Jaya’s Masala with Salmon in Banana Leaf, Kerala Style
Indian food is fascinating in its colorful variations of dishes from region to region, and even then within common regions, the flavors, and preparations from heightened spiciness to local food ingredients may present remarkable differences.
In some ways Indian Food reminds me of music, countless melodies within the notes, octaves, and pitches still producing tunes among the common similarities, such as the use of spices.
Masterful spice combinations performed, pounded into paste and mixed with other ingredients blend together to create a type of orchestra, and relative to some Indian dishes such as the one shared on Spiced Peach Blog today, the symphony is a Masala, Jaya’s, Masala with Salmon in Banana Leaf South India, Kerala style.
The Kerala Region in the South of India is located nearby the Arabian Sea and features a variety of seafood within the cuisine offering popular fish choices as Pomfret Fish, Kingfish, and the commonly found white fish with bones considered a delicacy in Kerala, Black Pearl Fish.
The location is also a tropical one, a land of coconuts where instead of using olive oil for cooking, coconut oil is most commonly used. Across the mountains of the area, tea is grown, and the area hosts a variety of spices, such as cardamom, a spice also grown in Jaya’s family.
Last week I went to cook a dish at the home of my friend Jaya to share with you on a Post that would be representative of her Kerala region in South India. It was also a wonderful opportunity to share some time together and catch up on things.
Jaya and I first got acquainted eighteen years ago through a local group formed, then dubbed ‘The Ladies International Group’. The group initially created around sharing food together enabled the opportunity for the women relocated from throughout the world who were far away from families and friends to forge friendships and a support system by regularly meeting and sharing their cultural foods between the group.
Originally, one rotating host would prepare a broad range of foods representative of their native home. The group would be free to dress in native attire as well as share in the conversation from among a broad scope of customs among cultures, perhaps things they missed, as well as the many things they were learning and pleasures found in their new home.
Great memories and friendships formed over those years will always insure that they will each always remain considered as members of my family, including Jaya.
Onto Jaya’s Masala with Salmon in the banana leaf, I had earlier suspected that Jaya and I would be preparing some type of fish dish with spices. At a party last year Jaya made a simple flounder coated with spices that was plain out the best flounder I have ever had in my life.
Instead, Jaya, a quiet spoken individual with very royal like qualities was like the librarian who throws off her glasses and undoes the bun tied on top of her head, leaving me scratching mine, perplexed.
How was it in eighteen years that Jaya had not prepared such a wowee dish as this for the Group? Only then to share with me that this dish is one very commonly served in the town in India from which she came. The answer was simple. When hosting the group, the tradition has always been that of offering a broad range of dishes, this dish creation was too time consuming with a broader selection of dishes to also prepare. However, this dish is what one could expect to eat on a visit to her town. I so look forward to my visit one day.
The slight variations on the dish today is that we will be using salmon rather than the traditional Black Pearl Fish and olive oil versus coconut oil. Speaking of variations within Indian cookery, Jaya’s husband, Paul, raised in the same Kerala region also have distinctions in each of their respective town cuisines in one striking difference, lending greatly intensified flavors of spicier combinations as compared to Jaya’s town.
An important tip in this dish before filling the banana leaf is to spray both the aluminum foil covering the cookie sheet, and, both sides of the banana leaf with non stick cooking oil such as PAM.
Another tip is to be sure that your oven is fully pre-heated to 425 degrees, the temperature that the salmon will be baked at before placing the finished tray into your oven. This will also help provide an accurate cook time between twenty and twenty two minutes. Otherwise, not cooking to doneness would involve re-covering the salmon with the banana leaf along with the aluminum foil on top.
Is this a Masterpiece or what? Really, inhaling the scent of the Masala encasing the salmon then bursting forth from the steaming banana leaf, the flavor is indescribably sensational. Oh yes, I got busy right away forking away pieces of the salmon, one of those unique dishes that you just cannot seem to get enough of.
With readers in mind though, I carefully cut a lovely section to photograph for sharing. I bet you’ll appreciate Jaya almost as much as I do if you give this dish a try.
Finishing out our cooking session then quietly busied together cleaning up the remaining dishes moving to a tune reflective on the earlier preparations. I was so grateful for this time and friendship. A dish Jaya had never revealed at former gatherings, its newer transition from Black Pearl Fish to a beautiful Salmon Masala in a Banana Leaf now cooked in olive rather than coconut oil, a beautiful gift to share.
Before departing Jaya served fresh cardamom tea along with the little treats of steamed rice flour and coconut balls while we shared some family photos from India. The teatime delights are a whole other story, but for now, I hope you enjoy this grandly orchestrated dish, and Thank you to the beautiful Jaya.
Jaya's Masala with Salmon in Banana Leaf, Kerala Style
- For the Salmon Marinade Preparation:
- 2 pound salmon filet
- 1 glass dish large enough to hold the full length of salmon
- 1 lime, cut in half, juice from each half squeezed onto both sides of the filet, then rubbed in using the exposed top of the juiced lime halves spreading all over both sides, then both sides rubbed with two tablespoons of coarse kosher salt and 1 tablespoon of Kashmir chili powder, salmon then set skin side down on the long glass dish, covered with plastic wrap, and marinated in the refrigerator for at least a half hour
- Preparing the Topping:
- 2 cups coconut, toasted
- 1/4 cup chopped pistachios
- Preparing the Masala:
- 1/2 cup olive oil or coconut oil
- 4 medium size onions, chopped
- 3 teaspoons Kashmir chili powder
- 3/4 teaspoon tumeric
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander, heaping
- 1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt, plus additional salt to desired taste
- 1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate mixed with 2 tablespoons water or a bit more to stir into a paste
- 1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 3 sprigs fresh curry leaves, leaves removed from stems
- 7 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
- 4 plum tomatoes, chopped
- For the Assembly:
- 1 very large banana leaf fresh or frozen
- spray cooking oil such as PAM
- 1 baking sheet large enough to hold the full piece of salmon
- aluminum foil to cover the baking sheet sprayed well with cooking oil, plus aluminum foil to cover the top of the dish once assembled for baking
- Marinate the salmon following the instructions in the Ingredients section
- Heat shredded coconut on low heat in a round non stick pan until it begins to turn golden color, add in the chopped pistachios and stir constantly for about forty five seconds, turn off heat and reserve
- In a small bowl mix together the Kashmir chili powder, turmeric, black pepper, ground coriander, and salt
- In another small bowl mix together the tamarind concentrate with water
- Wash out a mortar and pestle leaving a bit of water in the bottom then add in the mustard and fenugreek seeds grinding well together to create a paste
- On medium low temperature heat a half cup of olive oil or coconut oil in a large round non stick pan, add in the sliced onions, stirring and cooking around twenty minutes until onions are fully soft, translucent and just beginning to turn a golden color at the edges
- When onions are cooked, move them off to a side of the pan then in the open space of the pan pour in the mixture of Kashmir chili powder, turmeric, black pepper, ground coriander, and salt, let spices cook around forty-five seconds until fragrant then spread the onions back around the pan combining well with the spices, add in the seed spices from the mortar and pestle and stir throughout with the onion and spice mixture, drop in the curry leaves, stir in the garlic and ginger, lower the heat and cook another minute or two
- Tumble in the tomatoes, stir well, cook ten minutes, scrape in the tamarind water mixture, cook another fifteen minutes
- Taste masala and add additional salt if desired, turn off heat and let cool a bit
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees
- Assembling the Dish: Remove marinated salmon from refrigerator, line baking sheet with aluminum foil, spray liberally with non stick cooking oil then, spray both sides of the banana leaf
- Set banana leaf onto the baking sheet leaving plenty of room to flip half of the banana leaf over the top of the salmon once dressed
- Begin spreading the masala onto the banana leaf covering the whole width and length of the leaf then top with the salmon
- Spread remaining masala across the top of the salmon Lift the other half of the banana leaf over covering the top of the salmon and close the end by tucking in the seam, pressing carefully around on the closed banana leaf shaping in the form of the salmon, cover tightly with aluminum foil, bake for twenty minutes, remove from oven, lifting the aluminum foil, pull back the top of the banana leaf exposing the masala salmon, scatter the top with the toasted coconut and pistachios