All this dish needed was Basmati rice and some chutneys to accompany it.
Bene Israel Fish Curry with Fresh Ginger, Tamarind and Cilantro from Joan Nathan
Yield: 6 servings (I made enough for 12 people, using 4.5 pounds net of fish – after skinning and boning)
2 pounds whiting, black sea bass or other firm, light-fleshed skinned fillets, cut into 4 ounce chunks (I used halibut)
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more as needed
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon chili powder (I like the one I get from Rancho Gordo)
Juice of 1 lime
3 large cloves garlic
1-inch piece peeled ginger root, coarsely chopped (I would use about 1 Tablespoon of finely chopped or pureed fresh ginger)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
2 or 3 small green chiles, such as serrano, stemmed and seeded if you want less heat (I used jalapeno. Here is where you can control the heat to your personal tastes)
3 fresh/frozen curry leaves
1 Tablespoon tamarind paste
1/4 cup vegetable oil (I used Grapeseed oil)
1 medium onion, chopped (1 cup)
2 vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into small dice (I used grape tomatoes cut in half – for this amount of fish, I would probably use 1/2 pint, but being exact isn’t that important)
1/2 cup water
- Place the fish in a nonreactive bowl or container. Sprinkle with the 1/2 teaspoon salt, turmeric, chili powder and lime juice. Gently toss to coat, then cover and refrigerate for no more than a few hours, but at least 2 hours.
- Meanwhile, combine the garlic, ginger, cilantro, green chilies (to taste), curry leaves, and tamarind paste in a food processor or blender. Puree to form a paste; transfer to a bowl. It is not the prettiest color but don’t be put off by that!
- Line a plate with a few layers of paper towels. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the fish (working in batches, as needed). Cook for about 2 minutes per side until golden. Use a slotted spatula to transfer the fish to the lined plate. Be gentle with the fish so you don’t break up the pieces.
- Wipe out the skillet, then add the remaining tablespoon of oil and heat over medium heat. Add the onion and tomatoes; cook for 5 to 8 minutes until the onion has softened, then stir in the garlic-tamarind paste. Add the water and stir through. Reduce the heat to medium-low; return the fish to the skillet and gently stir to incorporate, trying not to break up the fish pieces.
- Once the mixture has warmed through, the fish curry is ready to serve.
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