Fish in a light Spinach Curry for the winter evenings
I can’t believe myself that I have been posting so many fish recipes. Anybody will think that I am a fish-crazy person. But seriously, I actually love this light fish curry. Visit any Assamese household and if it is winter, chances are that you will be served this fish curry with spinach. It is a rustic, nourishing dish and is packed full of flavor as well as nutrients. Fortunately, I do not have to visit Assam in order to enjoy it as the ingredients are available everywhere all through the year.
I love the colours going into this wholesome fish curry – the fresh green of the spinach leaves, the bright red of the tomatoes, the purple onions, the brown ginger knob and the white garlic cloves. I remember reading somewhere that the more natural colours you have in your food, the more it is beneficial for health. I hope I don’t sound like your family doctor.
I love spinach now but I grew up as a fussy eater who would hate her greens. My mom had a tough time feeding me and never misses an opportunity to remind me that it is because of my fussiness that she developed a gastric ailment, which persists till date. I was cured of my dislike for greens by the sharp rebukes of my dad at the dining table. I call it ‘sharp rebuke’ with all the gentility I can muster. So, feel free to imagine the degree of that rebuke.
On to the recipe now. Unlike other Indian recipes involving spinach, which requires steaming/boiling/cooking the spinach and then grinding it into paste, the Assamese version entails the healthier version of just chopping the spinach and letting it cook in its own juices. Saves a lot of nutrition value and time, doesn’t it? Again, this curry is prepared with river/fresh water fish, which are generally milder in taste than its counterparts from the sea, and hence compliments the spinach, letting it take away all the glory. But I guess even sea food can be paired up with the spinach curry, although frankly, I have not tried this combination yet.
Fish in a Light Spinach Curry (Paleng Xaak aru Maas)
4-6 fish steaks (preferably river fish)
2 onions, chopped
2 small tomatoes, chopped
2 green chillies, split lengthwise
1 and ½ teaspoon ginger-garlic paste (or you can put only ginger juliennes)
1 big bunch of fresh spinach leaves, washed well and chopped
½ teaspoon panch foran (Assamese five spices - a mixture of fenugreek seeds, cumin, nigella seeds, fennel seeds and mustard seeds)
1 teaspoon turmeric powder (half and half)
½ teaspoon cumin powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Refined oil or mustard oil for cooking
Marinate the fish pieces in a little turmeric powder and salt for 10 minutes. Sauté them lightly, preferably in mustard oil, and keep aside.
In a deep wok or kadai, heat oil and put in the panch foran. Wait till they splutter and give out their aroma. Now, add the chopped onion, green chillies and ginger garlic paste. Sauté till the onions turn translucent and the ginger-garlic loses its rawness. After that, add the turmeric powder, cumin powder and chopped tomatoes. Stir well till the tomatoes soften and merge into the mixture. I think the addition of the tomatoes in the curry aids in lessening the slight bitterness present in the spinach.
Now, tip in the chopped spinach leaves, season with salt and pepper and cover the vessel. Let the greens cook in the water released in the process. Take care not to overcook the delicate spinach or that might reduce the nutrients present. Once the spinach is cooked, pour in the amount of water you want for your curry. Then slide in the fish pieces and let it simmer for 3-4 minutes.
Check again for the seasonings before taking it off the gas. As a last step, you can also add the scrapings off the pan where the fish pieces were fried to infuse a more fish-y flavor to the curry. Serve hot with rice.
This runny, light curry is a winter favourite in the family. In my childhood, nothing would cheer me up more than getting out of the thick blanket and lifting the lid of the vessel on the dining table to find a steaming spinach curry. It worked as good as a soup, too! I know river fish may not be readily available at many places, so how about you giving this recipe a try with sea-fish instead and letting me know if it actually works on the palate? Take care!