A ‘See’food Feast

The rains have kicked in, and while there’s much joy in that cup of hot chai or latte or chai latte with assorted vegetable and chickpea fritters or pakoras, there’s much more to look forward to, especially in the evenings. In motley pockets around the city, at around sunset, you’ll see scores of people, a lot of them men, converge around pop-up food carts and stalls that show up every year. Heaps of fresh fruit and dried dates, and a spread of hearty food and cool drinks to nourish and reinvigorate after a rigorous abstinence from all refreshment and water from dawn to dusk; Iftar stalls with their colourful lights, swarming hordes and beckoning smoky aromas become guiding lighthouses for hungry stomachs during the holy month of Ramadan. Iftar or Fatoor is the time when devout Muslims break their fast, but is more known as a synonym for feasting for the rest of the world. Robust chunks of meat being roasted over ashy coals in one nook, platters of rice and breads being laid out in the middle, and a display of colourful desserts and beverages taking up another cranny—Iftar is one big food fair, where the entry fee is a hearty appetite.

While most of us correlate Iftar meals with platters of grilled meats and meat dishes, there are enough impressive seafood options out there that are satiating and yet light on the stomach. Seafood, true to its rep, is all protein and low in fat, making it an excellent choice for dinner, especially after a long, arduous day of fasting, when what your body really needs is nutritive food that’s easy to digest. It is tasty on its own, and versatile enough to be served in distinct meal courses. There may not be seafood special Iftar buffets like these around you yet, but easy delivery of raw seafood is already here. For inspiration for food that’s great for Iftar, and even better for celebrations all-year round, here are five downright delicious, expert- and foodie-approved dishes:
Prawns with chilli and garlic make up the basics of many a popular dish.
1) Madhur Jaffrey’s Prawns with garlic and chilli: There are probably several hundreds of prawn and garlic and chilli dishes across the world. The three core ingredients intact, the supporting cast of other aromatics, veggies, oils, seasonings and sauces and the direction, aka the cooking method can make this dish a different show each time. This version is Madhur Jaffrey-certified; she says she has served it repeatedly as an appetizer for her dinner parties as it’s one of her favourites. If that endorsement doesn’t convince you, perhaps the blend of spices and the fresh curry leaves it employs will. In any case, sooner or later, you will come around to what is a cracker of a hot prawn dish. Pass around the napkins first, since there may be incidents of excessive drooling.

Recipe: Madhur Jaffrey recipe: Prawns with garlic and chillies

Kerala-style baked fish has all the bold flavours and none of the fat of a regular fish fry.
2) Spicy Baked Fish Recipe – Kerala Style: Pooja Jerajani is a digital marketer and a travel blogger, and a self-confessed noob when it comes to fish—she has been eating fish only for a little over two years, and the extent of her adventures stretch to a fry or tikka for starters and a curry for mains. As fond as she is of eating good food, Pooja is also committed to eating healthy so the fish fry is usually off the table, and there are only so many times one can order a tandoori tikka, right? A Kerala-style spicy baked fish made with minimal oil sounds like the perfect appetizer solution if you’re in a dilemma like Pooja. Stick to fillets of any firm white fish; feel free to swap the olive oil with coconut oil for that heightened Kerala experience or vegetable oil will work in a snap too; ensure your black pepper is freshly crushed as instructed. Your taste buds and those of your dinner companions will thank you for it. A desi-style kachumber will make for a great accompaniment.

Recipe: Spicy Baked Fish Recipe – Kerala Style

Fish and Mango Kebabs make for great dinner conversations.
3) Sanjeev Kapoor’s Fish and Mango Kebab: There are very few Indian-style mango and fish combinations you will hear or read of. This happens to be one of those, even if it is grilled and served satay-style. Plus, we’re heading towards the end of the season of the golden fruit, in case you needed reminding; this recipe uses the luscious wonder in both green and ripe forms. And lastly, it comes from the very reliable Sanjeev Kapoor, who’s been chef-ing around for as long as our mothers have been cooking recipes seen on TV. There’s really no reason not to give this a shot, if only to announce to your dinner party that you’re serving fish and mango kebabs and watch the eyebrows go up; and then, at the first bite, see the smiles break out. Memorable dinner party stories are made of these experiences.

Recipe: Fish and Mango Kebab

There are quite a few Indian fish curries that use yoghurt, but Bengali-style Doi Maach is possibly the most popular.
4) Doi Maach: For home chef Hina Raj, Ramadan’s a busy time. There are catering orders to be delivered, and the family dinners to be dished up. Sometimes Hina turns to a light Bengali-style fish curry with yoghurt over other loaded meat dishes. True-blue Bengalis will cock a snook at anything that’s not freshwater fish for their beloved Doi Maach, but you can decide what steaks you would like to add to your curry. Mustard oil is quintessential here; substitute only if you’re of the rare breed that just won’t have anything to do with it. Frying the fish is typical of Bengali cooking too; frying gives the fish ‘character’, and helps it hold its own when stewed in the spicy yet delicate sauce. Serving rice alongside is a given; a raw papaya “plastic” chutney or a sweet and tart green mango chutney makes for a complete platter.

Recipe: Bengali Doi Maach

A well-made mixed seafood biryani is gorgeous-looking and tastes even better.
5) Mixed Seafood Biryani: Ask Chef Arif Ahmed about his favourite fish dishes for Iftar and he’ll start with the Mixed Seafood Biryani. The accomplished cuisinier with his long experience in well-known kitchens in the hospitality industry knows what he’s talking about. The mixed seafood biryani is an Indian spice-scented ode to the Spanish seafood paella. The short-grained rice in the latter is replaced by the best basmati, the delicate flavouring ingredients giving way to a robust, aromatic, no holds barred smack. Only the saffron and assorted seafood stay intact. The result is a gorgeous-looking rice platter that needs no further garnish; one that fills up the room with fragrant whiffs and announces its arrival immediately. As with all aromatic biryanis, feel free to add kewra/screw pine extract to this one too, and don’t skip the dum cooking and fresh grinding of the masalas. These make all the difference.

Recipe: Mixed Seafood Biryani

Ending your seafood Iftar repast with dessert is strictly optional; the sweetness of the sea and happy memories that’ll stay make for sugared endings.

About the Author
An incorrigible gastronome, Rupika V is on a perpetual quest to find the best food around, and will happily travel far to find it.

Image Credit: Cover
Image Credit: Prawns with chilli and garlic make up
Image Credit: Kerala-style baked fish
Image Credit: Fish and Mango Kebabs
Image Credit: Doi Maach
Image Credit: Seafood Biryani

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