My glorious and piscine-loving Citizens – welcome to part III of ‘Operation Fish-supper’ – My attempt to correct the serious dearth of freshwater fish recipes here on the blog! TFD Nation’s long-time Citizens are already aware of the fact that I am not a fan of fish in general, and freshwater fish in particular – and this is My attempt to do right by you!
I have found that Asian-based freshwater fish recipes are the most aligned with My specific tastes, as the strong flavors associated with this style of cuisine effectively mask any fishy flavors (at least to My palate!) and are already beloved by the Sultan of Spice. This Indian fish curry recipe is truly indicative of the flavor profiles I strive for here!
This particular recipe is a symphony of spicy and sour flavors, accompanied by the oily mouth feel associated with curries from the southern Andhra Pradash state of India – it is truly a special recipe and a perfect way to close out this special series! Before the recipe, however – the history of the region and what makes its cuisine so very special indeed!
Although Sanskrit writings dating to about 1000 BCE contain references to a people called “Andhras” living south of the central Indian mountain ranges, definitive historical evidence of the Andhras dates from the times of the Mauryan dynasty, which ruled in the north from the late 4th to the early 2nd century BCE.
The great Mauryan emperor Ashoka (reigned c. 265–238 BCE) sent Buddhist missions to the Andhras in the south. About the 1st century CE the Satavahanas (or Satakarni), one of the most-renowned of the Andhra dynasties, came to power. Its members ruled over almost the entire Deccan plateau and even established trade relations with Rome.
They were patrons of diverse religions and also were great builders; their principal city, Amaravati, contained Buddhist monuments that inaugurated a new style of architecture. Experts ascribe parts of the famous paintings in the Ajanta Caves of the Deccan (now in Maharashtra state) to the Andhra painters of that period.
Buddhism prospered under the Andhras, and in their capital flourished the great Buddhist university of antiquity, where Nagarjuna (c. 150–250 CE), the founder of the Mahayana school of Buddhism, taught. The ruins of the university, at Nagarjunakonda, still reflect its former glory.
The Andhras continued to prosper over the next millennium, and in the 11th century the eastern Chalukya dynasty unified most of the Andhra area. Under the Chalukyas, Hinduism emerged as the dominant religion, and the first of the Telugu poets, Nannaya, began translating the Sanskrit epic, Mahabharata, into Telugu.
During the 12th and 13th centuries the dynasty of the Kakatiyas of Warangal (now in Telangana) extended Andhra power militarily and culturally, and during their regime the commercial expansion of the Andhras toward Southeast Asia reached its peak.
By that time, however, followers of Islam had established themselves in the north, and their invasion of the south led to the fall of Warangal in 1323. But the rise of the kingdom of Vijayanagar, to the southwest of Warangal, arrested further expansion of the Muslim power for some time.
Widely acclaimed not only as the greatest kingdom in Andhra history but also as one of the greatest in Indian history, Vijayanagar, under the rule of its preeminent king Krishna Deva Raya (reigned 1509–29), became synonymous with military glory, economic prosperity, good administration, and artistic splendor.
Telugu literature, for instance, flourished during that period. The formation of an alliance between the various neighboring Muslim principalities ultimately led to the fall of Vijayanagar in 1565, leaving the Muslims in control of the Andhra areas.
European traders began to involve themselves in Indian politics in the 17th century, as successive nizams (rulers) of Hyderabad, seeking to consolidate their kingdom against rivals, obtained first French and later British support. In exchange for their help, the British acquired from the nizam the coastal Andhra districts lying to the north of the city of Madras (now Chennai) and later the hinterland districts.
As a result, the major part of the Andhra country came under British rule – part of what then was the Madras Presidency. The Telugu-speaking Telangana region, however, remained under the nizam’s dominion of Hyderabad, and the French acquired a few towns.
Indian nationalism arose during the 19th century, and the Andhras took a place at the forefront of the movement. Leaders such as Kandukuri Veeresalingam were pioneers in social reform. In the struggle against British rule, Andhra leaders played decisive roles.
Pride in their historical and linguistic achievements led them to demand a separate province. Simultaneously, a movement was organized to unite the Telugu-speaking peoples living under British rule with those under the nizam’s administration.
After India gained independence in 1947, however, the region remained administratively and linguistically divided. In 1950 the southern and eastern Andhra portion was incorporated into Madras state, and the Telangana region became part of Hyderabad state.
The Andhras’ demand for separate statehood became so insistent that, when the central government refused to comply, a local leader, Potti Sreeramulu, fasted to death in 1952 to dramatize the issue. The government finally acceded by creating, on October 1, 1953, Andhra state – which included the Telugu-speaking districts of the former Madras state to the south.
That action paved the way for the formation of linguistic states throughout India, beginning in 1956 and continuing into the 21st century. Through the States Reorganization Act of 1956, the state of Hyderabad was split up, and its Telugu-speaking districts (constituting Telangana) were joined to the Andhra state on November 1, 1956, to form the new state of Andhra Pradesh.
Telugu cuisine is a cuisine of South India native to the Telugu people from the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Generally known for its tangy, hot and spicy taste, the cooking is very diverse due to the vast spread of the people and varied topological regions. Today’s recipe is most indicative of this distinctive taste profile as well.
As eruditely noted on sanjeevkapoor.com:
Andhra Pradesh is not only the fifth largest state in India but also the biggest and most populous state in the southern region of the country. Andhra (meaning ‘leader in battle’) is fertile with two major rivers Godavari and Krishna bestowing it with their blessings which are also evident in the lush and vast fields of rice.
It will not come as a surprise to anyone that Andhra Pradesh also bears a second name: Rice Bowl of India. The State has the longest coastline (972 kilometers) among all the states in India.The Krishna and Godavari rivers together irrigate thousands of square kilometers of land, creating the largest perennial cultivable area in India.
Andhra Pradesh leads in the production of rice (paddy) and is called ‘India’s Rice Bowl’. It is also the leading producer of cash crops like tobacco, groundnut, chillies, turmeric, oilseeds, cotton, sugar and jute. It produces some of the finest varieties of mangoes, grapes, guavas, sapotas, papayas and bananas.
The cuisine of Andhra Pradesh is reputedly the spiciest of all Indian cuisine. Foods include both the original spicy Andhra cooking and the milder, Muslim-influenced Hyderabadi cuisine. Rice is the staple and used in a wide variety of ways. Typically, rice is either boiled and eaten with curry, or made into a batter for dosas and idlis.
Meat, vegetables and greens are prepared with different masalas into a variety of strongly flavored dishes. Pickles and chutneys called pachadi in Telugu are particularly popular in Andhra Pradesh and many varieties of pickles and chutneys are unique to the state.
Chutneys are made from practically every vegetable including tomatoes, brinjals and an aromatic green called gongura. A mango pickle, ‘avakkai’ is probably the best known of the Andhra pickles.
Hyderabadi cuisine is influenced by the Muslim population, which arrived in Andhra centuries ago. Much of the cuisine revolves around meat. It is rich and aromatic, with a liberal use of exotic spices and ghee, not to speak of nuts and dry fruits.
Lamb, chicken and fish are the most widely used meats in the non-vegetarian dishes. Nellore chepela pulusu (Fish gravy with tamarind) is a popular dish among the varieties prepared with fish. The biryanis, accompanied by mirchi ka salan, are perhaps the most distinctive and popular of Hyderabadi dishes.
So, it is obvious that this particular pulusu recipe is a hallmark of the non-Muslim, original cuisine of the region – and it is considered a signature dish of the State with very good reason indeed! Redolent with spices, sour with tamarind and oily from a liberal use of Indian sesame oil, this is a winner even for those who prefer their protein from the land!
Typically, freshwater fish is the mainstay of this recipe and in India it is beloved when cooked with Tilapia – a fish that is not only quite common in Western groceries, but is in fact the authentic choice even in India! The fish is the easy ingredient to obtain in this recipe – a few are more outré, but easily found online.
Fresh curry leaves are a must for this recipe, and easily purchased in any Indian grocery store. If you lack easy access to such a source, they can be easily bought from this quality vendor. The proper dried red chilies to use in this recipe may be easily purchased from Amazon here, while gingelly oil (do NOT substitute Asian sesame oil!) is found here!
Proper Kashmiri chili powder may be purchased here and REAL asafœtida (an incredibly potent smelling resin that is redolent of garlic – it is usually powdered and cut in grocery stores – but not here!) may be purchased from here. Please be sure to keep it tightly-sealed and only use a pinch – a little goes a LONG way!
Whole fenugreek seeds may be easily purchased on Amazon via this link while black mustard seeds can be found here – be very careful buying these, as quality can be very variable, this brand has been consistently excellent in My overall experience.
Lastly, fresh tamarind paste is an absolute must in this pulusu recipe – and I have found this seedless product from Thailand really works well in the recipe – if you use other brands of tamarind paste, they may have seeds, which will need to be removed from the paste after it has been mixed with water.
Citizens – this concludes My catharsis on freshwater fish recipes and I hope you have enjoyed reading about them (and hopefully MAKING them!) as much as I have enjoyed researching to disprove My previously heartfelt mantra that I just don’t like fish recipes! I just happen to have VERY specific tastes and I will move forward accordingly! 😉
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
The Hirshon Indian Chepala Pulusu – Andhra Fish Curry – చేపల పులుసు
- 7 Tbsp. gingely (Indian sesame) oil
- 1/4 tsp. black mustard seeds
- 1/4 tsp. cumin seeds
- 1/4 tsp. whole fenugreek seeds
- 3 dried red Indian chilies
- 3 sprigs fresh curry leaves
- 8 cloves minced garlic
- 3 jalapeños, finely-diced
- 18 shallots, peeled and finely-chopped
- 1 lime-sized hunk of tamarind paste
- 6 very ripe heirloom tomatoes
- 1 tsp. turmeric powder
- 2 tsp. Kashmiri red chili powder
- 3 tsp. freshly-ground coriander powder
- a large pinch of asafœtida
- 1 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
- 1 lb. Tilapia pieces
- 4 cups water (divided)
- FOR THE SPICE POWDER:
- 1/8 tsp. fenugreek seeds
- 1/4 tsp. mustard seeds
- 1 tsp. cumin seeds
- 1 tsp. coriander seeds
- 1 tsp. black peppercorns
- Heat gingely oil in a pan. Add in the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, dried red chilies and curry leaves. Fry until the curry leaves are crisp.
- Add in the garlic, jalapeños and finely-chopped shallots. Fry until they are lightly brown. The oil will bubble up – it’s ok, don’t panic!
- Soak the tamarind paste in 2 cups of hot water for 20 minutes. Make a pulp by squeezing the tamarind well. Strain the pulp to get rid of the seeds (if not a seedless paste). Set aside.
- Puree tomatoes in a blender. Set aside.
- Add in both the tomato puree and the tamarind pulp. Add in turmeric, asafœtida, Kashmiri red chili powder and coriander powder (dhania). Add in the salt. Add 2 more cups of water.
- Simmer the gravy for 30 minutes, covered on a low flame and stirring once every 5 minutes. After 30 minutes the oil should start to float on top. That is a sign that the gravy has been cooked.
- Add in the fish pieces and let them cook for 7-8 minutes on low heat.
- When the fish is cooking, make the spice powder for the curry. Heat a heavy pan and dry-roast fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, mustard seeds and black peppercorns on a low heat for 5 minutes. Do not rush. Dry roast until everything starts to pop and brown. Remove from heat and cool on a plate.
- Once the mixture is cooled, grind it to a very fine powder.
- Add the powder to the pan. Simmer for a minute.
- Open the lid and add the tamarind water and give all a gentle mix. Remove off heat and serve hot with rice.
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as you may be aware, indian is my absolute favourite cuisine, and i cook a lot of it regularly. i have been trying to shift our diet (well, hubby’s diet) to a more plant-centric one, more like mine, and asian recipes as well as african and middle eastern are a big part of that. his strong (ahem) attachment to meat has been my waterloo; and i had wondered about doing more seafood for him. i am allergic to it all, so he rarely gets any fish, and it’s always rather a treat for him. with dishes like this, i can prepare the sauces and tadkas in common, then do fish for him and paneer, tofu, or vegetables for me using the same sauce in separate pans. this recipe is perfect for that! thanks!
You’re very welcome – I hope he enjoys it!!! 🙂