Saturday, May 31, 2008

Baked Fish in a Spiced Broth--Cook's Book Club

I have pretty fortuitous in surfing food blogs and finding blogging events I want to get involved in like the Barefoot Bloggers, Royal Foodie Joust, Blog Party, etc. My timing was a bit off for this next event because I found it today and the deadline for the first posting was yesterday. I stumbled across a great site called Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity, and this post which led me to another great site: Hooked on Heat where Meena has created a perfect event for me, her Cook's Book Club. I am not sure how I missed this one, as much like Meena, I am obsessed with books and cooking--a look at the number of overflowing bookshelves in various rooms in my house (including my embarrassingly large number of cookbooks) will confirm this fact. I love her idea of picking a book to read and then cooking a dish inspired from it. Couple this with the fact that the book picked, Serving Crazy with Curry is one I read and enjoyed several months ago and then found and read the all author's (Amulya Malladi) other books except for her newest which is in the "going to read it soon" stack by my bed. and you can see why I decided to throw a dish together and throw myself on Meena's mercy and get it in a day late.
Serving Crazy with Curry is the story of Devi, who as her life is unraveling, (being fired, suffering a miscarriage, etc.) trys to commit suicide. Saved my her meddling mother, Devi refuses to speak and communicates instead through her cooking--taking traditional recipes and adding her own unique ingredients and twists to them. Although the subject matter could be perceived as a downer--there is hope, growth and humor in the novel and the descriptions of the food Devi cooks are intriguing and sound delicious. A favorite couple of lines in the book for me are when Devi makes her first dish--a unique ginger-apricot chutney (Devi calls it the "Anti-Saroj" Chutney" as it is completely against anything her mother does and is made and consumed with satisfaction as she is completely irritating her mother in the process.) "Devi told herself that she knew the difference between "afraid of suicidal person" praise and real praise. This was the real thing. Her chutney was a success. Pride swelled inside her and for the first time in a very long time she felt a small measure of confidence." I can relate to this because part of the joy I get from cooking is seeing and hearing the real pleasure and satisfaction things I cook give to others. You know when people really like something you make and the rush and feeling of confidence it gives is incredible!
So on to the recipe... Because I found the site only this afternoon and I had already gone to the store and did not want to return there, I had to look to my fridge and pantry for ingedients. I had some halibut that I was planning to make fish tacos with so I thought I should start with that. I thought about curry, but wanted something "brothy" and slightly spicy and with ingredients I could pull together quickly. I went to what has become a new favorite cookbook of mine: "5 Spices, 50 Dishes by Ruta Kahate" which I have cooked from on this blog before. (look here). I needed some inspiration and I found more than that--I found a wonderful recipe I could adapt and add some ingredients to change it up a bit, hopefully much like Devi might have done. An original recipe would have been nice but time was of the essence in this case! I felt the recipe fit the book as Devi makes a rasam (a South-Indian soup, usually thin and brothy and somewhat like a consomme, prepared mainly with the juices from tamarind or tomatoes) and this fish has a thin spicy soupy broth. I decided to add pineapple juice, crushed pineapple and chopped red bell pepper to give it a bit of a sweet/spicy flavor and a little Asian-Fusion.

Baked Fish in a Spice Broth
adapted from 5 Spices, 50 Dishes by Ruta Kahate
1 1/2 lbs long cod or halibut fillets, at least 1" thick
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
3 Tbsp canola oil
3 large shallots, finely minced (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 tsp finely grated fresh ginger (about a 1/2 piece)
1/4 tsp finely minced garlic (about 1 clove)
1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1 medium Roma tomato, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 Tbsp minced cilantro leaves
Lemon wedges for garnish
(my additions)
1/2 cup finely diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup crushed pineapple
1/4 cup pineapple juice
Preheat oven to 350 degree F.
Cut the fish into 3" square pieces. In a small skillet. toast the coriander seeds over low heat until browned and fragrant. Cool and finely grind the seeds. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat, add the shallots, and stir until they turn golden. Add the ginger, garlic, cayenne (and red pepper if using additions) to taste and stir constantly over medium heat heat for another 30 seconds, taking care that the mixture doesn't burn. Add the water, salt, ground coriander, (pineapple juice if using additions), and bring to a boil.

Place the fish pieces in a casserole large enough to hold them in a single layer, and sprinkle the tomatoes (and crushed pineapple) evenly over the top. Pour the spicy broth on top and bake until the fish is cooked through but not over done, about 10 minutes. You can use a fork to test one of the pieces of fish discreetly; if it flakes easily, it is time to remove the fish from the oven. Serve sprinkled with the cilantro and garnished with the lemon wedges.
Serves 4This is a wonderful, easy fish dish with wonderful flavors. I liked the addition of the pineapple and juice for it sweetness--which nicely contrasted with the spice from the cayenne. I only had a small hand full of yellow and red cherry tomatoes (mostly yellow ones), the red pepper added color as well as a subtle crunch. I would make this recipe again either as it is from the book, with these additions or maybe even try some other ingredients. It's a perfect soupy dinner.


OK--we'll see if I can get this into Meena's round-up. If not, I still feel good about completing the first post and will be timely with the next selection at the end of June, A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Housseini. That should be interesting. I read Kite Runner and really loved it but have put off reading his second book because I had heard that it is very good but pretty depressing and I have been reading some lighter things lately. I guess I will find out!

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