I moved into a new apartment in April. It’s a cozy studio with the kitchen spread out to half the space, taking place of a living room. I was beyond relieved to finally have the opportunity to live alone, to not consider any other living form other than my dog and myself. That I would have a kitchen all to myself was a luxurious daydream come true and I am altogether flabbergasted that in the last month and a half I’ve only cooked meals a handful times. That I haven’t been inspired to flip through the magazines, to browse the hundreds of food blogs and pick up a recipe to experiment with is inexplicable considering this was all I was doing last year into early this year. Much has to do with having a ridiculous schedule but still, that’s no excuse. I finally took advantage of a compulsive moment to cook and eat alone a couple days ago and spent nearly three hours gathering ingredients for this dish that resulted in enough improvising to have made me anxious and prepared for disaster.
The most recent issue of Saveur ran a brief story on the culture and food of Kenya and the cuisine of coastal East Africa. Coconut milk, chiles, ginger, rice, couscous, and plenty a fish are the staples from this region and I quickly glanced at the recipe for Samaki Wa Kupaka (Grilled Whole Fish with Tamarind) and figured this was my chance to take ownership and pride over my kitchen.
Shopping for the ingredients led to a grueling search for tamarind paste, which there were none of in North Brooklyn. It was close to 8pm and I was not condoning a trek into the city or queens to obtain this dried fruit paste/concentrate. After googling for substitutes I decided to replace the cursed thing with molasses and lemon juice. I found no calculated amount to equal a 1/4 cup of the paste so I just combined coconut milk with the molasses and juice until the color resembled that of the picture in the magazine. I braced for the worst in making this thing, I hate not following recipes, seeing as how I’m just not a seasoned cook with an acquired palate for well balanced tastes and distinguishments. Well, you should have seen my face upon retrieving the fish from the oven, forking that oh so delicate meat into a single bite of pure sweet deliciousness. I was very impressed with myself.
I am quickly learning bass is my favorite type of fish to consume, the texture is a perfect combination of flaky and chewy and it’s taste is subtle but still fishy enough. I’m sure I overdid it on the molasses as I only tasted a hint air of coconut and sweetness dominated the fish, which I didn’t mind considering I have a serious sweet tooth.
I bottomed the fish with a bed of curried couscous which is literally couscous with a teaspoon of curry powder. When I put leftovers to warm in a pan, the couscous got stir-fried which made them awesomely crunchy. The asparagus I sauteed in an iron skillet with some ramp butter, courtesy Nicole and Doug of Small Scale Productions and Luminous Kitchen (you can find it this Saturday at GFM), splattered with salt and pepper.
It was a well-rounded meal in terms of varying textures and tastes and look forward to actually following the recipe once I get my hands on some goddamn tamarind paste.
Sea Bass without Tamarind
1lb sea bass filets (2 filets)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 dried red peppers, minced
1″ piece ginger, peeled and minced
Juice of 1 lemon
3/4 cup canned coconut milk
1/2 cup molasses
Juice of another lemon
1/2 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. ground corinader
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1. Put fish into 9×13″ baking dish and season with salt & pepper. Combine garlic, red pepper, ginger, and lemon juice in small bowl and rub fish with the mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.
2. Meanwhile, heat coconut milk, molasses, and lemon with spices in saucepan over low heat and stir while cooking for a few minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. Heat oven to broil, uncover fish, brush with oil, then with some of them non-tamarind sauce. Cook fish, flipping every few minutes and basting often with the sauce for about 15 – 20 minutes.
3. Eat and enjoy.