How can you pass up a cookbook called Around the World in 450 Recipes (London: Hermes House, 2005), especially when it is less than $7.00 at your local mega-mart shoppers’ club? I especially like its British perspective on American food but more about that another time because today I am exploring food using coconut milk. I adapted this recipe from the chapter of the book titled “India” but I suspect it is actually Sri Lankan. By the way, I am not color blind; it is called green curry because it contains coriander leaves.
A note about coconut milk: it is not as some believe the liquid inside a coconut. Rather it is made from coconut flesh. Traditionally the grated coconut was soaked in hot water then the milk was laboriously extracted with a large mortar and pestle. I learned from a long-ago Sri Lankan roommate to make it in a blender using desiccated coconut—a recipe follows. You can buy coconut milk in a can but many Asians consider it too thick.
- ¼ tsp. ground turmeric
- 2 Tbsp. lime juice
- ⅛ tsp. salt
- 12 ounces cod filet cut into 2-inch squares
- 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
- 2 or 3 green Serrano peppers, seeded if you wish
- 1 clove garlic, peeled
- ¼ peanuts or cashews
- ¼ tsp. fennel seed
- ¼ cup thick coconut milk (see recipe below)
- 2 Tbsp. neutral cooking oil, I use canola
- ½ tsp. cumin seed
- ½ tsp. ground coriander
- ½ cup thin coconut milk
- 1 Tbsp. fresh cilantro leaves, minced
In a bowl large enough to hold the fish mix the turmeric, lime juice, and salt. Add the fish pieces and turn to coat evenly. Set aside to marinate for 15 minutes at room temperature or at least 30 minutes under refrigeration.
Put the onion, Serrano peppers, garlic, peanuts, and fennel seed into a food processor and pulse to break up. Add the thick coconut milk and puree to a thick paste, adding a bit more coconut milk if needed. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed, well-seasoned or non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat and, when hot, add the cumin seeds. Fry them, stirring often, until they become fragrant and begin to pop. Add the ground coriander and fry for about 30 seconds being careful not burn either of the spices. Pour the paste in all at once and stir to incorporate the browned spices. Fry, stirring, until it has thickened and browned a bit, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the thin coconut milk and the cilantro leaves. Cook for a further 3 or 4 minutes or until slightly thickened
Add the fish pieces to the pan, return the gravy to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, turning the fish from time to time.
As suggested in the book, I served it with Pea and Mushroom Pilaf.
To make coconut milk:
Put 1 cup of unsweetened desiccated coconut into the jar of a blender (a food processor does not work as well) and pour in 1¼ cups boiling water. Allow to stand for a few minutes then blend on high speed for about 30 seconds. Pour into a strainer over a bowl. Squeeze as much liquid as you can out of the coconut. This is called thick coconut milk. Return the coconut to the blender and repeat the process with another 1¼ cup of boiling water. Strain into a second bowl. This is the thin coconut milk. If a recipe does not specify which to use I simply mix them together. To get coconut cream, let the thick milk sit until it separates. The cream is what forms on top.
Whatever you do not use right away will keep for a few days in the refrigerator. Warm a bit in the microwave to recombine before using.