Southern Indian Rice and Seafood Soup

This dish started life as a Jamie Oliver recipe – always a good starting point – and with only a few slight alterations it has become an eternal favourite in our house.

It’s perfect for autumnal evenings: thick, filling, warming, comforting. I make it quite spicy, but if you’re not a fan of chilli heat just reduce the amount of chilli powder accordingly and use milder fresh chillies.

The ingredients list may look a little daunting, but this is actually a quick and easy dish to make and most of it you probably already have in your cupboards.

Once again, using a home-made vegetable stock makes an incredible difference to the depth of flavour. I have made two versions of this side-by-side, one using a good bouillon powder and the other using my own stock – the difference was like night and day. Using ghee (clarified butter) rather than oil also makes an enormous difference. Much of the shelf space in my fridge is taken up with home-made concoctions such as these – it’s a sacrifice worth making for the results you get.

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RECIPE – serves 4

3 tbsp ghee

2 medium onions, finely chopped

3 tbsp brown mustard seeds

a handful of fresh curry leaves (I freeze mine fresh and use them as needed)

2 tsp cumin seeds

5 birds-eye chillies, finely sliced, seeds left in

4 cm fresh ginger, finely chopped

6 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

2 tsp garam masala

1 1/2 tsp hot chilli powder

2 tsp turmeric

2 handfuls of Basmati rice

600 ml vegetable stock

2 400 ml tins of coconut milk

600g fish (a mix of cod, hake, haddock, salmon and prawns) cut into large chunks

a small bunch of fresh coriander stalks, chopped

the zest and juice of 2 limes

2 tsp garam masala to garnish

mild red chillies to garnish (optional)

a small bunch of fresh coriander leaves, chopped, to garnish


METHOD 

Put the garam masala, hot chilli powder and turmeric in a small bowl with a little water and make into a smooth paste. Set aside for now. Doing this prevents the spices burning when added to the pan.

Melt the ghee in a very large pan, then fry the onions gently for around ten minutes until softened but not coloured. Adding a little salt to the onions encourages their moisture to leach out and prevents browning. Toward the end of the softening time, add the brown mustard seeds, curry leaves, cumin seeds, birds-eye chillies, ginger and garlic. Stir thoroughly and cook on gently for a few minutes until deeply aromatic. Add the spice paste, stir thoroughly and cook for a minute before adding the Basmati rice. Stir again, thoroughly coating the rice with the spices.

Add the stock and bring to the boil, then simmer for ten minutes. Add the coconut milk with a good pinch of salt and bring back to a simmer – do not let it boil.

At this point you can turn the heat off and let the broth steep for a few hours. This deepens and softens the flavours of the spice, but you can of course carry straight on…

At this point you will of course have been tasting the broth regularly, and you may be puzzled that it tastes a little flat and unexciting. Fear not, the magic happens now.

If you are using them for the garnish, slit each mild red chilli several times and add to the broth.

Add the fish (not the prawns if you are using them, not yet) together with the chopped coriander stalks, put a lid over the pan and simmer gently for around ten minutes, until the fish starts to flake. Three or four minutes before the fish is cooked, add the prawns and re-cover the pan.

When the fish is cooked, remove the mild red chillies and set aside for use as a garnish, check the seasoning and adjust as necessary, stir to break up the fish, then add the lime zest and juice, stir, and scatter 2 teaspoons of garam masala over the top.  Taste it now… your toes will probably curl in pleasure!

Serve in bowls garnished with chopped coriander leaves and a mild red chilli each if you like.

This requires nothing else alongside it except, perhaps, some chapattis; it is a complete meal in itself.

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