People from my state seem to be just about everywhere. Everytime I go on an outing and hear someone chatter away in malayalam, I think of the popular movie dialogue, "Wherever you go, I am there!" If you ever hear of a tea stall on the moon, be assured it belongs to a Mathai or a Kunjacchen! I would say that in every family in Kerala, there is someone working in some far flung region of the country, atleast one NRI (Non Residential Indian), and even people holding foreign citizenship. Why so? The malayali's financial dreams can never be fulfilled by working in his own state, probably because we dream big (very big, mind you). In the past, many of us have moved to the oil rich middle east or the gulf or Persia, as we refer to the arab world, to finance our large homes, numerous cars, posh foreign schools, diamonds and gold for the ladies etc. Being unselfish, we shared our good fortune with friends and relatives by finding (or creating!) job opportunities that they could fill in, and sent them visas, and voila! we had "saved" one more family. Today, while the middle east continues to hold its charm, more and more people are migrating to USA, England and other countries occupied by the sayippu, with hopes of raking in lots of money, and living the good life.
While the story of how we spread around the world (and our love for riyals and dirhams and dollars and pounds) does sound like a happy one, we do miss our family back home and vice versa. The prospect of a short holiday in Kerala generates a lot of joy and excitement and the family concentrates on how they can make the visit a happy and memorable one for everyone. And food plays a key role in creating these happy memories. It would seem the visitor was living on a diet of pita bread, pasta and potatoes, the way he recites all his home made Kerala food fantasies to mummy dearest, who, on the other end of the phone line, notes down everything in loving detail. Almost always, a spicy red meen (fish) curry tops the list. To the pravasi malayali, nothing spells out home better than fish cooked in a bold and flavourful red chili sauce sauce infused with fish tarmarind, curry leaves, shallots, garlic and ginger.
1 kg fish, sliced and cleaned
2 teaspoons mustard powder
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
2 tablespoons ginger, julienned
1 bulb garlic, each garlic pod sliced into two, lengthwise
10 shallots, sliced lengthwise
4 pieces kudam pulli/fish tarmarind/gamboge (sun dried and smoked to a black colour)
2 tablespoons red chili powder
2 sprigs curry leaves
To taste, salt
As required, water
2 tablespoons coconut oil
Soak the kudam pulli in a cup of water for atleast 15 minutes.
Add two tablespoons of water to the chili powder, and make a thick paste.
Heat oil in a mann chatti or earthen pot. (Meen curry is always made in an earthen pot in Kerala, which contributes to the flavour of the dish. But you can use a normal non stick pan if you do not have an earthen pot). When the oil is almost smoking hot, add the mustard seeds, followed by the fenugreek seeds.
Once the mustard seeds have stopped spluttering, add the shallot slices and fry for a minute. Add ginger, and saute till the onions slices are golden brown.
Add the chili paste and saute on a low flame for a minute. (Expect to sneeze and cough at this point.) Add the kudam pulli along with water, the sliced garlic, curry leaves and one more cup of water. Mix well. Add salt, followed by fish pieces.
Once the curry comes to boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook uncovered till fish pieces are completely cooked.
Do not use a spoon to stir the curry while it is cooking because the fish is very soft. Instead, you can swirl the pot once in a while.
The fish curry tastes better the next day, enough time for all the flavours to be absorbed into the fish. Infact, as a rule, fish curry to be served at marriage receptions, is made the previous day itself.
Enjoy your fish curry with plain rice or brown rice.