Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Fish in a Tumeric Soup
This dish started out as a dish that I had learnt from my late mother-in-law. She used to cook an amazingly simple fish soup called Lakbuk. Being a Suluk who were originally a sea-faring people, from Southern Phillipines, cooking was done on boats while out at sea. The dishes that were borne from such a life were simple and spartan in the use of ingredients. No oil was used and to cut a long recipe short the fish that they caught from the sea went straight into a pot and were boiled with some salt, bird chillies, lemon grass, some spurts of lime juice and a few slices of onions.
I couldn't quite appreciate the soup that she made at first because I found it a little too bland, albeit extremely healthy, but eventually it grew on me not forgetting the fact that my husband hungered for it on a daily basis during the early years of our marraige.
Sometimes, however, I noticed that she (my late MIL) would use fresh tumeric and sometimes I noticed that she would saute the onions, ginger and if my late Father in law wasn't looking, she would, with a long sideward glance, throw in a couple of cloves of crushed garlic before she added the water. This confused me.
Being in a constantly bewildered and confused state at the time anyway, as a result of being in a constantly semi-conscious state of existence as a young person in my early twenties, who couldn't quite yet decide whether the big bad world of adulthood was the wisest thing to get into at all, that little deviation by my mother in law did not help. Over the years I never realised that the fish soup that I have been dishing up for my husband was actually not the fish soup original as per my mother in law as per sea-faring Suluks.
I had been adulterating it to my own taste. Unconsciously. And this is the adulterated version that I am going to present to you. The reason that I do this is because when my late father in law came to stay with us for a week, at one time, I cooked it and he actually loved it. And I love it too.
600 gm of red snapper, cut into slices
1/2 a large onion or 3 shallots
4 -5 slices of ginger
1 clove of garlic
a knob of fresh tumeric
a tumeric leaf, left whole
1 lemon grass, crushed
a couple of crushed bird chillies
Tamarind juice from a teaspoon of tammarind pulp or a slice of dried asam gelugor(which I actually prefer and for which I will get the English translation when I get it)
Pound the onions, ginger, garlic and tumeric to a paste in a pestle and mortar or in a mortar and pestle, whichever came first (I never can remember which is the correct one). Clean the pieces of fish and pat dry (not that I do that but it just sounds right in a recipe).
Saute the pounded paste, crushed lemon grass and tumeric leaf in a tablespoon of oil until fragrant then add 2 cups of water, the tamamrind juice or the slice of asam gelugor, salt and bring it ot a boil. Put in the fish and bring the soup to a gentle simmer. Add more water if necessary and adjust salt to taste. Add bird chillies at this point if you like.
Simmer until the fish is cooked through and flakes easily. Slurp and enjoy with plain white rice and veggies for a very healthy meal.