The advantage of living along the Coast is that you get to eat plenty of fish. While many of my friends here in Mumbai wonder how I can eat 'non veg' daily, for us fish eating Mangaloreans, Fish is Fish...c'mon! Non vegetarian is rest of the stuff that has a beak & feathers or walks on fours :D I am sure die hard fish loving Mangies, Mallus, Goans and Bongs will agree with me, that Fish is a delicacy as well as a staple. And thank God that both of these are in abundant supply in our sunny lands!
Lepo Losun Miri
This curry can be made with prawns too
Midmorning on a normal weekday, if you happen to drop in to any Mangalorean fish eating household, you are most likely to find the lady of the house (or a maid) busy cleaning fish for the afternoon meal. Typically an 'Adhalo' was and is still used to clean fish. It is an apparatus which involves a long thin strip of very low wooden stool to which a sickle is fixed to one end. Old ladies who complain of 'ganti-dhook' (knee pain) grumble and still perform the brilliant task of cleaning fish guts whilst seated on this throne. But today, women like me prefer to invest in a good pair of kitchen scissors to do the job in a jiffy. Its so hassle free, I wonder why the 'Adhalo' was ever invented! (I know that's so cheeky of me). But the olden generation swear by it, so I guess we should let it be :-)
If you visit any of the well stocked fish markets in Mangalore you will hear almost every fisherwoman crying hoarse - "Bangde bale, boothai bale" meaning to say "I've got Mackerel & Sardines on offer, hurry up!". My favourite 'Lepo' however was sold by a few random fisher women. It comes under the category of 'good fish' which can be eaten by those recovering from illnesses, pregnant women, new moms or those with special diet requirements. They say Lepo is not 'nanji' - this term has no real meaning in English although the best I can explain is to say that it doesn't cause any real problems if you eat it. All Mangaloreans are familiar with this term i.e if you are the active fish eating type.
This delicate fish tastes great in a curry or even when fried. I love it both ways. Just remember not to overcook it. In Mumbai we get the larger variety than in Mangalore and so most times we end up frying them - the flesh is gorgeous and my son loves it. Cleaning this fish is not as difficult as it appears but involves minor skill to peel off the skin which is a de-scaling technique by itself. So next time you find 'Lepo' in your fish market, don't hesitate to buy some. I promise you, you'll love it!
For the masala:
- 500gms or 4-5 large ones Tongue Fish(also called as 'Lep' in Marathi & 'Nang' in Tulu)
For the shindap (items to be sauted before adding the masala)
- 6-7 long dry red chillies (to increase the quantity of the gravy you can add extra 2 chillies without seeds - just the skin)
- 6-7 peppercorns
- 1/4 tsp haldi
- 1/2 tsp jeera
- 1 small ball of tamarind/1 tsp tamarind paste
- 1-2 tbsp grated coconut (optional - not part of the recipe but add it if you want extra gravy)* see note below
- 8 cloves garlic with skin - mashed up slightly (do not slice or chop)
- 1 large onion sliced
- oil for frying
- salt to taste
1. Remove the skin, scales and the frilly edges of the fish, clean in salt water, rinse and allow to drain. Cut large ones into 2 pieces. If you are using small Lepos, leave them whole
2. Grind all the ingredients for the masala to a fine paste.
3. In a wide bottomed pan (as Lepos are long and tender, so use a large pan to avoid them from breaking) heat some oil and fry the 8 cloves of garlic and toss in the sliced onion. Fry for about a minute till they turn golden (not too brown)
4. Add the ground masala and fry it for about 2 minutes on a slow flame. Add some water to the mixie and use this water to be added to the masala. Add sufficient water to make a medium thin gravy (not too thin). Add salt and check the taste. Make any changes before you add the fish.
5. Bring the gravy to a boil - for about 1/2 a minute and then gently add the fish pieces and simmer for another minute, not more as fish tends to overcook and will continue to cook even when the flame has been turned off
6. Serve hot with piping hot boiled rice or white rice
The grated coconut is not part of the authentic way of making this curry, however, with the remaining ingredients, one gets very little quantity of 'kadi'/gravy and if you are the type who loves your rice drenched in gravy. then you can either add the coconut (which ofcourse reduces the spice factor) or 1/2 an onion (which slightly increases the spiciness)