Had it not been for my love of “maa ke haathon ka bana ghana” (mom’s cooking), I would have always turned up unannounced at my parent’s door step just so that I could yell “Surprise” and see the delight on their faces. Alas, the joy I find in gluttony forces me to share my travel plans well in advance so that they can get a feast ready by the time I am home.
But my last trip was not planned, and my parents had to make use of some ordinary ingredients to come up with something that looked and tasted absolutely fabulous. It was the Meen Pollichathu – fish blanketed in spicy pearl onions and grilled to perfection. Banana leaves add to the flavour and aroma of the fish. Infact, many people pack warm rice and curries in banana leaves for journeys. (Once, during a train journey, someone sitting next to me opened such a parcel and the delicious aroma of rice and fish fry wafted around. By the time he finished his meal, I (and the entire bogie, I believe) was hungry and drooling, and my train food couldn’t have looked more pathetic 😉 )
1 3 dried red chili , snipped + green chilies , chopped
1 tablespoon heaped each of chopped ginger and garlic
1 teaspoon 1/4 teaspoons red chili powder + turmeric powder
2 tablespoons coconut milk thick
To taste, salt
2 tablespoons coconut oil
C. To grill
/ Banana leaffoil paper
A few drops coconut oil
Fry the fish till it is half cooked. Saute pearl onions along with spices. Wilt the banana leaf. Spread the pearl onion mixture onto a portion of the leaf, top it with the fish, and put more sauteed pearl onions on top. Wrap up the banana leaf and tie it up. Cook over a low flame till the fish is done.
Make a paste with all the ingredients labeled A. Make 2-3 shallow slits on each side of the fish, and rub the spice mix all over it. Let it rest for 30 minutes.
Heat coconut oil and fry the fish, so that it is half cooked. Remove from oil and keep aside.
In the same oil, fry cinnamon, fennel seeds and cloves for a few seconds. Add curry leaves and let them splutter for a couple of seconds. To this, add the pearl onions, green chilies and dried red chili. Sauté for a few minutes or till the pearl onions become pale.
Toss in the chopped ginger and garlic and continue sautéing till aromatic.
Reduce heat and add chili and turmeric powders and mix well. Finally add the tomato, coconut milk and adjust seasoning. Take it off the heat.
Grilling the fish in banana leaves give it a delicious flavour, but if you are unable to get hold of them, use foil paper instead. Tear the leaf (if using) into pieces large enough to wrap each fish. Move the leaf slowly over a gentle flame to wilt it. You need to do this till there is a noticeable colour change in the leaf. Doing so makes the leaf flexible, and it becomes easy to wrap it around the fish without tearing it.
On each piece of banana leaf, spoon out 1/6th of pearl onion mixture. Spread it out to ensure that it covers the length of the fish. Top it with the fish, and cover the fish with one more portion of the pearl onion mixture. Drizzle some coconut oil over the fish.
Wrap up the fish with the leaf taking care not to tear it. (To wrap, fold the top portion of the leaf over the fish, followed by the bottom half. Then bring in the left and right halves of the leaf over the fish.) And tie it up securely.
On a non stick pan over the lowest heat, drizzle a few drops of oil. Place the wrapped fish into the pan and cover and cook. After about 8 minutes or till the colour of the banana leaf appears brownish, flip the parcel over. Cover and cook the other side in the same way. Remove and serve hot in the banana leaf with lemon/lime wedges.
Use can use fish of your choice, such as Pearl Spot/Karimeen, Lady Fish/Kili Meen, Sardines/Mathi, cut and cleaned in salted water.