Find Both Flavor and Health Benefits With Meen Kulambu

Meen Kulambu is a delicious dish with many health benefits. (Dr. Priya Jagannathan)

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Meen Kulambu is a rustic countryside comfort food enjoyed on the Indian coastline, as well as in Singapore and Malaysia. In different regions, you will find this dish in a variety of forms and under different names, but they will all contain the same core ingredients. This dish, though viewed as a poor man’s staple, is enjoyed by all socio-economic groups as the flavor profile speaks for itself.

First, the fish — seafood is an excellent source of protein, vitamins A and D, minerals, and omega fatty acids that help nourish the bodies of the people who have a very challenging, and in many cases, impoverished lifestyle. In this recipe, Indian King Fish, pomfret, red snapper, salmon, cleaned whole sardines, etc. all would work, but avoid using tuna steaks.

Next, there are spices and herbs that help elevate the dish in both health benefits and flavor. Tamarind has beneficial effects in decreasing inflammation and is a natural analgesic. Turmeric, with its bright yellow/orangish hue, is loaded with antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and glucose-lowering properties. Lastly, black pepper, fenugreek, and garlic share natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

The delicate use of sweet and sour with spicy ingredients in this dish lends just the right balance to delight the taste buds. As my mother before me, I use tamarind, turmeric, black pepper, fenugreek, and garlic to the dish along with fresh, tangy tomatoes to allow the flavors of different ingredients to intermingle and complement one another.

Note: Tamarind concentrate, fresh curry leaves, Turmeric, and Fenugreek seeds are readily available in local Indian markets like Cash and Carry and Patel Brothers. The spices are also available at Whole Foods Market.

Meen Kulambu

Serves 4-6

The finished meen kulambu can be served with rice, polenta, etc.
The finished meen kulambu can be served with rice, polenta, etc. (Dr. Priya Jagannathan)

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound of cleaned fish steaks
  • 1 large red onion, diced (white onion can be substituted)
  • 2 cups of crushed tomatoes or 2 cups of tomato sauce
  • 1 head of peeled garlic (slit each clove in half )
  • 1 tsp of Kashmiri or conventional chili powder
  • 2 tsp of ground organic turmeric
  • 1 tsp of ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp of tamarind concentrate dissolved in 1 cup of hot water
  • 1 tsp of dried fenugreek seeds
  • ½ tsp of black mustard seeds
  • 2 sprigs of curry leaves
  • 1½ tbsp of sesame oil
  • 1 cup of fresh cilantro, chopped

Instructions:

  1. Clean the fish under running water and pat dry. Combine 1 teaspoon of turmeric, 1 teaspoon of ground black pepper and ½ teaspoon of oil, and marinate fish with the mixture in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  2. Heat a large nonstick wok or pot over a low flame (low heat if using an electric stove) and add 1 tablespoon of sesame oil. Add the fenugreek and roast gently.
  3. Add the curry leaves (washed and dried), slit garlic cloves, and mustard seeds to the pot. Allow the mustard seeds to splutter gently in the oil and then add onions.
  4. When the onions are lightly browned, add the chili powder, remaining turmeric, and the crushed tomatoes or sauce. Cook for 10 minutes on medium heat.
  5. Add the dissolved tamarind to the mixture and allow to gently simmer over medium heat. Salt to taste. Water can be added to thin out mixture into a sauce consistency.
  6. As the sauce simmers, lower the temperature to low heat, and gently layer the fish into the sauce. Cover and allow to simmer gently over low heat for 10-15 minutes until the fish is cooked through.
  7. Add chopped cilantro and serve with steamed white rice, brown rice, quinoa, or polenta.

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