This is a household recipe for many Keralites. Kerala is a state in Southern India , blessed with a very long coast- line. Because of the proximity to the sea and subsequent availability of a variety of fish , majority of Keralites are fish-lovers. Most of our households are blessed with wonder-cooks ( also called "mom"s) who have myriad marine-recipes up their sleeves, to include fish in our daily-diet without causing much boredom to the palette.
My method of making Puli-meen has evolved from a combination of my mom's and my mom-in-law's methods. My mom has been making Nei-meen ( Indo Pacific King Mackarel/ Seer Fish) curry like this from the time I could remember, and we used to call it **Mulaku-Curry , maybe because of its red-hot-colour. After I got married, I heard Joe rave about his Amachi's (mom's) Puli-meen, and the way he described it , I was sure it was the same Mulaku-curry with a different alias. I had the original recipe from my mom; so during one of my trips to India , I convinced Amachi to let me help her make it. Puli-meen , as Joe claims, is a very Syrian-Christian way for preparing fish with with ginger, garlic, onions and some spices. For the tangy part, Kudam-puli is added instead of tamarind. After couple of attempts, I managed to make a version of Puli-meen in my kitchen, which Joe certifies as " the closest in taste to the authentic one".
Traditionally in Kerala , fish curries are cooked in clay pans ( called "man-chatti"). It is amazing how this can change the flavor of the curry, and keeps the fish moist even with very little gravy. I managed to get a chatti from one of the Indian grocery stores here in the Bay-Area couple of years back and have been cooking fish in it eversince.
- 4 tbs cooking oil
- 1 tsp black mustard seeds
- 1 tbs grated ginger ( approximately 1/2 of medium knob)
- 1 tbs minced garlic ( approximately 4 large cloves)
- 1/2 cup of pearl onions sliced into quarters
- 1 stalk of curry leaves
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 3 tsp red-chilly powder ( I prefer to use Kashmiri red-chilly powder)
- 1/8 tsp fenugreek powder
- 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- 5 slivers of kudam-puli (leave soaked in water for about 5 min before using)
- 2 cups of water
- Salt to taste
- 15-20 pieces of fish ( I used 2 fillets of tilapia )
- Set the pan in medium heat and add the oil.
- Once the oil is smoking hot add the mustard seeds and wait for them to pop.
- Add the ginger, garlic , curry leaves & onions and saute till they start turning brown.
- Lower the heat.Add turmeric, red-chilly,coriander & fenugreek powders and saute well ; till they turn really dark in color, almost the darkest brown.
- Add the water. Once it starts simmering, add the salt & kudam-puli.
- Let simmer and then add the fish pieces. Cook for for about 10 min. (Cooking time for the fish will vary depending on what variety you use. Adjust accordingly)
Lifesavers : To get the distinctive flavors of the authentic recipe it is advisable to use traditional ingredients . For eg. substituting the pearl-onions with big onions , would make the gravy a lot milder in taste , because the big onion is sweeter.
* Kudam-puli ( Gambooge) is a fruit indigenous to the South-Western cost of India. The fruit is well known for it's culinary and medicinal uses. The seeds are removed and the rind is sun-dried before it is stored for later use (Available at most Indian stores in the US). It is also well praised for its medicinal value as a digestive aide.
**Mulaku : Chilli