Sardines in Roasted Coconut Gravy

The phrase that comes to mind at the mention of sardines is, ‘packed like sardines’, the phrase originating from the way sardines are packed in a can. Never been a fan of canned sardines, though I have eaten some awesome pasta made with sardines from a can and a pesto sauce. Instead, I like to think of sardines as these beautiful schools of fish freely swimming in the vast oceans. Indeed, the sardines are gorgeous looking… slim and silvery, with bluish-greyish backs. And they are equally tasty – sorry, it seems very unfriendly to talk about the sardines being pretty and tasty in the same para! But then, I learned to appreciate their taste way before I learned to appreciate their beauty! 🙂


This is a curry made with sardines and roasted coconut. A staple in the state of Kerala, the spice combination can vary based on the region. This one uses fenugreek seeds as an ingredient along with the roasted coconut, which gives an extra depth to the flavours.


Another interesting ingredient is the bilimbi, the very sour fruit, often used in place of tamarind or tomatoes to provide tanginess.


The bilimbi fruits are a pale green colour, about two inches long, and grow abundantly in warm weather.


Cleaning the sardines is an art in itself… especially removing the scales, but nothing that cannot be accomplished with a bit of patience.


Along with the coconut, most of the other ingredients are roasted. And finely ground into a thick paste. The sardines are cooked in this paste so that the flavours thoroughly get into them.


And if you can manage to get an earthenware pan to cook this dish, nothing like it. The unique flavour imparted by the earthenware cannot be replicated any other way. Try it… 🙂



Sardines in Roasted Coconut Gravy
Recipe type: Seafood
  • 12 sardines, fresh
  • ½ a coconut, grated
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 12 shallots
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tbsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 3 green chillies
  • ½ inch piece ginger
  • 6 to 8 bilimbi fruit
  • 1 tbsp and 1 tsp cooking oil
  • 2 sprigs curry leaves
  • Salt to taste
  1. Clean the sardines and wash thoroughly. Cut each sardine into two pieces if you like it so.
  2. Slice 6 of the shallots.
  3. Split the green chillies into two lengthwise.
  4. Cut the ginger into juliennes.
  5. Cut each bilimbi into six pieces lengthwise.
  6. Heat a largish pan, add a teaspoon of cooking oil, and when the oil is hot, add the grated coconut, garlic, 6 remaining shallots, and fenugreek seeds.
  7. Roast the till dark brown. Then add the coriander powder, chilli powder and turmeric powder and fry for another minute.
  8. Cool the roasted mixture and grind to a fine paste and place in a cooking pan.
  9. Add the sardines, green chillies, ginger and bilimbi pieces to the ground mix.
  10. Add salt to taste.
  11. Cook on a medium flame, stirring every now and then.
  12. When the sardines are done, remove from the heat. Add the springs of curry leaves.
  13. In a small frying pan, heat 1 tbsp oil.
  14. Add the sliced shallots and fry.
  15. When the shallots turn golden brown, add to the sardines along with the oil they were fried in.
  16. Mix together and enjoy with steamed rice.

Boatman’s Crab Curry

There is nothing sophisticated about this dish… It is as rustic as can be. Prepared in a hurry, with ingredients that are easily available, by people who are definitely not accomplished chefs. But boy, is it yummy! Once you have tasted it, you will never forget it, I guarantee. And of course, as can be guessed, the secret behind the goodness of this dish is the freshness of its ingredients.


The backwaters of Kerala, the small state on the south western coast of India, are well known for their natural beauty. However, something that is not so well known is the fact that the same backwaters are major channels of commerce. Boats plying on them ferry commodities and people, village to village.

To the boatmen who guide these boats through the network of waterways, the boats are their homes, especially as they are away from their villages for weeks at a time. At the end of a day, they moor their boats and settle down for the night, maybe after a visit to the shop on the banks for some daily necessities. Then it is time to prepare a quick meal in the light of the hurricane lamp. And is there anything better to cook than what can be harvested out of the water, then and there? But they have no time or patience for elaborate preparations. A chop of this, a handful of that… stir together and the boatmen’s fish or crab curry is ready… hot and spicy, enticing!
The ingredients are very basic… chopped onions, tomatoes, crushed ginger and garlic. And a bit of crushed cloves and cardamom. And a mix of coriander, chilli and turmeric powders.


The only change I have made to the original recipe – picked up from watching it being made – is that it has been mellowed down a bit, by the addition of coconut milk.
And of course, the key to the awesomeness of this dish is fresh crabs… I mean, really fresh ones.


Sauté the onions, add the powdered spices, stir in the tomatoes… toss in the crab pieces and stir together.


Add the coconut milk and cook covered for 10 minutes. A sprinkle of curry leaves makes it complete.


Serve with hot boiled rice and you will hear the lilting songs of the boatmen echo on the silvery waters on a still night.




Blackened Tilapia – a page from a Creole Cookbook

Originating in Louisiana, the Creole style of cooking combines the European cooking methodologies with the local American ingredients. Though it has influences of Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian cuisines, the major inspiration comes from the French. The blend of classical European cooking styles with new ingredients found in the New World gave rise to a very rich and flavourful cuisine.


Also, as it is centered around the bayou region of Louisiana, Creole cooking has a strong focus on fish and shell fish, which makes it even more attractive.

The first Creole cookbook in English was La Cuisine Creole, published in 1885, which is available from Amazon in printed and Kindle editions. In addition to recipes, the books provides information on the background and development of the cuisine as well.


Jambalaya, Gumbo, Etouffee, Bananas Foster… the signature dishes of the region are many. And just the memories of them are enough to induce drooling.

With its flavour combinations that lean towards the spicy, it was love at first taste for me!

And watching Emeril Lagasse on Food Network TV made it easy to kick it up a notch too! In fact, his ‘Louisiana Real and Rustic’ is my go-to reference for Creole cooking. Though the other day, when I wanted to make blackened tilapia, I did not have to refer to any book; I have made it so many times!
Blackened fish, is a quintessential Creole dish, very easy to do, usually made with catfish. But you can attempt it with any firm white fleshed fish. This time, I made it with tilapia fillets.


The key part of the dish is the spice rub – a combination of onion powder, garlic powder, paprika and other herbs.


I have tried different spice combinations, but the one that worked to perfection for me has an wee bit of clove powder in it which adds a bit of extra flavour. (See recipe below.)


You need to let the fish sit for at least 30 minutes, up to an hour, after applying the rub. And totally against the traditional method, where the fish is fried at high heat, I baked it on an aluminium foil lined baking sheet.


It couldn’t have been better! Flaky, spicy, moist fish, done in 15 minutes!



Blackened Tilapia – a page from a Creole Cookbook
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder
  • ½ tsp clove powder
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 tilapia fillets
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  1. Mix together thoroughly well all the spices and dried herbs, with the salt. You can vary the proportion of paprika and red chilli powder to adjust the heat to your preference.
  2. Wash and dry the tilapia fillets.
  3. Apply the spice rub on both sides of the tilapia fillets and keep aside for at least 30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degree Fahrenheit.
  5. Line a baking sheet with foil. Brush the foil with a teaspoon of olive oil.
  6. Lay the fillets on a foil, without overlapping.
  7. Place on the middle rack of the oven and cook for 15 minutes.
  8. Gently test with a fork. If the fish begins to flake, it is done.
  9. Serve with brown rice and vegetables.