Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thai Fish wrapped in Banana Leaves -- not a drop of oil

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.


  1. I had to laugh hilariously at this post. I spend more time cleaning up than cooking sometimes when guests are expected. And my husband for some weird reason cleans up the garden always even though no one would even see the damn garden . Weird. The fish seems absolutely delicious. Must try.

    1. Mine actually does the major clean up including dishwashing after they leave

  2. I suppose trying to clean the house Before guests arrive is a dilemma for all. Fortunately, my husband knows the house needs to be spot clean and doesn't argue much about it.

    The recipe sounds awesome.

  3. Dear Sandeepa
    How are you?
    The Hubby -man is 100% like me and the wife woman is 1005 like my wife..ha ha ..Tomorrow there will be some BBQ party , already noise has started ...
    Very nice recipe..I have never made any kala pata wrapped fish ..I think it is time to start this method ...and this recipe...Long long back I used to make , fish wrapped in Shal pata and burnt in dying wooden unun...remove the burnt upper layer of leaves ..get that reaslly smokey aroma ..but cant get a wooden unun ...ha ha
    Bhalo theko

    1. Kala pata wrapped is very easy ar oi kalapatar gondho ta sundor hoy. Shaal pata ar wood oven...mmmm...can imagine the fragrance

  4. Bingo !! This is the replica of what goes on when guests 'friends' come over at out place too !!! The moment I say Can you just arrange your books as guests are coming. He will say " arey ora ashbe to ki hoyeche ?" Jemon achi temon hi dekhbe bari ar amader !! And yes I too have to remind him "Ektu kotha bolo" :-p
    This preparation looks so simple yet delicious ...Interesting part is soya sauce with coconut milk...

    1. Yes, khub halka kintu flavorful. The green curry paste can also be used for a green curry dish

  5. Bookmarking this,,.:) perfect for the weekend meal,,

    1. Yes, try with a fish fillet, very good

  6. Hellozz,

    please let me know what is galangal ? can i find the same in any of the kolkata markets? if not what can be the best substitute .....

    1. Galangal is of the ginger family but flavor is stronger and little different from ginger. Used extensively in Thai cooking

      Substitute with ginger if you wish but taste will vary

  7. Wonderful recipe....and can TOTALLY relate to the story above...

  8. Sandeepa, thai style macher paturi is looks amazing and must be very luscious.

    today's recipe:

  9. Hi Sandeepa,

    As usual such a refreshing article. Loved your 'remember to talk' bid...Ha ha ...My MIL would have loved it as she quite often screams, ' Katha balo' to my FIL from the kitchen while getting food ready for guests......Loved the innovative paaturi, Thai style recipe as well....Will definitely try out this weekend.

    Thought I will share with you, you can replace galangal with ' aamadaa' as well, and aamadaa actually has a much stronger flavour in any case. You can check in Asian stores for aamadaa.

    1. Ha, ha didn't know there are so many that need reminding :-)

      Ekhane galangal tao pelam, aamada kokhono dekhini, janio na ki rokom dekhte, english e ki bole ? Chaatni te o bhalo lage aamada

  10. Omg, who will say no to these dish, full of flavours.

  11. Omg omg omg!!! It looks like you are talking about my husband. I was telling one of my frineds a few minutes ago about the 'same' thing. I would love to invite President Obama one day and see how my husband reacts. Because, everytime he will say "Oh,they are friends"..."Oh! they are family"...I think I have to invite strangers, aliens or Barack Obama to make him clean the house. It's funny but not like 'ha ha' funny.

    1. Okay, when inviting the Prez, call me too ;-)

  12. Sandeepadi,
    I have to say my friends always say they enjoy coming to my place just so that they cant make a bigger mess in an already messy flat and they "don't feel like they should be on their best behaviour", ha ha! Nothing like a messy home to make friends/guests feel welcome ;)
    Tomar boi-ta berole janiyo.

    Sutapa :)

    1. Mess after they come is okay, kintu dhukle i mess dekhle ? Na, amar OCD ache ;-)

  13. I am in splits since I had dinner guests last Sunday and I was much like you (including, lil one-must-not-nudge-cushion syndrome)!! Thank God for dishwashers and I don;t mean the husband here :) I have to try the fish, I did make the malu style wrapped in foil and it was awesome. Any substitute for lime leaves? How many did you add while marinating?

    1. Ahem, well I make the husband rinse the dishes and then put them in the dishwasher !!! Also he is the one who has OCD about arranging dishes in the dishwasher. He will rearrange them in there while I am okay with all things that are out of sight. Can you beat that ?

      Lime leaves sub with lime zest. I had these small kaffir lime leaves, I snipped about 4-5 and added. I love a chettinad style, how is mallu style ?

    2. Oh god, I clearly have OCD as I am the one who re arranges the dishes if the hubby loads the dishwasher!!! Yet, when no guests are around the house can look like a pigsty! Malu style recipes are there on many blogs, try shn's quite a nice recipe.

  14. Hilarious post! I loved reading it. The recipe looks promising too. Must try! :)


  15. sounds a lot similar to our home. only now he does not bother to argue or talk. only does what he is told. he even tells me to tell him what to do. I guess he finds it easier than whining and arguing continuously :) never made fish this way and I have to find this fish. Shottiyi kolapataye mora fish recipe r ekta alada elegance :)

    1. Ami age bhabtam difficult kaaj, tarpor dekhlam khub shoja and also dekhteo bhalo lage

  16. Can identify with this. The Spouse has no problem tidying up the house but the dress sense ... sigh!

  17. I suppose most husbands are funny, period! If we all wrote posts on their quirkiness, I'm sure it would be a best seller, isn't it?

    Well as for the recipe, it reminded me of the Parsis' recipe, 'Patra ni machi' i.e Fish in banana leaf. Your recipe has a Thai flavour and Parsis apply Indian green chutney and steam the fish.

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  19. I do get all tense about the cleaning too. But, with two little kids, I am glad if I have food on the table :) The fish looks delicious. I will have to go find Swai...

  20. Hashte hashte morey gelam! More because that's me too, before guests arrive. Tweaking this and straightening that and stuffing the rest in dark closets :))
    This fish would be a big hit at home, and I have the ingredients too - will let you know how it turns out.

  21. Hi Sandeepa,

    Although I am regular visitor, I never left comments before. But this post was so hilarious that I am still laughing loudly. I am pretty sure there are a lot of us women who will totally relate to the tidying up frenzy just before guests arrive and hiding/shoving things into closets part is exactly what I do too!
    Your post brought cheer to my otherwise stressful work day..keep them coming!


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