Salmon Fish Curry

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The story of migration is often told through food. Growing up, my mom made perfect potato tahdig atop Iranian-style spaghetti, a testament to Italian-American-Iranian fusion. We found that Thanksgiving turkey went perfectly with baghali polo, an aromatic basmati rice and fava bean pilaf.

As I learn to cook Sri Lankan food, I’m discovering a similar story. For example, my Sri Lankan cookbooks instruct me to make red fish curry with tuna, but Nishan tells me his mom always used salmon when he was growing up in Canada. After all, salmon is ubiquitous in the great white north. And as it turns out, this curry tastes better with salmon than it does with tuna. Or maybe we’re biased. Maybe it’s nostalgia.

I serve this healthy, easy curry with homemade lemon pickle and Iranian-style rice and tahdig, adding yet another layer to our collective story of migration.

Salmon red fish curry with sauted leeks

Ingredients:

2 pounds wild salmon fillet, scaled and deboned
1 tablespoon tamarind, soaked in 1/4 cup warm water and solids discarded
2 tablespoons roasted curry powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, chopped
2-inch piece ginger, sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 green chiles (such as Serrano), halved lengthwise
2 sprigs curry leaves
1 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt

1. Cut salmon into 1-inch pieces and marinate in a mixture of the tamarind, curry powder, cayenne pepper, fenugreek, and paprika for 30 minutes.

2. Heat oil in a large saucepan. Saute onions, ginger, garlic, green chiles, and curry leaves until onions are softened.

3. Add salmon to saucepan with water and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes until salmon is cooked.

Linguine with White Clam Sauce

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“Mariam, when are you making linguine with white clam sauce again?” – My sister, every month since forever, basically.

Growing up, this was one one of my sister’s favorite dishes that I’d cook, but let’s be honest. It’s one of my favorites too. What’s better than pasta? Pasta enveloped in a garlicy seafood sauce. Sure, the dish has 1990s vibes, but good taste is timeless. This dish is easy and it’s a crowd pleaser. The next time my sister asks, I’m making a huge pot of this — for us both.

Linguine with white clam sauce

1/3 cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/3 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup bottled clam juice
1 pound linguine
3 pounds small clams, scrubbed well
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

1. Heat oil in a large pot over high heat until hot but not smoking, then saute onion, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and oregano and cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic is golden, about 2 minutes. Stir in wine and clam juice and boil, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until slightly reduced, about 3 minutes.

2. Cook pasta in another large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, then drain in a colander.

3. While pasta is cooking, stir clams into sauce and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until clams open wide, 4 to 6 minutes. (Discard any clams that have not opened after 5 minutes.) Remove from heat and stir in butter until melted.

4. Add pasta to clams along with parsley and salt to taste, then toss with sauce until combined well.

Sweet and Spicy Fried Catfish

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I’m going to be honest here: this dish isn’t healthy. Sorry, y’all. This is a buttery, melt-in-your-mouth fish that’s shallow fried and drizzled with a spicy sauce that has, you know, sugar.

But it’s delicious. And while it’s important to eat healthily, what is life if not occasionally indulgent? So in the wise words of Tom Haverford and Donna Meagle, go ahead and treat yo’self. Serve it with rice and vinegared vegetables to tone down the guilt factor.

Sweet and spicy fried catfish

Ingredients:

1/4 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger plus 4 quarter-sized slices peeled ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 pounds catfish fillets
1 egg
1 cup cornstarch, dry, plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 teaspons water
vegetable oil for shallow frying
1 green onion, thinly sliced

1. Prepare the sauce: mix the chicken broth, soy sauce, sugar, chili garlic sauce, rice vinegar, garlic, minced ginger, salt, and pepper together in a bowl and set aside.

2. Remove bones and skin from the catfish and cut into 4 pieces. Pat dry.

3. Beat the egg in a shallow bowl. Spread the cup of cornstarch in another shallow bowl. Dust each piece of the fish with the cornstarch and then dip in the beaten egg to coat the fish. Return the fish to the cornstarch and coat evenly. Set on a separate plate or rack.

4. Place a wide deep pan over medium heat and pour in oil to a depth of 1/4 inch. When the oil shimmers, add the ginger slices and cook until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Slide the fish into the oil and fry, turning once, until golden, about 4 minutes per side. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

5. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of the oil from the pan. Place the pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, pour in the sauce and bring to a boil. Stir in the dissolved cornstarch and cook, stirring, until the sauce boils and thickens, about 30 seconds.

6. Spoon the sauce over the fish, scatter with the green onion, and serve.

Fish Cutlets

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The first time I tried fish cutlets I thought I’d accidentally set my mouth on fire. I hadn’t yet acclimated to Sri Lankan levels of spiciness (read: extremely spicy) and I was expecting cutlets similar to, you know, Iranian kotlet. The next thing I knew I was downing ice water in a futile attempt to revive my taste buds.

Fast forward a few years and I can pop these cutlets like no one’s business. They’re delicious, and lucky for you, dear reader, you can adjust the chile level according to your own preference. Fish cutlets are easy to make and are perfect as an appetizer. I like to serve them alongside Iranian yogurt with cucumbers and mint (mast-o-khiar) as a cooling dip.

Sri Lankan fish cutlets

Ingredients:

1 potato, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil plus additional for frying
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 inch piece ginger, minced
2 green chiles, chopped
1 sprig curry leaves
1 can tuna
1 teaspoon cayenne powder
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon ground fennel
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
salt to taste
1 lime, juiced
1 egg, beaten
2 cups breadcrumbs

1. Boil potato in water until soft, about 10 minutes. Drain.

2. Heat two tablespoons oil in a pan. Saute onions until translucent. Add garlic, ginger, green chiles, and curry leaves and saute for 5 minutes, until lightly browned.

3. Add tuna, potatoes, cayenne pepper, coriander, cumin, fennel, turmeric, black pepper, and salt. Mash potato with the back of a wooden spoon while tossing ingredients in pan. Add lime juice, saute for 3 minutes, and set aside to cool.

4. Using your hands, form filling into 2 inch-size balls. Beat egg in a bowl and dip balls into mixture. Spread out breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl and coat cutlets with breadcrumbs.

5. Heat oil in a deep pan to 350 degrees. Oil should be deep enough to shallow fry the cutlets. Fry cutlets until golden brown, turning occasionally to evenly brown. Remove cutlets with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Serve warm or room temperature.

Chilled Mussels with Saffron Aioli

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I’ve been hanging on to the same precious tin of Iranian saffron since 2013. I bought it at Jean-Talon Market in Montreal, where sanctions aren’t as restrictive and food imports from Iran are attainable. I know we Iranians like to lay claim to nearly everything under the sun, but it’s true that our saffron is among the best in the world. I dipped into this precious stash for this easy, elegant mussel appetizer.

This recipe makes more aioli than you’ll need, but you can use the leftovers as a sandwich spread, or simply make an extra batch of mussels.

Chilled mussels with saffron aioli

2 1/2 pounds mussels
1 cup white wine
1/2 onion, chopped
1 generous pinch saffron threads
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/3 cup drained jarred roasted red pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Zest of 1/2 lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

1. Scrub mussels, cleaning shells, and discard any mussels that aren’t tightly closed. In a large pot bring wine and onion to a boil over high heat. Add mussels; cook, covered, until they open, about 2 to 3 minutes. Uncover and let stand until cool enough to handle. Discard any closed mussels.

2. Separate mussels from shells Set each mussel on a reserved half-shell and place on a baking sheet. Cover and chill.

3. Grind saffron in a mortar and pestle and set aside.

4. In a blender, blend garlic, roasted pepper, saffron, cayenne, and lemon zest and juice until smooth. Add mayonnaise and blend. Scrape into a bowl.

5. Set mussels on a serving platter. Dollop aioli on each mussel and top with a parsley leaf.