Georgian Bay Whitefish Masala with Kashmiri Mint Chutney

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Mr Bali wrote. “When you are born here in Canada,” he told me one day, “you have every opportunity.” He has five children – three boys and two girls. The girls are in medical school.

Both he and his wife are great cooks but when Mr. Bali is in the kitchen she defers to him. He mixes and fries, she harvests the garden and chops. In their native Kashmir the fish which are available are from fresh water. Here he uses trout and his new favourite, magnificent Georgian Bay whitefish. This spicy recipe will work with pickerel, splake and even trout. In order to speed things up, he fries the fish a few hours or even the day before and refrigerates it.   In my own kitchen, I simply pan-grill it or barbecue it till it begins to flake and spoon the masala over it. The Kashmiri Mint Chutney become the perfect condiment for still another layer of flavour.

The Balis serve it with roti that Mrs. Bali makes, but it would be great with steamed barley or even wheat berries. While he uses canola oil to fry the fish, he remembers how, in India, mustard oil made from the seeds of the black mustard plant, is often used.

The Kashmiri Mint Chutney is made with fresh mint and coriander leaves. The tiny green chilis can be found at most Indian grocery stores but Mr Bali grows them himself in his sunny, spacious back yard and freezes them. This condiment is great with grilled meats. I’ve spooned it onto leftover chicken that I’ve folded into a soft pita bread.

  • 1 ½ lbs (675 g) whitefish or other fresh water fish, boned but with the skin on
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) salt
  • Canola oil, as needed for frying.

The Masala:

  • 2 tbsps (30 mL) canola oil
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, grated
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) grated ginger
  • ¼ tsp (1 mL) cayenne (or more)
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) turmeric
  • 2 tbsps (30 mL) water
  • 1 ½ tbsps (25 mL) tomato paste
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) salt
  • 1 cup (250 mL) water
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) garam masala
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) ground roasted fennel seeds *
  • ¼ tsp (1 mL) cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp (.5 mL) ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp (1 mL) ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped coriander leaves

Cut the fish into small serving portions and sprinkle with salt. Heat about 1” /2.5 cm oil in a heavy skillet. Fry, skin side down, turning with tongs, till browned. Remove to a paper towel and refrigerate till needed.

About 30 minutes before serving, make the masala. Heat the oil in a large skillet or heavy saucepan and fry the onion till browned. Stir in the grated garlic and ginger, cayenne and turmeric cooking briefly for a few seconds. Add the water, tomato paste and salt. Stir in enough additional water to make a thin sauce. Sprinkle with garam masala, ground fennel seeds, cinnamon, cloves and black pepper. Add the reserved fish pieces and simmer together till the fish is thoroughly reheated. Sprinkle with chopped coriander, stir gently and serve.

Makes 3 to 4 servings.

* To roast fennel, lightly brown the seeds in a dry skillet or in a 350’F (180’C) oven. When toasted, remove from the heat and let stand for 2 to 3 minutes before pulverizing finely in a coffee grinder. Store the powder in a small, tightly covered glass jar.

Kashmiri Mint Chutney

This is a brilliantly easy condiment to make. It may be made ahead and refrigerated for two or three days.

  • 1 cup (250 mL) packed mint leaves
  • ½ cup (125 mL) pack coriander (cilantro) leaves
  • 4 green cayenne peppers or 2 jalapeno peppers
  • 1 ½ tsps ( 7 mL) salt
  • 1 medium cooking onion, chopped coarsely
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 2 tsps (10 mL) grated orange rind
  • 6 walnut halves
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) plain yogurt

In a food processor, combine the mint, coriander, cayenne peppers (including seeds), salt, onion, lemon juice, orange rind, walnuts and yogurt. Process till finely chopped.

Use immediately or refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Makes about 1 ½ cups (375 mL).

From Anita Stewart’s CANADA: The Food, The Recipes, The Stories (HarperCollinsCanada 2008/2014) 

Photography by Robert Wigington.

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