Shef's Kitchen

Food and Cooking Stories from an Indian-American girl nicknamed Shef

Fenugreek Fish Fillets June 27, 2011

Deftly flipping the two-inch chunks of pale pink fish fillets, without a fancy $25 fish spatula, she was unable to answer my question regarding the kind of fish with which she was cooking.  The quest to find the source of the fish or assure oneself that it’s a sustainable species is not on the forefront of thoughts of a housewife and cook living in India.

The fish consumed there is by default sustainable and fresh, natural and not well-travelled.  Fish isn’t purchased at a counter inside a supermarket and bagged with crushed ice. In fact, they reside temporarily in the open-air fish markets that are on every neighborhood corner in cities like Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh and Panjim in Goa, close in proximity to their final destination: the cast-iron skillet, or in modern homes, the pricy  9000 rupee-worth Calphalon nonstick skillets.

Imagining a picturesque and colorful bustling market with the smell of the ocean air wafting through? No, that’s not what these markets really look like. Driving by, you wouldn’t even notice them—they are that small. Seems that some of these neighborhood markets only sold a few dozen fish and nothing else: no razorneck clams, no crimson-fleshed salmon, no rusty lump crabmeat in plastic tubs, or scallops that look like miniature pillows on beds of ice. The beauty of Indian markets is that each vendor sells his or her own particular product, whether it is a specific meat or fish, a particular type of clothing, or a variety of spices. The growth of supermarkets is just now pervading the larger cities but they are still few in number compared to the small open-air shops.

An open-air fish market in the coastal state of Goa

Mackerel and pomfret are examples of fish caught and consumed in India’s coastal waters, but in this recipe for fish curry adapted from my husband’s cousin who lives in the suburbs of Hyderabad, I use catfish or tilapia. A mild yet flaky foundation for the curry paste to adhere to is the kind of fish desired for this dish.  Salmon would be more healthful, but would be a wasteful choice for such a generously flavored masala paste.

Fenugreek Fish Curry


2 tablespoons canola oil

3 tablespoons frozen or fresh fenugreek leaves, thawed

½ cup pureed or grated onion

½ teaspoon turmeric

2 teaspoons ginger/garlic paste (about 1 tablespoon grated ginger mashed with 4 cloves grated garlic)

1 teaspoon ground coriander

2 teaspoons red Indian chili powder (extra-hot, like Reshampatti)

1 pound tilapia or catfish fillets, cut into 2 inch pieces and patted dry

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro


1)     Heat oil in a 10-inch non-stick skillet over medium heat.

2)     Spoon in the fenugreek and cook for about 10 minutes until some darkening occurs.

3)     Carefully pour in the watery onion puree, watching for oil splatter.

4)     Cook for about 5 minutes, until the water evaporates and the onion puree is dry and slightly brown.

5)     Add about 2 tablespoons of water.

6)     Add the turmeric, ginger/garlic paste, and coriander.

7)     Mix well and continue cooking. Allow the water to evaporate again, resulting in a paste-like onion and masala mash.

8)     Add another 1-2 tablespoons water.

9)     Add the chili powder. Mix well and cook for a few minutes.

10)   Again allow the water to evaporate and dry out the paste.

11)   When the masala looks dry, spread it out on the skillet.

12)   Place the fish pieces, one by one, with your hands or a small spatula, onto the masala, gently pushing them into the masala paste.

13)   Sprinkle on the salt.

14)   Cover and cook for about 15 minutes, flipping fish pieces every 5 minutes very gently, one piece at a time.

15)   Uncover and cook 5 more minutes if liquid is still visible. The end result will look like a dry fish curry.

16)   Garnish with cilantro and serve warm.

©Shefaly Ravula


15 Responses to “Fenugreek Fish Fillets”

  1. Wow I have never tried Fenugreek! I followed through your link and the flavor sounds interesting, and combined with these other spicy and aromatic ingredients I bet I would love it. 🙂

  2. averagebetty Says:

    This sounds so good! I love, love spicy fish!
    I wish we had more small vendors, selling their one specialty item here in America… there is so much more pride in “mom and pop” than “big box.”

  3. Kim Says:

    I’ve been craving all SORTS of Indian food, especially with curry.

    I need to figure out where I can get local fenugreek leaves. Then, I’ll make this dish with catfish. 🙂


  4. Herb Says:

    I here fenugreek is super healthy. I can’t wait to try this dish out. Thanks for this great recipe.

  5. Christian Says:

    I love your descriptions of India and the images as well – plus I liked learning more about the open air markets: talk about local! I may have to try this since I have so much frozen fenugreek in the freezer.

    An interesting aside, Fenugreek boosts milk production (big time!) in nursing mothers!

  6. shefskitchen Says:

    @Cilantropist, i think you would love it! your cherry jam by the way was SO delish! I can’t wait to indulge on the spumoni!!
    @AverageBetty, i loved those markets in India. Wish I could go back every year! Thanks for stopping by!
    @Kim, you could try growing it from fenugreek seeds, if you can get your hands on some!
    @Herb, I think you guys would really love this dish! It’s different than a lot of other Indian fish dishes
    @Christian, I’m so happy you have some in your freezer! It’s a fairly quick recipe too believe it or not. Yes, I always want to write that in when I write recipes about fenugreek, but then I think twice about it! I’m glad you mentioned it for me; I wonder if food with fenugreek in it has more effect on milk production than those awful tablets!

    Thanks everyone for stopping by!

  7. amee Says:

    GREAT SHOT!! Nice post. Keep up the good work.

  8. Valentina Says:

    love this — how i’d love to be at that little open-air market in Goa! and what a beautiful image (saw it on TS, too!) 🙂

  9. You know I had never eaten catfish until I made one of Monica Bhide’s Indian recipes, and now I really like it. Mackerel and pomfret I have also never tried, but I’d be willing. Also, I buy fenugreek seeds but not leaves. I’ll have to look for them now. Gosh, you really inspired me today, Shef!

    • shefskitchen Says:

      Oh I hope you find them Susan! Seems that you’re able to find lots of great ingredients, though……agretti? Had never heard of that until I read your post last week! Wish I could get that here!

  10. cheryl Says:

    Evocative. You pulled me right in, and planted me right in the middle of Hyderabad, or Panjim.

    Thank you for the brief journey, and for whetting my appetite.

    • shefskitchen Says:

      Cheryl, I only hope you get to visit India sometime, preferably with an Indian…….like myself!

  11. We use fenugreek for this Persian herb stew we make. Never seen it fresh or frozen, only dried. Now I have to try it in Indian food!

    • shefskitchen Says:

      Laura, is it Gormeh Sabzi?? Love that dish too!! We have only used dried fenugreek in it though too. Hope you can find some fresh leaves. The aroma from them when they’re being fried is just wonderful.

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