Sri Lankan Cod Curry + Charred Green Beans
Earlier this week dark clouds nipped swiftly across the state — a soggy cold front that left the ground strewn with fallen leaves. How superbly autumn, I found myself thinking.
The days since are warm and bright, but I seize every opportunity, no matter how brief, to savor seasonal, Wisconsin-like temperatures. That includes loading up a menu with cold-weather meals. Welcome back (for now), comfort food.
For you today I have flaky, buttery cod in a creamy, warmly spiced curry sauce + deeply charred green beans dry-fried with lots of onion, ginger and more spices.
Both are my quick weeknight, use-what-we-have adaptations of recipes from At Home with Madhur Jaffrey (a book I recommend to anyone who wants to get acquainted with simple Indian/South Asian cooking): cod fillets in place of swordfish + Bhuni Bhindi, or okra with shallots, for which I swapped in fresh green beans.
Many curries contain heavy pours of coconut milk. They’re thick and rich and delicious. Madhur’s recipe calls for 1/2 cup coconut milk, but I chose to keep this light to avoid overpowering the fish and spices, instead using a very modest amount of coconut cream.
As for the more unique ingredients — curry leaves and asafoetida — don’t sweat it if you can’t find them. Fresh basil stands in fine for the curry leaves, and onion powder is a suitable alternative to asafoetida. If you’re up for an adventure, though, definitely hunt around at your local Indian or Asian markets.
Never be afraid to make simple substitutions!
What’s in it for me?
Cod is high in protein and low in fat. At only about 90 calories and less than 1 gram fat, a 3-ounce (cooked) serving contains more than 19 g protein. This serving also provides almost 50% of your daily need for the antioxidant selenium, is a good source of phosphorous and vitamins B12, B6 + niacin (B3).
Green beans, like other green veg, are rich in a variety of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. One cup of cooked green beans is just less than 45 calories, but offers one quarter of your vitamin K DV, roughly 20% of your DVs for vitamin C, manganese and vitamin A, 10% of your daily folate, 4 g fiber and even 2 g protein!
Contrary to popular belief, curry powder does not come from curry leaves. The small, pointed green leaves are integral to South Indian cuisine, imparting a strong aroma and tangy flavor, kind of like a cross between fresh citrus and aniseed. Find them fresh or dried at most Indian and Asian markets.
Asafoetida is an amazingly pungent, neon yellow spice that is used very sparingly in recipes, providing an onion-y smell and taste. Often referred to as “devil’s dung” in reference to its almost sulfur-like odor (+ the reason for its nearly-impenetrable plastic containers), I promise it gives dishes an extra something, and is worth seeking out. (Though, if you can’t find it, or don’t want to try it, simply omit it from any recipe!)
Use any firm fish you like, or switch it up with any quick-cooking cut of poultry, meat or plant protein, like tofu, tempeh, even chana dal or chickpeas. Increase or decrease any of the spices or chillies depending on your taste as well. Stick with green beans, or why not give okra a try? In keeping with the season you could try cubes of pumpkin or a winter squash as well.
As you can see, these recipes are both terrifically versatile. Plus the main + side dish combo takes 30 minutes or less from start to finish, making it ideal as a healthier midweek comfort meal. Serve up just the two, or pair with warm naan, chapati or pita, fluffy brown rice or long grain Jasmine rice, or servings of my fragrant Basmati rice. Enjoy!
Tell me… What makes the ultimate curry for you?
- FOR THE CURRY
- 1 lb cod fillets, about 3/4-inch thick, skin removed
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 tsp whole brown mustard seeds
- 1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 15 to 20 fresh curry leaves or fresh basil leaves (see HGN Notes)
- 1 fresh hot green or red chilli, such as Thai bird's eye, slit slightly
- 1 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1 Tbsp coconut cream (see HGN Notes)
- 1 tsp garam masala (see HGN Notes)
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground or freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp ground asafoetida or onion powder (optional; see HGN Notes)
- 1/2 cup water (or stock), plus more as needed
- ___ + + + + ___
- FOR THE GREEN BEANS
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
- 1 lb fresh (or frozen and thawed) green beans, ends trimmed, kept whole or cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion or shallot
- 1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp finely grated peeled fresh ginger
- 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
- FOR THE COD
- Pat dry the cod fillets with a paper towel, and lightly season each with salt on both sides. Set aside.
- In a large skillet over medium-high, heat the oil. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the mustard seeds. As soon as the mustard seeds begin to pop (in a matter of seconds), stir in the onions. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens a bit, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic, curry leaves and chilli, stir, and cook 1 minute. Add the tomato paste, coconut cream, garam masala, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg and asafoetida (if using), cook 1 minute more, then stir in the 1/2 cup water, scraping up any bits from the bottom of the pan. Once the mixture comes to a simmer, cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook gently for 10 minutes.
- Place the cod fillets into the skillet and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring gently a few times, until the fish is just cooked, about 3 to 4 minutes depending on thickness -- it will be opaque throughout and flake easily. (If the sauce is cooking down too much, add a splash more of water or stock.) Taste the sauce at this point, and season as needed with salt and pepper.
- ___ + + + + ___
- FOR THE GREEN BEANS
- While the curry cooks, heat the oil for the green beans in a separate large, preferably nonstick, skillet over medium-high. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the cumin seeds and let them sizzle for about 10 seconds. Stir in the green beans and onions, then use a spoon or rubber scraper to spread the beans out as evenly across the bottom of the skillet as you can. Let them fry for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, each time making sure the beans are once again spread out evenly on the bottom -- this is how we char!
- Reduce the heat slightly to medium, and continue to stir and spread the same way for 5 minutes more, until the onion browns as well. Reduce the heat further to low, and add the coriander, ginger, and a pinch of salt. Stir, and continue to cook for another 5 to 7 minutes, or until the green beans are crisp and charred to your liking. Stir in the lemon juice, and serve hot with the curry. (If done before the curry is finished, cover to keep warm.)
Curry leaves and asafoetida can usually be found at Indian and Asian specialty markets. If you can't find the former, substitute fresh whole basil leaves; and if you can't find the latter, substitute a pinch of dried onion powder or omit entirely.
Coconut cream can be purchased in the store, but is often loaded with preservatives, stabilizers and sometimes added sugar. Here are two tricks to make your own:
1. Chill a can of full fat coconut milk for several hours in the refrigerator; NOT the freezer. The thick part that separates and rises to the top is your coconut cream. Spoon that off, and reserve the remaining milk for other uses.
2. You can also make your own: Soak 1 part unsweetened coconut shreds or flakes with 1 part hot water for 10 to 20 minutes. Let cool, then puree in a high-powered blender for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the mixture is fairly smooth. Strain through a cheesecloth or fine sieve, squeezing or pressing out as much liquid as possible. After refrigerating this coconut milk for several hours, you can proceed as indicated in option 1 above.
+ Use any firm fish you like, like cod, halibut, swordfish or mahi-mahi. Madhur Jaffrey also suggests pompano, sole, haddock, mackerel and salmon as alternatives.
+ You can also trade the fish for any quick-cooking cut of poultry, meat or plant protein, like tofu, tempeh, even dal or chickpeas.
+ Switch up the veg by swapping peas, sliced bell peppers or okra for the green beans. For a hint of October, try cubed pumpkin or winter squash in place of the green beans, or add a couple spoons of pumpkin puree to the curry sauce.
+ Increase or decrease any of the herbs, spices or chillies depending on your tastes.
+ Serve with warm Indian breads and crisps like naan, roti, parantha, pappadum or chapati; or alongside warm rice or grains, such as long-grain Basmati or Jasmine rice, brown rice, quinoa, barley or millet.
Recipe adapted from At Home with Madhur Jaffrey.
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