Karimeen or Pearl spot fish (scientific name Etroplus suratensis) is native to Lake Vembanad. Kerala’s large rivers, lakes, lagoons and estuaries are a natural habitat for this very tasty oval shaped fish with pearly spots on its body.
In this recipe the fish is first encased in fresh banana leaf and marinated in a spice blend. When it is grilled it absorbs not only the fragrance of spices but also the earthy aroma of toasted banana leaves.
One pearl spot fish
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ tablespoon thinly sliced green chili peppers (Serrano)
½ table spoon finely minced fresh ginger
One clove of garlic minced
3 shallots finely chopped
1 tablespoon curry leaves cut into chiffonade, as you would for coleslaw *
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
One large banana leaf or three 8 to inch pieces of banana leaves **
1 tablespoon coconut oil ***
Combine the turmeric powder, chopped green chilies, ginger, garlic, shallots, curry leaves, salt and lime juice together in a blender and grind to a thick coarse paste. Clean the fish and apply a thick layer of the paste on both sides of the fish.
Hold a large piece of banana leaf, approximately 8 to 10 inches long, with a pair of tongs and toast it over a medium flame, holding it high, for ten seconds. The leaf will become darker in color, limp, and flexible. Because they have horizontal ribs that tear easily, crisscross the ribs of two pieces when stacking them to wrap food or for cooking. Brush the leaves with oil and wrap the fish in the leaf. Tear a small toasted banana leaf into thin strips and tie these pieces together to make a long string. Tie the fish packet with this string. Let it marinate for at least an hour in the refrigerator.
Start the grill. Take out the marinated fish from the refrigerator and brush the outside of the banana leaves with the remaining oil. Grill the fish on both sides. Remove the string and open the package. Transfer the grilled fish to a platter and serve hot.
* Fresh curry leaves are available at most Indian grocery stores in the U.S.
**In warmer climates, fresh banana leaves are available. They are also imported to the U.S. frozen, in one pound packages and sold in Chinese and Thai markets.
*** Coconut oil is used in the traditional recipe. It may be substituted with canola or corn oil.