Sunday, July 15, 2007

a new star in the kitchen

Weekend Herb blogging is a fine institution, initiated by the delightful Kalyn many moons ago now. It’s been a long time since I contributed a post specifically for this weekly event, which is just plain laziness on my part because almost all my recipes fit the criteria of featuring a herb, plant, vegetable or flower. Today’s recipe stars many wondrous herbs and vegetables but what makes it special for me is it is the first time I have used one particular herb in its fresh form – Turmeric.

Curcuma longa is a member of the ginger family (of which there are 3 from the clan in this recipe) and like it’s close, edible relatives it is the rhizome that is used in cooking. In Bali I saw the plumpest healthiest example of the root – our teacher explained the large, central mass was the “grandmother” and the smaller fingers, grandchildren. Here in Melbourne I’ve only ever found the babies at the market and I suspect they are all a little long in the tooth. It has a mild fragrance, nowhere near as zingy and peppery as ginger but it is a quiet achiever in the medicinal world. Other than a dye and a food flavouring, turmeric is a star in the arena of medicinal herbalism. All gingers have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties, technically a cox-2 inhibitor like some of those fancy arthritis meds but without the negative side effects. But I like it best as a liver tonic, which the Indians and Indonesians have always known about. As mentioned in a previous post, it is also a local cure-all antiseptic, the natural version of betadine.

But back to the food. In a curry so fragrant as this it is hard to single out the taste of turmeric. It is a member of a broader orchestra, adding a bit of a base note to a culinary symphony.

My favourite dish that we learnt to cook at the Casa Luna Cooking School was the fish coated in spices and bundled up in banana leaves. A quick whiz around the market filled the few gaps in fresh herbs needed to make this meal, however time ran out before the essential banana and salam leaves could be sourced. Undeterred we reproduced an altered version of the paste and added more water to make it a rich sauce in which to simmer fish and vegetables. As this curry is made with a little tomato it is a lovely change from a coconut curry, exploding with flavours as it hits your palate.

Balinese inspired fish curry

2-3 tabs vegetable oil (we used unrefined coconut)
250 g fish and 350 g assorted vegetables (we used locally caught blue eye, sweet potato, cauliflower and carrots)
(If you wish to make this with fish only use about 600 g firm fish)
4 shredded kaffir lime leaves

Curry Paste
1 large clove elephant garlic
small handful cashew nuts
3 tsp shrimp paste (toasted)
1 large tab tamarind, softened in hot water
4 small red chillies
1 tab fresh turmeric
2 tabs palm sugar
1 small red onion (or 3 shallots)
1 tsp sea salt (to taste, for balance)
2 stalks of lemongrass, bruised and chopped
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp coriander seeds, toasted
1.5 – 2 tabs galangal
1 tab fresh ginger
1/2-1 tin tomatoes (or equivalent fresh)

Toast the shrimp paste and coriander seeds. If using a food processor - grind the black pepper and coriander first. We decided to processes the paste, not pound in a mortar and pestle due to quantity, so we grated the ginger, galangal and turmeric as well. Whiz the spices up to a delicious mush.

Cube your fish and vegetables and put aside til needed. Fry the spice paste in some vegetable oil to release the aromas then add the vegetables and shredded lime leaves. Stir them all together, toss in the remaining tomatoes if you reserved half the tin and top up with water til you get the right consistency to simmer the veg. Once cooked, add the fish for about 3 minutes. Taste for balance in flavours – add more salt or a splash of fish sauce is needing a boost, palm sugar dissolved in hot water if it needs more sweet or a squeeze of lime juice if the acid is lacking.

Serve with steamed rice.

This is a great dish, high in flavour and low in fat. The herbs alone must add a couple of extra years of good health to your life!

Weekend Herb Blogging is hosted this week by Susan from Food Blogga. Don't forget to check FoodBlogga over the next few days to see the Herb Blogging round up for this week.

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Blogger Kalyn said...

Very cool. I've never seen fresh turneric either. I'm not likely to ever find it here I'd imagine, but at least I can read about it on your blog. Sounds like a lovely curry too. Great entry!

12:31 pm  
Blogger Susan said...

This is a fascinating entry for WHB! Thanks so much! I love the combination of ingredients you have selected and would like to make this recipe. However, I don't know how successful I'll be locating curcuma longa.

12:50 am  

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