Meen kulambu: South Indian fish curry

Meen kulambu-South Indian fish curry

All kids have heroes and role models they want to grow up to become: Superman, astronauts, spies and the like. Mine was probably David Attenborough, whose BBC nature documentaries, notable “Life on Earth” had me in thrall and glued in front of a TV for much of my youth. (We’ll pass over my less-than-healthy addiction to cartoons.) I couldn’t believe one could get paid for traipsing around the wild discovering new flora and fauna. Such was his influence that I eventually ended up pursuing a highly unlikely (given my mediocre grades in school) academic career in a related field. It is saying something then that I think of Rick Stein as the culinary equivalent of David Attenborough, not only in how his various BBC series hold me in thrall, but also in his very academic style of presenting (food TV that both educates and entertains). And, just like his predecessor, he has had a massive impact on me, this time on my culinary interests.

North American viewers might wonder who this Rick Stein is as he is practically unknown there. Indeed, I, too, had never heard of him until I moved to the UK and came across his BBC TV series exploring Mediterranean and Indian food. But now he is easily my favorite chef. I love the way in which he weaves together the history, culture and food of wherever he happens to be visiting, followed by practical demonstrations on how to cook some of the dishes he’s just encountered. And I especially admire his curiosity and breadth: there aren’t many people who know as much about Catalan fish stews as they do about Bengali ones! Which brings me to today’s recipe from Rick Stein’s India: In Search of the Perfect Curry for a simple yet flavorful fish curry that is typical of South India in that it features fresh coconut and curry leaves. You can use any white flaky fish for this dish such as cod, haddock, pollock or hake.

Incidentally, Rick Stein has a Rick Stein: From Venice to Istanbul currently showing on BBC where he explores the cuisine of the countries of the former Byzantine empire. It is absolutely brilliant!


Meen kulambu: South Indian fish curry

Yield: 2 servings

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes



  • 1 red onion, quartered
  • 1 tomato, quartered
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 small dried red Kashmiri chile
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup grated fresh coconut

For the fish:

  • 250 g cod fillet (or other flaky white fish such as hake, pollock or haddock), cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • ½ tsp mustard seeds
  • ½ tsp udad dal
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 6-7 curry leaves
  • ¼ cup cilantro (coriander), coarsely chopped
  • Steamed basmati rice to serve


  1. Put all the paste ingredients in a small blender with a splash of water and blitz to a smooth paste.
  2.  Heat the oil in a small saucepan or skillet over a medium flame. Add the mustard seeds and udal dal and fry until the latter turns golden. Stir in the paste and turmeric and fry for another couple of minutes.
  3. Add ½ cup of water and bring to a boil. Add the fish pieces and gently mix with a wooden spoon to coat well with the sauce. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, shaking the pan every once in a while, for about 4 minutes until the fish is almost done.
  4. Stir in the curry leaves and cook for another minute or so. Taste for salt. Garnish with the coriander and serve with rice.

Taken from Rick Stein's India: In Search of the Perfect Curry: Recipes from My Indian Odyssey (link)

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