I always hear people talking about their mother’s cooking growing up – learning the traditional dishes of their family’s culture, generation-old recipes, knowing secret tricks passed down and finely honed – and I feel jealous.
My mother is a great cook (and taught me a lot of other valuable things), but she never learned how to prepare Ukrainian and Polish food. Like me, she basically stumbled her way through the kitchen teaching herself. She is always self-deprecating about her dinners, but truth be told, she makes the most exquisite roasts and tender meat I’ve ever tasted. Her roast beef, prime rib, pork, turkey, ribs, you name it, are all magical. She made a lot of typically western dishes, I guess you could say “meat and potato” types. I wasn’t ever exposed to curries or sushi or much fish at all.
I don’t remember being a picky eater (I was obsessed with onions and pickle brine, so that was a little weird). One of my first major relationships was with a guy who’s Mom was German – I mean lived on a farm in Germany during the war, German – I spent a whole heap of hours trying to choke down her cabbagey soups, gritty coffee and fatty goulashes.
I would kill to eat her Christmas brunch of roasted duck legs and her infinitely butter-laden potatoes now. It took a long time for my palate to accept new flavours and even longer to appreciate them. When I once cringed at the smell of boiled cabbage, I now salivate profusely.
I was like a blank canvas for flavour, I didn’t have those childhood aversions to certain foods (except Alfredo sauce – I still loathe it. See my lighter Skinny Pesto Carbonara for a easier to digest ‘cream’ sauce). I tried sushi at a Japanese friend’s house as a child and remembered hating it, only to realize 20 years later that tastes really do change.
Long story short (too late), I’m constantly learning about new flavours. Indian food seemed so inaccessible and intimidating because of the endless spices and layering of ingredients. Once I let go of the feeling of ‘doing it wrong’ I found a new way to approach eclectic flavours.
We should all worry a little less about doing it wrong and just focus on the doing…
FIERY FISH CURRY
I think this is the dish I am most pleased with. It’s been tweaked and retweaked into something quite delicate and balanced. I think the use of coconut oil is what really took it to a new and complex place. You can by all means substitute something else, but I implore you to try it this way first.
It reads like there is a lot going on here, but it really is a simple process. You can make the curry paste a few days ahead and just pop it in the fridge. I like my food spicy, but it gets balanced out with the sour and sweet flavours here. The fish is still the star, so make darn sure you don’t over cook it.
3 green onions, roughly chopped
3-4 bird’s eye chilies, seeds and ribs removed, chopped
a 3″ piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
3 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 c balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp fish sauce
1/2 c cilantro, packed
1 tsp each – ground cumin, ground coriander, cinnamon
1/2 tsp each – chilli powder, turmeric, ground cardamom, ground allspice
2 tbsp coconut oil
1/4 c water
600g white fish (haddock, halibut, cod, sole, basa etc)
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 red pepper, 2″ long slices
2 small tomatoes, cut into chunks
1 cups water
salt to taste
a small handful of cilantro leaves, torn
In the bowl of a food processor combine all the curry paste ingredients. Blitz until evenly combined, streaming in more water, if needed. You can make this paste days in advance.
Cut your fish fillets into 2″-3″ chunks and lay on paper towel lined plate. Sprinkle with some salt and juice of half your lime. Let sit for 10 minutes.
Place a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat and melt the coconut oil. Soften the onion and pepper for about 5 minutes. Keep an eye that it doesn’t brown or burn, turn down the heat if it does, you’ll want the onions translucent and only slightly coloured.
Add your paste and stir until it is heated through and beginning to caramelize. Toss in the tomatoes and add a cup of water, simmering with the lid on for 10 minutes, checking and adding water if it begins to stick. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, if needed.
Bring the sauce to a boil and slide in the fish making sure it all gets coated. Boil 5 minutes or until the fish is flaky and opaque. Do not overcook, if anything leave it a little under cooked as it will continue to cook in the hot sauce.
Spoon into wide bowls and scatter with the torn cilantro. Serve with some rice, paratha or naan. Garnish with some lime slices if you like.