Bold spices deliver big flavor (and a little heat) with Stir-fried Masala Fish and Okra

by Terry B on August 13, 2014

White-fleshed fish and okra are quickly stir-fried with garam masala, cumin seeds and other spices, then served over rice with coconut milk and cumin for a big-flavored, slightly spicy meal. Recipes below.

Garam Masala Tilapia and Okra

At the heart of Indian cuisine is a deft and exuberant use of spices. While some are used for heat, many simply supply huge, complex flavor. And at the heart of Indian spices is garam masala, a spice blend that sees almost daily use in Northern Indian kitchens—and in many South Asian kitchens as well. Typically, it is made fresh from family recipes for each day’s cooking. Though the mix varies regionally—and from kitchen to kitchen—it often includes some variation of peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, coriander, cumin seeds, nutmeg and cardamom.

Recipes abound, from simple to complex. Happily, garam masala is also available as a ready-made mix from spice shops, Asian markets and in many supermarkets. One version we like is available at The Spice House.

Okra is another ingredient that Indian cooks respect and do delicious things with—as do Chinese, African, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Guatemalan and Vietnamese cooks. Here in the United States, it is primarily seen as a Southern vegetable to be added to gumbo or breaded in cornmeal and fried.

To me, okra is delicious just about every way I’ve ever eaten it. I know not everyone shares this view. I encourage you to try it in this dish. But if okra is an absolute deal breaker for you or one of your diners, substitute broccoli florets, blanching them in boiling water first.

For the fish, any fairly sturdy white-fleshed fish will do. Tilapia, haddock and halibut are all good options. You can serve the fish mixture with plain rice or sautéed noodles, but I really recommend the recipe below. With coconut milk and cumin, and this rice adds a lot to the overall meal.

Stir-fried Masala Fish and Okra, Rice with Coconut Milk and Cumin
Serves 2 to 3

For the fish and okra:
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 Serrano chile, minced
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 pound firm white-fleshed fish, such as tilapia, cut into bite-sized pieces
canola oil
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/2 pound okra, sliced (fresh or thawed, if frozen)
salt
2 scallions, sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

For the rice:
1 cup rice
1-1/2 cup water
1/2 cup coconut milk, light or regular
salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Combine lemon juice, Serrano pepper, garam masala, cayenne pepper, turmeric, dry mustard and coriander in a large bowl. Add fish and stir to combine. Set aside. Rinse okra and pat dry with paper toweling.

Heat 2 tablespoons canola oil in a large sauté pan over medium flame. Add cumin seeds and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes. Add okra to pan and cook, stirring frequently. Drizzle in additional oil if needed. If using fresh okra, cook for about 10 minutes; if using frozen, cook for about 7 minutes.

Add fish mixture to the pan, drizzling in additional oil, if needed. Cook, stirring frequently, until fish is just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in scallions and cilantro.

Meanwhile, cook the rice. Combine rice, water and coconut milk in a pan. Season with salt and bring to a boil over medium-high flame. Stir in cumin, reduce heat, cover and simmer until rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in rice vinegar and cayenne pepper.

Spoon cooked rice onto plates. Top with fish mixture and serve.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

John@Kitchen Riffs August 13, 2014 at 9:41 am

I love “huge, complex flavor!” And I really like Indian food. And okra. I rarely do Indian-style fish dishes for some reason. This is a perfect recipe for tilapia, which often can use a bit of a flavor boost. Good recipe, good picture, good post — just good stuff!

randi August 13, 2014 at 12:29 pm

I do not share your view on okra, to which my father thinks I’m insane. I’ve only ever seen it in southern cooking. This sure looks tasty! Personally I would substitute the okra with eggplant. I think the fact that I’m eating curried chicken salad right now makes this look extra delicious.

Terry B August 13, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Thanks, John! We’re always wanting to do more Indian cooking. It is such an exciting cuisine.

Randi, eggplant would be delicious with this—especially Chinese eggplant!

Dani H August 14, 2014 at 5:14 am

I used to love okra when we lived in Texas. I think my mother made a corn meal batter and fried them up ~ or maybe it was even hush puppy batter. I was young enough that I hadn’t developed an interest in cooking yet.
This past year I have been trying herbs and spices which are new to me and finding I love almost all of them. By the time you get to my age, one should be open to new food experiences, don’t you think? Well, I’m getting more adventurous about a lot of things before it’s too late.
Your photograph makes this dish look drool-worthy!

Terry B August 14, 2014 at 9:14 am

Dani, I love your attitude towards trying new food experiences. I’ve come to the same approach—try everything. The worst thing that will happen is that you’ll have a bad taste in your mouth for a moment. More likely, though, you’ll discover something wonderful.

Cherry August 15, 2014 at 3:02 am

Okra is My all time favorite veggie adding up with Masala fish and rice, this is surely delicious and so healthy..

Terry B August 15, 2014 at 9:33 am

Thanks for visiting, Cherry!

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