Keralan Fish Curry

4 - 6



  • 2 cups coconut, desiccated or long thread
  • boiling water
  • ¼ cup rice bran oil
  • 20 curry leaves
  • 2 onions, sliced into half moons (see 
  • 100g fresh ginger, grated
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 2 medium red or green chillies, de-seeded, chopped fine
  • 1 Tbsp mustard seeds
  • 1 Tbsp turmeric powder
  • 2 Tbsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground
 black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp vinegar
  • 8 white fish fillets (approx. 150g each) - I like 
  • salt, to season


In South India the cuisine is dominated by the bounty from the plantations of spices and coconut palms and an abundant coastline. This moilee, or fish curry, is a stunning reflection of these ingredients. The 'homemade coconut milk' is the secret so don't skip this easy step!

You can use fresh coconut to make coconut milk but I find it a hassle to extract the flesh. This is a cheat's way to do it which is, admittedly, not as good as using fresh coconut flesh, but it is better than using canned coconut milk. A happy compromise I call it!

In a bowl, pour boiling water over the dry coconut to cover by 2cm. Cover and let steep for 30 minutes. Then run it through a food processor before straining through muslin to extract the milk. Set the coconut milk aside.

Halve the peeled onions lengthwise from top to bottom then slice into thin slices, also from top to bottom (in the same directions as the lines, as opposed to across). This technique enables them to cook faster.

Heat olive oil in a deep saucepan and fry the curry leaves until crisp. Add the onions and cook gently until the onion is soft. Add the grated ginger, smashed garlic and chillies. Cook for 4-6 minutes. Now add the mustard seeds, turmeric, coriander, salt and black pepper and cook for 3 minutes, adding more oil if it looks too dry.

Turn up the heat slightly, add the vinegar and loosen any of the scrummy bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pot. Add the coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Taste and adjust seasoning with extra vinegar, salt or pepper.

Sprinkle each fish fillet with salt and poach gently in the liquid until done. Remember that fish really just needs to be warmed through to cook it, so don't overcook.

Serve with rice, minted lettuce and papadams.