The last week of December saw a lot of friends in our home. Perfect time. Cold winters warmed by warmer friends. The house has slowly started feeling home as we share meals and swap stories. By the time I get around hosting all my dear friends I hope the house will feel like the old one and "more fun" as LS is wont to say. "Not saying that I don't like this house but the 123 AnyDrive was more fun", she declares.
Now this holiday season. there were friends we don't see that often and when we meet the first words that spill out are about the kids who have grown taller, shorter, bigger, lost teeth etc. There were also few friends whom we see more often and who see the kids at more close quarter to be astounded.
Now irrespective of who they are, I have noticed a repetitive trend in my nature in the days and even hours leading up to their visit. The same can be said of the husband-man. Only his ways of dealing with it is exact opposite of mine.
The husband-man believes in welcoming friends in his unshaven, PJ'ed best. Not only that, he thinks it is perfectly fine to have stacks of unpaid bills/papers/unnecessary stuff on the counter when friends are visiting. If the cleaning-lady has come in on a Thursday he refuses to understand the importance of scrubbing a sink just before the guests arrive on a cold Saturday.
"These are friends", he yells, "Friends I have known since XYZ, Kolkata, Bangalore, Honolulu, New Jersey (fill place of choice)".
"Ok, but how does that justify a dirty sink", I retort.
"It is NOT dirty. IT IS clean", he desperately points out.
"Agreed. It IS clean. But it is NOT cleaned 'before-guests-arrive-clean'. There needs to be scented candles on the bath counter and not a tube of hemorrhoid ointment," I counter.
"These are not guests. These are friends," he rolls his eyes, flaps his arms, behaves weird.
Given that the guy is pretty tidy and neat in his ways, it is beyond me how he does not get this. Sigh!! And it is only fair that I mention, surprisingly he is the one who does the major clean up and dish washing after the friends leave.
But after all these years he does not understand why on the morning of a house guest or even dinner guest's arrival, I shove everything junk visible around the house, in the closet ,and close it tight. Then I prop pillows and screech at the girls if they dare to nudge even one out of its defined space. I take out books which I last read about five years ago and then strategically place them on the side table (this has a good side effect as I then start re-reading forgotten books). I light candles, scrub the kitchen counter thrice and align the rug in family room every 3 minutes. If time permits I also take out the huge conch, Ma got from Andaman and which is stored away in the upper shelf of the entertainment center for safety, and place it on the console. Ta-Da.
I don't have fancy place settings and how I wish I could do that too.
"Ha, ha...if only they open your closet", the husband-man laughs deliriously watching me from the corner couch. I fear he might actually just ask them to do so.
"Ok enough. Remember to talk", I hiss.
No, no I am not insane and neither is the husband-man undergoing speech therapy. It is just that he believes that it is perfectly fine to make visiting guests watch "Myth Busters" or "NatGeo" in silent admiration or even take a nap when friends come a visiting. While I am forever trying to think of the most exciting story to keep them entertained, he always volunteers to put LS to bed (which is a kind thing to do) and only after an hour do we realize that he is the one who is actually snoring. "Ghumiye poreche," I tell the friends calmly and then wake him up and drag him down to participate in the late night adda.
"Gawd, they are my friends. NOT guests", he rolls his eyes exasperatedly. No one seems to mind really so he must have a point there.
And then he believes in serving solid robust food like pathar mangshor jhol, bhaat and boutique beer.
"Thai fish in Kola pata, all wussy-ussy fancy-pansy. I am not doing it" he declares. I plain ignore. If I have managed to get banana leaf from the Asian Store, and a recipe of a fragrant marinade off the internet, my guests better eat the Thai fish.
And they do. They do. No one even opens the closet.
This Thai Fish in Banana leaf is a new found recipe which I love. It started off with a recipe suggested by a friend here. To it I merged a recipe of Green Curry sauce I found from Jamie Oliver. The two recipes punched together made a beautiful green curry paste. From then on making the fish was a breeze. It was so simple that it worked well for a weeknight dinner and even when cooking for more guests. The green curry paste can be made a day ahead but I felt it lost a bit of punch on Day 3. Maybe freezing instead of refrigerating for longer use will work well.
A note of caution while making the paste, lightly fry the onion before adding to the blender. This will avoid the bitterness many times grinding onion brings around. Also I added the lime leaves later and not while making the paste. The first time that I ground the leaves along with other spices in the mixer, the paste had a faint bitter taste. So I snipped the lime leaves with a scissor and then added to the fish while marinating. This way the paste was fragrant and perfect.
I was lucky to get banana leaves in the frozen section of the Asian Market. If you don't, just use parchment or aluminum foil. I have done that too. If you have no access to galangal or fish sauce, I suggest don't get shy, still do the fish but substitute with ginger and soy sauce
Also I tried this dish with three kind of fish -- Salmon, Tilapia and a fish called Swai. It worked best with Swai and Tilapia which are very mild fish and absorbed the flavor of the marinade.
The fish - I used 3 fillet of swai, each fillet cut in 3 pieces
In a blender jar add the following
1 onion, peeled and chopped (saute onion and use if onion tends to get bitter on grinding)
2 fat cloves garlic
1 thumb-size piece galangal, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp coriander powder
handful of Thai Basil leaves
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp Soy Sauce
2-4 fresh hot red Chilli
handful of fresh coriander leaves
2 tbsp Coconut Milk (the thick part)
juice of 1/2 lime
Make a smooth paste
Clean and place the fish pieces in a large bowl. Sprinkle salt. Put the marinade on the fish so that all the pieces are coated nicely with it. If you have extra marinade freeze for later use. Snip 4 small Kaffir lime leaves in small pieces and add to the marinated fish. In absence of lime lives use lime zest. Marinate fish for 30 mins.
Next take a square piece of banana leaf.
Put a fish piece in the center. Add some finely chopped chilli rounds. More lime leaf if you have plenty.
Fold the longer ends of the leaf over the fish. Then fold the shorter ends to form a packet.
Secure the packet with a toothpick.
Put the fish packets in a oven safe tray with the toothpick side down. Bake the fish at 350F for 20-25 mins. At the end of this, open the covering and check to see if fish is cooked through.
Serve with white rice accompanied with one more Thai curry like this one.