This website uses cookies to improve your experience navigating our site. By continuing to browse, you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

OK, I understand

Spice Mama · Coconut Fish Curry

Food

Originally born in Bombay, and now based in Perth, Shaheen Hughes started her blog, Spice Mama, as an homage to her ancestors, sharing the stories of her family and culture through the food they cooked. She describes it as a ‘culinary nostalgia project’, which is such a beautiful sentiment!

The Indian food Shaheen shares on Spice Mama are recipes passed down from her mother, Sultana, and grandmother, Aziza, to feed the body and soul. Shaheen’s blog and Instagram account are peppered with incredible images of DELICIOUS food, and scans of beautiful, old film photos of India and the women in her family. We were blown away by Shaheen and Spice Mama, and are so excited to introduce her for a month-long food residency. Today she begins by sharing her Coconut Fish Curry – enjoy!

7th November, 2017

‘The local fisherwomen would bring big baskets of the day’s catch to our house in the morning and if it passed the scrutiny of my nana, we would eat fish curry that day’, Shaheen remembers of her childhood in Bombay. Photo – Dion Robeson. Assistant – Anna Flanders.

Shaheen and her mother, Sultana, come from a long line of women with a passion for cooking. Photo – Dion Robeson. Assistant – Anna Flanders.

Serving up the fragrant fish curry. Photo – Dion Robeson. Assistant – Anna Flanders.

Shaheen’s family photos of her granny Aziza. In 1959, the year they were taken, she would have been 27. Photo – courtesy of Shaheen Hughes.

Shaheen and her mother, Sultana. Photo – Dion Robeson. Assistant – Anna Flanders.

Serve the curry over Basmati Rice. Photo – Dion Robeson. Assistant – Anna Flanders.

Shaheen Hughes and Sultana Shamshi
Tuesday 7th November 2017

‘Any migrant will tell you it can be lonely in the kitchen; but when I cook the food of my culture, my ancestors are with me, keeping me company.’ – Shaheen Hughes.

Spice Mama is the way I honour the memory of the women in my family, by telling the story of the food they cooked for those they loved, and the food they most loved to eat.

Any migrant will tell you it can be lonely in the kitchen; but when I cook the food of my culture, my ancestors are with me, keeping me company.  I started making traditional East Indian bottle masala after my nana died, because the incredible fragrance of the roasting spices reminded me of her.

This first recipe I share today is a fragrant, coconut fish curry.

A few hundred years ago, the great city of Bombay was no more than a series of fishing villages.  I grew up in Colaba, close to the seafront, and fish made up a big part of our diet.  The local fisher women would bring big baskets of the day’s catch to our house in the morning and if it passed the scrutiny of my nana, we would eat fish curry that day.

There are several different versions of our fish curry. I usually make it with my nana’s East Indian Bottle Masala, but this simple version is a good basic recipe, fresh and full of fragrant curry leaves, turmeric and coconut.  Curry leaves are such an essential part of Indian cooking, and they are so good for you, so plant a tree or borrow some from a kind neighbour.  If you can’t source them, it is okay to leave them out.

Ingredients

500 grams of firm fleshed fish (Spanish mackerel is our favourite)
1 tin of good quality coconut milk or cream (I like Ayam brand)
2 tablespoons of coconut oil
1 stalk of fresh curry leaves
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
¾ teaspoon of black mustard seeds
2 green chillies, slit vertically down the middle
1 inch square piece of fresh ginger, finely grated
¾ plus ¾ teaspoon of turmeric (1 ½ teaspoons in total)
1 teaspoon of salt
Juice of half a lemon, to taste, or some tamarind paste

Method

Rinse and place the fish pieces on a plate, then sprinkle over ¾ teaspoon of turmeric and a bit of salt, rub in and then set aside.  Traditionally, we rub fish with turmeric and salt to clean it.

In a heavy-based saucepan, heat the coconut oil and add the curry leaves, mustard seeds and cumin seeds, waiting until they all start popping (and being careful to keep out of the way of flying seeds!).   This process tempers the spices and allows them to release their nutrients in the oil.  Add the ginger and chillies and fry for another minute until the ginger smells aromatic, then add the remaining ¾ teaspoon of turmeric and slowly start adding the coconut milk.  Turn the heat down and simmer for 10 minutes or so.  Fill the coconut milk can with water and dilute the curry by adding this slowly to increase the amount of gravy (you don’t need to add the whole can, just enough to keep it juicy).

Place the fish pieces gently in the gravy and cook until done, no more than another 10 minutes or so depending on the thickness of your fillets.

After this, add the salt and lemon and taste for seasoning, you can always add more as needed so don’t add either all at once.

Serve with hot white Basmati rice.

Similar Stories

Food

Free to Feed · Herb Yoghurt and Beetroot Dips

Two fragrant, textural dips sure to add excitement to any mezze platter!
Hamed Allahyari & Julia Busuttil Nishimura of Free to Feed

Food

Easy Banh Mi

A crispy baguette style roll spread with French paté, roast duck or char-siu pork, sweet pickled carrots, mayo, coriander and chilli. Poss

Food

Indian Spiced Chicken

A fragrant spiced chicken curry, and a fail-proof homemade curry paste.
Philip Messenger

This Week

Gardens

A Lush Secret Garden, Inside A Converted Melbourne Church!

This surprising garden in East Melbourne has its own lagoon pool, a natural fish pond and 10m-tall walls covered in ivy.
Christina Karras

Creative People

The New Small Business Making Mid-Century-Inspired Furniture In Australia

Culture Cush are making velvet-covered modular lounges inspired by retro designs, with the best materials of today!
Christina Karras

Homes

A Quirky Redfern Terrace With A Hidden Green Roof

The unconventional family home of designer Sacha Coles, split over 4 levels!

Architecture

An Unconventional Beach House Elevated On Steel

Steel beams elevate AB House by Office MI—JI to form an unconventional beach house in Barwon Heads.

Art

A Look Inside Abbey Rich's Mesmerising New Exhibition

See the Melbourne artist's beautifully bold abstract pieces at MARS Gallery, filled with playful patterns and hidden meanings.
Christina Karras

Sustainable Homes

An Off-Grid, Modern Country Farmhouse In Regional Victoria

Step inside a newly built farmhouse that's fully off the grid, with all the classic features of an old country home.
Christina Karras

Homes

An Owner-Designed Renovation Of A 1970s South Yarra Apartment

How designers Lola Digby-Diercks and Sebastian Owen completely transformed their South Yarra apartment in just six months.

A Day In The Life

A Day In The Life With Local Icons + TikTok Stars, Ginger And Carman

Get to know the fashionable, dynamic duo, whose fun-filled adventures (and inspiring approach to life) have made them Internet famous!
Christina Karras

Art

9 Unmissable Exhibitions To See In 2023!

From NGV's Alexander McQueen exhibition, to a showcase of Frida Kahlo's works, here are the must-see exhibitions of the coming year.
Christina Karras

Climate

Everything You Need To Know About GreenPower (+ Why You Should Make The Switch)

The easiest way to invest in in Australia's renewable future - and it's simpler (and cheaper) than you think!

Architecture

A Brazilian-Inspired Update Of A 1920s Brisbane Cottage

Bowen by Shaun Lockyer Architects elevates a 1920s cottage with a stunning renovation and addition.

Food

Julia's Crunchy Crumbed Fish With Cos Salad + Yoghurt Tartare

Julia Busuttil Nishimura's delicious take on a classic summer fish dinner – on high rotation for the rest of the season!
Julia Busuttil Nishimura

Gardens

A Boundless Garden Immersed In Native Bushland

A new coastal home on the Mornington Peninsula buried deep within a native grassy woodland, with stunning gardens by Plume Studio.

Studio Visit

Local Artist Hannah Maskell Creates Mesmerising Grids Of Colour

The Melbourne-based artist's geometric drawings and wooden sculptures are a cross between 'colour theory and colour therapy'.
Christina Karras

Shopping

Shop The Chunky, Colourful Furniture You’ve Seen All Over The Internet

Meet the tradie brothers behind FEARON, who have been making quirky, must-have furniture that blends fun with functionality!
Christina Karras

Similar Stories

Food

Free to Feed · Herb Yoghurt and Beetroot Dips

Two fragrant, textural dips sure to add excitement to any mezze platter!
Hamed Allahyari & Julia Busuttil Nishimura of Free to Feed

Food

Easy Banh Mi

A crispy baguette style roll spread with French paté, roast duck or char-siu pork, sweet pickled carrots, mayo, coriander and chilli. Poss

Food

Indian Spiced Chicken

A fragrant spiced chicken curry, and a fail-proof homemade curry paste.
Philip Messenger

The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net