At the heart of Indian cuisine is a deft and exuberant use of spices. While some are used for heat, many simply supply huge, complex flavor. And at the heart of Indian spices is garam masala, a spice blend that sees almost daily use in Northern Indian kitchens – and in many South Asian kitchens as well. Typically, it is made fresh from family recipes for each day’s cooking. Though the mix varies regionally – and from kitchen to kitchen – it often includes some variation of peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, coriander, cumin seeds, nutmeg, and cardamom.
Recipes abound, from simple to complex. Happily, garam masala is also available as a ready-made mix from spice shops, Asian markets and in many supermarkets. Okra is another ingredient that Indian cooks respect and do delicious things with – as do Chinese, African, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Guatemalan, and Vietnamese cooks. Here in the United States, it is primarily seen as a Southern vegetable to be added to gumbo or breaded in cornmeal and fried.
To me, okra is delicious just about every way I’ve ever eaten it. I know not everyone shares this view. I encourage you to try it in this dish. But if okra is an absolute deal breaker for you or one of your diners, substitute broccoli florets, blanching them in boiling water first.
For the fish, any fairly sturdy white-fleshed fish will do. Tilapia, haddock and halibut are all good options. You can serve the fish mixture with plain rice or sautéed noodles, but I really recommend the recipe below. With coconut milk and cumin, and this rice adds a lot to the overall meal.
Stir-fried masala fish and okra, rice with coconut milk and cumin
Serves 2 to 3
For the fish and okra
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 Serrano chile, minced
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 pound firm white-fleshed fish, such as tilapia, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/2 pound okra, sliced (fresh or thawed, if frozen)
2 scallions, sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
For the rice
1 cup rice
1-1/2 cup water
1/2 cup coconut milk, light or regular
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1. Combine lemon juice, Serrano pepper, garam masala, cayenne pepper, turmeric, dry mustard, and coriander in a large bowl. Add fish and stir to combine. Set aside. Rinse okra and pat dry with paper toweling.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons canola oil in a large sauté pan over medium flame. Add cumin seeds and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add okra to pan and cook, stirring frequently. Drizzle in additional oil if needed. If using fresh okra, cook for about 10 minutes; if using frozen, cook for about 7 minutes.
3. Add fish mixture to the pan, drizzling in additional oil, if needed. Cook, stirring frequently, until fish is just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in scallions and cilantro.
4. Meanwhile, cook the rice. Combine rice, water, and coconut milk in a pan. Season with salt and bring to a boil over medium-high flame. Stir in cumin, reduce heat, cover, and simmer until rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in rice vinegar and cayenne pepper.
5. Spoon cooked rice onto plates. Top with fish mixture and serve.
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