Open your cupboard and bring out the spice jars – let’s make some Cardamom Bread and Fish Molee.
I chuckled a couple of weeks ago as I read Dave Martins’ article, Guarding the recipe, in which he expressed his enjoyment of some “mouth-watering” and “mek yuh foot bottom lif’ off de ground” food in the forms of corn bread, fry bake, pepper sauce, fried snapper and coconut fish. Dave enjoyed these creations so much that he wanted to try making them himself but the creators would not share their recipes. Although he extolled the delights of his Cardamom Bread, he stopped short of sharing his recipe with us. He’s guarding his recipe too!
The Cardamom Bread and fish cooked in coconut milk immediately piqued my interest. While I had only heard of the Cardamom Bread in passing, fish cooked in coconut milk I had made before, more than once, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The version I made is a popular Kerala dish called Fish Molee. However, given the location where Dave had his self-described, coconut-fish concoction, led me to believe that he was not referring to Fish Molee but perhaps to the popular Garifuna dish in Belize, Fish Serre. Fish Serre is fish cooked in coconut milk along with onions, fresh thyme, peppers, vegetables and sometimes plantains etc. Each household has its own version. My hunt for recipes began.
First, I tackled the Cardamom Bread. As a side note, those of you reading this column in Guyana will know cardamom as elaichi – the popular spice used in Indian cuisine to make things such as parsad, roat, soft mitai etc. However, it is a spice that is widely used in other cuisines in both sweet and savoury dishes. Cardamom Bread is a sweet bread, spiced and flavoured with cardamom. It can be eaten as is or lightly toasted and slathered with butter or jam. It is a bread that is very popular in Finland and Sweden. In Finland it is called Nisua Bread and it is familiarly known as Finnish Coffee Bread. On the other hand, Swedish Cardamom bread (Nisu) is a traditional Christmas bread that’s served around the holidays. The author of the recipe shared today says that the smell of the bread baking brings back warm memories for him. It’s pretty much the same sentiment we express when the Christmas cake is in the oven or the sorrel boiling or ginger beer being brewed. I know that I am definitely making it this year for Christmas. I might not be Swedish or Finnish but I don’t have to be to enjoy this fantastic bread and neither do you!
To make the bread I used a combination of green cardamom and black cardamom. I find that the flavour of the black cardamom heightens the cardamom flavour in this bread. If you only have the green cardamom available to use, then I’d suggest adding a little more or just use it to suit your taste. A distinction that was made with various recipes for this bread was that some people use the cardamom seeds itself while others used ground cardamom. The choice is yours. To get the seeds, toast the cardamom and then remove them from their pods. If you prefer to use the ground version, my advice is not to get the store-bought ground cardamom, as already ground spices tend not to be as potent in flavour. Buy the pods, toast them, crack open the pods, remove the seeds and grind them. A coffee grinder makes quick work of it or use your mortar and pestle or whatever else you use to grind spices.
Fish Molee, a type of South Indian fish curry, is delicately spiced as the whole spices are wet-toasted (in oil) and cooked in the dish. The flavours imparted are subtly present. Aromatics that round out this dish are: ginger, garlic and hot pepper. Cilantro (fresh coriander) or curry leaves as a garnish add to dish. I like to add a couple stalks of lemongrass to my Fish Molee and I prefer to use fresh coconut milk for this dish but if you have to use canned coconut milk, dilute it. You’ve got to try this recipe; I promise that you’ll fall in love with it.
As I said earlier, I doubt very much that Fish Molee was the coconut-fish concoction that Dave Martins would have been referring to. I suspect that the dish to which he drooled over may have been Fish Serre, a dish indigenous to the Garinagu (singular Garifuna) people of Belize, a country rich in seafood. Like so many dishes, each household has its own particular set of ingredients. Some people include salt meat in theirs while others don’t; some put in tubular vegetables such as yams and cassava while others opt for pumpkin, carrots, green bananas and plantains. The seasonings however, remain consistent – fish (preferably snapper), thyme, lime or lemon juice and the key ingredient to temper them all, coconut milk!
I’ve asked a Belizean friend of mine to find me a recipe for Fish Serre that I can try, as there seems to be some inconsistency in the ones I’ve found so far. I promise, as soon as I have recipe, I’ll share it with you (with permission of course!)
¾ cup whole milk
¼ cup (2 oz) butter
3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
3 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/3 cup white granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg, room temperature, lightly beaten
1 – 2 tablespoons Demerara sugar
1. Add milk and butter to saucepan and heat through gently on low heat until the butter melts. Set aside
2. Add the flour, yeast, cardamom, sugar and salt to a bowl and mix thoroughly
3. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture, add egg and pour in warm butter-milk mixture and mix to a dough. Once the dough has come together, knead for 1 – 2 minutes (the dough will be a bit sticky so oil your hands lightly). Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume (1 – 1 ½ hours)
4. Punch down dough and divide into three equal parts. Roll each piece in a long strip. Cover and let dough rest for 10 minutes
5. Pinch together one end of each strip and braid the dough. Fold in the ends to make an even loaf
6. Place dough on a greased baking sheet or one lined with parchment paper. Cover and let rise for an hour
7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
8. Brush bread with water and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until the bread is nicely browned
9. Let cool on a wire rack
10. Slice and serve as is or with butter
3 pounds snapper washed and pat dry
Salt and ground pepper to taste
¼ cup all purpose flour
¼ cup canola or vegetable oil
¼ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
7 green cardamom pods, crushed
1 (3-inch) piece cinnamon stick
5 whole cloves
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
1 whole star anise
1 (2-inch) piece ginger, julienned
6 large cloves garlic, julienned
½ cup diced onions
Minced hot pepper to taste
2 stalks lemongrass, bruised (optional)
½ cup tomatoes, quartered
4 – 5 cups fresh coconut milk
Curry leaves or fresh cilantro to garnish
1. Season fish with salt and pepper to taste and lightly dust with flour shaking off the excess
2. Heat oil in shallow frying pan on medium high. Lightly fry fish in batches, you do not want it to get brown, all you are looking to do is to firm up the fish on both sides. The fish should not be fully cooked
3. Drain fried fish on paper towels
4. Take 2 – 3 tablespoons of the oil remaining from frying and add to a large deep pan such as a karahi and heat through
5. Add the spices – peppercorns, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, fennel and star anise and fry until fragrant about 30 – 45 seconds. Now add the ginger, garlic, onion, hot pepper and lemongrass if using, and sauté for 1 – 2 minutes until softened. Sprinkle a little salt
6. Add half of the tomatoes along with the coconut milk stir and bring the pot to a boil. Let cook until the liquid is reduced by half, season with salt and pepper to taste and add the fish and remaining tomatoes. Cover the pot, reduce heat to low and let cook for 5 minutes, remove cover, and turn heat to high. If the sauce is to your desired consistency, remove from heat, garnish with fresh cilantro or fried curry leaves and serve with rice or roti. If the sauce is not to your desired consistency, let it continue to cook to your likeness, then garnish and serve immediately.