Gearing up for a curry cook-off with a dish inspired by the Indian coast

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Halibut is the fish used in this classic Keralan curry that Austin culinary instructor Shefaly Ravula makes in her classes and at home. Photo by Shefaly Ravula.
Halibut is the fish used in this classic Keralan curry that Austin culinary instructor Shefaly Ravula makes in her classes and at home. Photo by Shefaly Ravula.

Halibut is the fish used in this classic Keralan curry that Austin culinary instructor Shefaly Ravula makes in her classes and at home. Photo by Shefaly Ravula.

Until she became a mom, Shefaly Ravula had been a physician’s assistant who spent her nonworking time cooking and learning more about cooking.

But the Houston-born Ravula says that after she had her girls, she didn’t find the health care industry as rewarding as it once was. She wanted to focus on raising her little ones and maybe starting a new career around food. She’d always loved to cook, learning Indian dishes from her mom at an early age and then expanding to foods from around the world when she was in college.

It was that passion that inspired her to start teaching cooking classes and eventually start a food blog, Shef’s Kitchen (shefskitchen.com), where she posts some of the favorite dishes from her classes and her own home cooking.

She and her family were out in Big Bend National Park a few weeks ago, where I ran into them on one of the trails. Small world, right? With the Austin Food Blogger Alliance Colossal Curry Cook-Off coming up Saturday, I asked if Ravula wouldn’t mind sharing one of her favorite curries, and this is the one she picked when we both got back to Austin. (Full disclosure: Both Ravula and I are members of the food blogger alliance, and I have been on the board since it started in 2011.)

In the original post on her blog, Ravula wrote that this dish came from a six-week trip that she and her husband made — before they had kids — to the southern coast of India, to the state of Kerala.

That was the first time she’d had Keralan cuisine, spiced with curry leaves, chilies, turmeric, black pepper and cumin and cooled with coconut milk. This fish molee is one of the classic curries she had there, and back in Austin, she can find the ingredients, including curry leaves and fresh tumeric, at Indian markets and even some upscale grocers. Curry leaf plant (not curry plant) can also be found at It’s About Thyme nursery, Ravula says.

Show us what you’re cooking by adding #Austin360Cooks to your posts on social media. Each week, we run one of our favorite submissions in the food section, and you can see the recent contributions at austin360.com/360-cooks-april2016.

Keralan Fish Curry (Fish Molee)

1 lb. halibut, cubed into 1-inch pieces, leaving skin on
1/2 tsp. ground dried turmeric mixed with 1/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. coconut oil
1/4 tsp. cumin seed
1/4 tsp. brown or black mustard seeds
10-15 fresh curry leaves, plucked off stems, left whole (optional)
1/2 red onion, sliced
1 green chili (Serrano or Thai bird), quartered lengthwise
1-inch piece fresh turmeric root, peeled
1-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled
4 fresh garlic cloves
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup (8 oz.) unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (optional)
Freshly cooked basmati rice, for serving

Sprinkle the turmeric-salt blend over the fish cubes and rub on with your hands or a spoon. Set aside.

Heat oil in a Dutch oven or medium-size nonstick pot over medium heat. Pan-fry the fish pieces skin-side down, setting the pieces one by one gently with tongs into the hot oil. Let the pieces sit for about a minute and then check to see if they release on their own. (This means they are ready to flip over; the skin will start to curl up on its sides). Flip pieces over gently one by one and cook for another minute. Remove pieces to a plate and set aside.

To the same pot (the remaining oil will be yellow-tinged), add the cumin seeds and fry for a few seconds. Do not allow blackening. Add the mustard seeds, and when the mustard seeds begin to pop, immediately add curry leaves to the pot. (The curry leaves will splatter, so keep a lid nearby.)

Lower the heat, and then stir in onions. Add the chili (seeds and all). Use the full chili if you want it spicy! Cook for 5 minutes on low heat.

Meanwhile, combine the fresh turmeric, fresh ginger and garlic cloves in a mortar and pestle (or a food processor, or grate them all into a small pile). If using the mortar, sprinkle in a pinch of salt and mash to a coarse paste. Add paste to the onions and stir.

Stir in black pepper, coriander, cumin and salt to the pot. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour in the coconut milk and add 1/4 cup water. Stir well and cook for a few minutes.

Gently add fish pieces to the pot. You can swirl the pot around, but halibut is a firm enough fish that it shouldn’t break down if handled gently. Cook the fish in the curry for a few minutes. Serve hot over or next to steaming basmati rice. Sprinkle with cilantro, if desired.

— From Shefaly Ravula, Shef’s Kitchen (shefskitchen.com)

 


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