Cooking tips/notes: Fish curries in East Africa are often made with pomfret, a white-fleshed fish found in the Indian Ocean. Any firm, white-fleshed fish – cod, grouper, tilapia, snapper, halibut, catfish – is perfect for this recipe. Some of these fish varieties can be expensive, so I pick one that works best for my budget. Whether or not you remove the skin is a matter of personal taste. Store-bought green curry paste is a great product. But I enjoy making my own, so this month I’ve included a recipe for one if you want to give it a try. I like turnip greens, so I’ve used them here. All types of hearty greens (kale, collard, mustard, etc.) would work, so don’t be shy about substituting – just check for doneness accordingly. The fish’s cooking time will vary by several minutes, depending on the variety and thickness. If you’ve ever cooked grits or polenta, making the ugali will feel very familiar.
Ingredients for Curry:
2 pounds firm, white-fleshed fish filets, cut into 2-inch chunks
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
2½ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil
1 medium white onion, diced small
2 green bell peppers, ribs and seeds removed, diced small
1 tablespoon peeled, minced fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup green curry paste
1 bay leaf
1 (15.5 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (15.5 ounce) can coconut milk
½ pound turnip greens, washed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Cilantro, chopped, for garnish
Ingredients for Ugali:
4 cups water
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups cornmeal, either white or yellow
Pat fish chunks dry with a paper towel and spread them out on a large plate or sheet pan. Sprinkle over the ground turmeric so that the chunks are evenly coated. Season with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and ground black pepper. Set aside.
Heat oil in large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add diced white onion and green bell pepper. Sauté just until they start to get tender and the onion is translucent, about 5 to 6 minutes. Don’t let the vegetables brown – that’s not the goal. Add the minced garlic and ginger and sauté for another 2 to 3 minutes, until very fragrant. Again, try to avoid browning.
Add the green curry paste and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with remaining 1½ teaspoons of kosher salt. Add bay leaf and stir everything together. Then add the crushed tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the coconut milk.
Add the mustard greens. Reduce heat, cover pot, and simmer gently over low heat for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, add water for ugali to a medium, heavy pot and bring to boil. Season with kosher salt. Slowly stream in the cornmeal, whisking constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Reduce heat and simmer over low heat, whisking frequently. The porridge will thicken as it cooks, like grits or polenta. Keep cooking and whisking frequently as you finish up the stew.
Nestle the fish chunks in a single layer in the pot and gently move them around so they’re mostly submerged. Cover the pot, lower heat, and simmer gently until the fish has just turned opaque and flakes a bit when tested with a fork. The total amount of time it takes to cook the fish depends on which fish you’ve selected to use.
When fish is cooked, turn off heat and gently stir in lemon juice. Discard bay leaf.
Spoon ugali into individual bowls and ladle portions of the fish stew over each. Garnish with chopped cilantro.
Notes and Instructions
Recipe and photo credit: Traci Barr