Monthly Archives: July 2008

The Dissertation, the Oregon Coast, and a Few Raw Oysters

Vacation? Who said vacation?

I meant a writing retreat, the only kind of get-away available to me this summer. It started in January: an idea, the reality of the dissertation and a looming deadline, some conversation, scheming and scheduling. So it happened that I went all the way to Pacific City, Oregon to spend two weeks waking up at five (I love jet lag) to sit at the wooden kitchen table with a tepid cup of tea, cranking out another chapter, distracted only by the view from the window. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I must reveal that I was also distracted by the wan wireless signal that my computer picked up intermittently. Addict, I am.) In lieu of a real vacation, it wasn’t so bad, especially as it came with nightly theological discussions with the friend from grad school who so generously hosted me, long walks on the beach, and meal after meal of fresh seafood. This transplanted beach kid needed to get her fill before returning to the Midwest.

I don’t know if they slurp down raw oysters with nam pla prik in Thailand, but in our family, we’ve always eaten them this way. You wouldn’t think briny oysters would benefit from briny fish sauce–but you would be wrong. It’s not just the fish sauce, the bite of lime and fresh chilies somehow makes the oysters crisper and juicier.

My family has these at Thanksgiving. Having always been warned not to eat oysters in months without an “r,” I was surprised to find Pacific oysters available in the summer. I still think they taste better in the colder months, but if you are so fortunate to have oysters come your way, pound up a batch of nam pla prik and slurp them down. They’re brain food, after all.

Raw Oysters with Nam Pla Prik

If you have leftover oysters, you can make a Tha-style Ceviche by throwing in your additional nam pla prik, extra lime juice, fish sauce, shallots and chilies.

As many oysters as you think you and your friends can eat, shucked and left on the half-shell

Nam pla prik

10 tiny green chilies
1/2 c. fish sauce, to taste
1 lime

Pound green chilies in mortar and pestle. Add fish sauce and lime. Taste and adjust flavors.



Filed under Uncategorized

The Discovery of India

“What’s Sri Lankan food like? Is it like Indian food?”

I never know how to answer this question. What is Indian food like anyway? There’s the food of South India, redolent of hot chilli and curry leaves. The food of the north uses more yogurt and less coconut milk. The Parsis, the Bengalis, the Gujeratis all have their specialities. So how similar is it to Sri Lankan food? The food of Kerala, based on rice flour and coconut has much more in common with the food of Sri Lanka than the food of Rajastan, where wheat is the staple. So in that sense, there is Indian food that’s a lot like Sri Lankan food. But is there even a such thing as Indian food? And what is Sri Lankan food anyway? Do you mean the food of the coast? The food of the north? The food of central highlands?

I really don’t know what Indian food is, and I certainly don’t pretend to be any expert on the regional cooking of India. Like most people, I’ve learned everything I know about “Indian” food from cookbooks, the Internet, and a few patient friends. This dinner, thrown together in honor of some fabulous halibut I got in Oregon, features what is a Bengali fish curry, according to Cyrus Todiwala. I cooked up a kidney bean curry to use some kidney beans we had boiled the previous week, and some cabbage, the way my mom would have made it (had we had curry leaves, dried chilli and Maldive fish–call it a minimalist Sri Lankan cabbage). Call it a pan-Indian supper, call it whatever you want, it was delicious.

Bengali Fish Curry

1 pound firm fleshed fish (I used halibut here. We had fillets, but you can use steaks as well)
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. salt
1 medium onion, minced
2 cloves garlic
1/2 inch piece of ginger
1 small green chile
1/2 teaspoon dried red chilli
2 tbsp. ghee (you can also use a neutral flavored oil such as peanut or canola)
1 cup whole milk yogurt
1 tsp. garam masala
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro

Cut fish into bite-sized pieces. Sprinkle with turmeric and salt and set aside while you chop the onion. Pound garlic, ginger and green chilli together. Heat ghee in saucepan. Fry fish two minutes on one side and one minute on the other. Remove from pan. Fry onion briefly, add garlic-ginger paste. When onion is soft, add yogurt and cook until thick. (Warning: This is not the prettiest dish; the yogurt will curdle. Accept and move on. It tastes good.) Taste and adjust for salt.

Add fish to sauce and stir to coat. Bring sauce to simmer and cook one minute. Cover pan and remove from heat. Let sit for ten minutes. Garnish with cilantro.

Kidney Bean Curry

2 cups cooked kidney beans
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic
1/2 in. ginger
1 green chilli
1 tbsp. ghee or neutral flavored oil
2 medium tomatoes, or use canned
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp salt (use less if using canned kidney beans)
chopped coriander for garnish

Pound garlic, ginger, and chilli to paste. Heat ghee in saucepan. Add onion and cook until soft. Add ginger-garlic paste. Cook one minute more, then add tomatoes. Add dried spices and cook until tomato has thickened and flavors are beginning to meld. Add kidney beans and cook five minutes more. Taste and adjust for salt. Sprinkle with chopped coriander and serve.

Source: Mamta’s Kitchen, Cyrus Todiwala’s Cafe Spice Namaste


Filed under gluten-free, South Asian