A lightly spiced, quick and easy coconut curry of Sri Lankan and South Indian origin, fish sothi is quite often made just with vegetables. I am a huge fan of the fish version, a very local recipe found in Singapore and Malaysia, given their not so insignificant Sri Lankan and South Indian population. I have no idea how or when I learnt this recipe, it was just one of those dishes that was always around, you know what I mean?
However, there is a particular set of memories that fish sothi evokes, of a time when I lived with an aunt and uncle in Singapore. For a little while, my uncle went through a stage of making this all the time, we’re talking twice a week; luckily, it was a firm family favourite, so we weren’t about to complain!
This uncle of mine, Louis, has, like so many of my extended family members, a very mixed cultural background. His eyes are a mixed shade of blue, leaning just slightly towards slate, this from his blond and blue eyed Scottish dad, while his skin was the colour of dark coffee with just a touch of creamer, a clear reflection of his Sri Lankan mother’s heritage. To add to that mix, he was later adopted by an Arab family in Singapore! You can see, can’t you, how I grew up equipped with a very diverse culinary repertoire? The picture below shows him holding his oldest, my cousin Faisal, taken sometime in the mid 70s.
This fish sothi is very similar to the Malay Ikan Masak Lemak (with or without chilli padi) and of course, Sayur Lemak or the Indonesian Sayur Lodeh, the latter 2 completely vegetarian.
It’s a really easy recipe, a case of putting most of the ingredients in the pan & simmering till done. I like to finish the dish off with a final flourish that is optional. This is called tadka/tarka, or final tempering, where you quickly sauté some mustard seeds, curry leaves and dried chillies and pour it over the finished dish.
Usually eaten with rice although traditionally also served with string hoppers, a plain vermicelli type Indian noodles.
I love using swordfish for this, but any white firm fleshed fish will do.
If you can’t get curry leaves, finish the dish off with a garnish of fresh coriander leaves.
Chilli – this is a mild curry, so the green chilli should be a mild one, with seeds removed. The dried red chilli at the end is just for flavouring and unless you break it up, shouldn’t release any heat into the gravy.
Just replace the fish with curry friendly vegetables like okra, marrow, carrots and green beans. Tofu is fantastic in this too and if you eat eggs, add some boiled eggs to it right at the end.
- 400 ml (1 3/5 cup) coconut milk
- 200 ml (4/5 cup) water
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2.5 cm (1") ginger, finely chopped or grated
- 1 mild green chilli, left whole or seeds removed if sliced
- 1 tsp turmeric
- half tsp fenugreek seeds
- 1 medium aubergine, cut into bitesize slices
- quarter - half tsp salt
- 4 fish fillets
- 2 tomatoes, quartered
- juice of 1 lime
- 1 tbsp coconut oil or vegetable oil
- 1 sprig of curry leaves (if unavailable, don't worry)
- half tsp black mustard seeds
- 2 dried red chillies, whole
- Place all the ingredients from A into a large saucepan.
- Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, uncovered.
- Add the fish and tomatoes from B and cook for another 10 minutes or so, until the fish is done.
- Turn the heat off. Take a ladle of the curry and mix the lime juice in. Now pour this mix back into the saucepan and stir well but gently, don't break the fish up. Check the seasoning and add more salt if necessary.
- Heat the coconut oil in a small frying pan over medium heat until the oil is hot but not smoking.
- Add all ingredients C in and fry for about 10 seconds and immediately, pour this hot oil mix all over the fish sothi and serve immediately.