Tuesday, March 27, 2007

'Fish' and 'Chips': Spice

Autumn is finally here, though the days still vary wildly from one another. Crazy-making wind, knocking over my pots of herbs one day; hot, sweltering days and nights the next. Unpredictability is something I have learned to expect of Melbourne weather over the last five years. What did Crowded House sing about four seasons in one day?

Thankfully, regardless of the weather, Indian is always right.

Indian food does all the right things for me. Being traditionally vegetarian is a huge positive, but it’s the spice that I keep coming back for and the myriad of flavours that spices can create, both alone and in combination with one another that excites my palate.

Looking at the recipes below, it’s become blindingly obvious that I love two things. Spice and fat. Admittedly, fat is used judiciously most of the time in our kitchen. Well, maybe my idea of ‘judiciously’ isn’t quite yours, but bear with me. These potatoes are well worth it. The combination of turmeric (I used this one from Herbies), fennel seeds and ghee was breathtaking. Neither of us could speak for some time.

So the ‘chips’ part of the meal uses what initially seems a huge amount (4 tablespoons) of ghee – please don’t try to compromise, just go for a walk afterwards if you are inclined to worry about such things. Personally, I’d rather not worry and just enjoy this sort of cooking as the weekly treat that it is (and should be). After all, Ayurvedic practitioners have been cooking with ghee for centuries and I remember reading in Madhur Jaffrey’s beautiful memoir ‘Climbing the Mango Trees’ that sickly Punjabi children are fed spoonfuls of the stuff to strengthen their prana. That’s good enough for me.

Following the Indian theme, these spicy fishcakes are a great accompaniment to the potatoes being both light and succulent, akin to those beautiful, if not a little ubiquitous tiny Thai ones. That was the starting point at least. These were actually very successful. Was very pleased.

The fish: For 2 (makes about 10)

I used flathead fillets, but use any white fish fillets that you like.

In a food processor, blitz 1 peeled and finely chopped shallot, 1 peeled and roughly chopped clove of garlic, 10 roughly chopped fresh curry leaves and a tiny piece of fresh chilli. Or pound to a paste in a mortar and pestle (much less washing up and so deeply satisfying after a crappy day).

Add ½ teaspoon of garam masala, ½ teaspoon of mustard seeds and ½ teaspoon of ground cumin and mix well. Take 250g or thereabouts of flathead fillets and chop them really finely, mincing them to a paste. Or pulse to a paste in a food processor. In a bowl, combine the spice paste with the fish, mix well and shape into small patties. Lightly coat in a little flour, dusting any excess off and set aside for about 30 minutes in the fridge on a lightly floured plate. Shallow fry them in a little oil until golden on both sides.

A sauce:

All this spice needed a sauce to go with it and the best one I know for a spicy meal is a bit of thick, plain yoghurt mixed with a bunch of finely chopped fresh mint leaves, or coriander leaves if you prefer. I used to think that people preferred mint over coriander, but the times, it would seem, they are a changing.

The potatoes: Serves 2

Sookhe Aloo sounds so much better than Dry Potatoes with Ginger and Garlic, though that is a more accurate description. Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey.

500g of waxy potatoes

Sea salt

Thumb-sized piece of ginger

3 cloves of garlic, peeled

1 teaspoon of ground turmeric

4 tablespoons of ghee (or a light olive or macadamia oil)

1 teaspoon of fennel seeds

Scrub the potatoes well and place them in a saucepan of cold water. Add a good pinch of salt, bring to the boil then simmer until just tender at knife point (anywhere between 10 and 25 minutes depending on the size of your spuds). Drain and cool. Peel, then dice the potatoes into 3 cm pieces and set aside.

Peel and roughly chop the ginger and the garlic. Using a mortar and pestle, pound the ginger, garlic, turmeric and 1 teaspoon of sea salt to a paste. Alternatively, use a food processor, adding 3 tablespoons of water while the motor runs - the water isn't really neccessary if your pounding the mixture by hand.

Warm the ghee or oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. When hot, drop in the fennel seeds and let them sizzle for a second or two. Stand back (it will sputter) and add the ginger-garlic paste, reduce the heat a little and stir fry for 2 minutes.

Chuck in the diced potatoes, turn the heat up to medium and keep the potatoes moving about in the pan often for about 10 minutes. Madhur’s recipe suggests that the potatoes should end up with an even, crispy coating. Mine were delightfully half-mushy, sticking to the base of the pan and those crusty bits, scraped as I stirred, made all the difference.


Cindy said...

I love those crunchy bits on potatoes! I might try this recipe as a chip-like side to the eastern vegetarian burgers we sometimes make.

Lucy said...

And when those crunchy bits are warm and spicy too...

Your burgers look rather good Cindy, though TVP reminds me of my impoverished art school days. Endless meals of TVP... I might try some crushed tofu instead!

Freya and Paul said...

I am all for the justification of extra ghee in ones diet - I love the look of this dish!!

Sara said...

That looks lovely! I'm coming over ;)

Cindy said...

I did eventually try them with the burgers and here they are. At least as delicious as I anticipated! Thanks for the recipe, Lucy.

Lucy said...

Am very pleased that you liked them. Your idea to reduce the ghee is an excellent one.

Think those burgers are on next time the boys are here!