In the display case was a brightly painted and gilded Torah ark, familiar yet exotic beyond anything I could imagine a Jewish artifact being. Nearby was an unadorned metal hanging oil menorah, simple, plain and worn. To me the two illustrated the breadth of life as a Jew in southern India. They were part of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life’s exhibit about Jews in Kerala. The exhibit, at the collection’s Berkeley gallery, inspired me to play with some of the flavors and ingredients favored by Jews and others in that region.
For both recipes, be sure to use finely shredded, unsweetened dried coconut. Seed the jalapeños to lessen their heat. Serve the Kerala Flavor Fish Cakes as a first course or light entrée.
Kerala Flavor Fish Cakes
|Decoration from Kerala synagogue|
Makes 8 cakes
4 cloves garlic
4 green onions (scallions) white and green parts, cut in thirds
1 small jalapeño, roughly chopped, seeded if desired
1” square of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 lb. boneless, skinless red snapper fillets, cut in large chunks, cold
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
2 eggs, beaten
2 Tbs. dried, shredded, unsweetened coconut
4 Tbs. refined coconut oil
Coconut-Cilantro Chutney (see recipe)
1 cup fresh, chopped tomatoes
Combine garlic, green onions, jalapeño and ginger in food processor. Pulse until chopped, stopping to scrape down sides of container as needed. With motor running, add chunks of fish one by one until very finely chopped and fully incorporating the vegetables. Open lid, scrape down sides as needed, add coriander, cumin, cardamom, salt, pepper, eggs and coconut shreds. Close lid and pulse until combined. Open lid, scrape down and make sure everything is well mixed.
Wet hands with cold water. Shape fish into patties 2 1/2” in diameter and 1/2” thick. Heat coconut oil in a large, heavy fry pan over medium high heat until a bit of the fish dropped in bubbles on all sides. Add fish cakes, working in batches in necessary. Fry for two minutes on each side on medium high. Lower heat to medium and fry an additional minute on each side. Fish cakes should be browned, firm to the touch and cooked through. Drain on paper towels.
Serve hot, warm or room temperature topped with Coconut-Cilantro Chutney and tomatoes. Pass extra chutney.
Makes about 2 cups
1 cup dried, shredded, unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup plus 1/2 cup water
1 small chopped jalapeño, roughly chopped, seeded if desired
1 cup roughly cut cilantro leaves, packed
1/4 cup roughly cut mint leaves, packed
1 tsp. finely chopped ginger
2 Tbs. tamarind concentrate or paste (or use 2 Tbs. lemon juice)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
Combine the coconut with 1/2 cup water and let sit for 5 minutes. Put 2 Tbs. of remaining water in bottom of blender jar. Add jalapeño, cilantro, mint, and ginger. Blend until finely chopped. Add soaked coconut (do not drain), tamarind, salt and sugar, blend again until ingredients are almost pureed, adding remaining water in batches as needed to help ingredients blend. You may need to stop the blender and scrape down the sides or mix contents and then replace the lid and restart the blender several times. Taste and correct seasoning. Stir before serving. Keep leftovers refrigerated for up to a few days.