Nov 062011

Fish as a Health Food

It has been said time and again that fish is a health food. We, living in coastal region, have access to plenty of it and so it has been our daily diet for ages. The most common method of preparing fish in my region has been cooking it in tamarind & curry leaves based curry. Fried fish as a side dish has been the second most favored choice. It’s hard to pass a day when one of our meal doesn’t contain fish.

Having said that, we do understand that in many cases, fish can be as harmful to your cholesterol levels as red meat. Shelled fishes are known to increase cholesterol count, so don’t consider yourself healthy if you eat a lot of crabs and lobsters. There are lot other fishes which are known to carry toxic elements in their body. But I am not writing this to wake your health concerns. This post is to let you know that the cook in me is still alive and cooking. I am experimenting on steamed fishes, and have been achieving better results each time. Though there are variety of fishes which can be steamed, I restrict myself to pomfret as the flesh becomes very soft after cooking. You can also steam Kingfish, mackerel and other types of fish as per your liking.

….….…Wow!! I just took a break from writing to finish off the steamed pomfret which was on the stove while I was writing. I just can’t to wait to share this recipe.

Let’s do it

Ingredients :

(I prefer not to weigh my ingredients because each time you end up having different proportions which creates interesting flavors. Believe me!!Also, you can use the bit extra marinade to go with your appam or rice)

1 Pomfret(size as per your requirement)

4 tablespoon grated coconut(health conscious people can opt out of this ingredient)

1 green chili

1/2 tomato

2 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 teaspoon ginger garlic paste

handful of fresh cilantro leaves

turmeric leaves or banana leaves(enough to wrap the pomfret and the marinade, OPTIONAL)

a piece of ambi haldi(OPTIONAL, tastes very good when used with turmeric leaves wrapping)

food grade aluminum foil

4-5 curry leaves

salt to taste


Except for the pomfret, aluminum foil, the wrapping leaves and ambi haldi, mix everything in the grinder to make a smooth paste for the marinade/stuffing. Keep aside.

Clean and gut out the pomfret, remove the fins and tail. Remove the mouth, eyes. There are two ways of marinating, one is stuffing and second is applying the marinade on the grooves cut on the fish. I prefer grooves, but if you need assistance on stuffing, check out this video. If you don’t want to stuff, cut deep grooves across the breadth of the fish while keeping the fishbone intact. Apply the marinade generously all over the fish and fill up the mouth cavity.

Cut the ambi haldi in to thin strands and spread all over the fish. Place the fish with its marinade on the turmeric leaves or banana leaves and wrap around gently. Then place this entire wrapping on aluminum foil and wrap around(aluminum foil helps in preserving the juices which might seep out of the leaves). If you don’t have the leaves, you can wrap the fish in the foil itself, but remember, the leaves impart a good natural flavor and aroma to the steamed fish.

Photo1436Use a traditional idli maker to steam the fish. Photo1437It can even be steamed in a pressure cooker with the whistle removed. While steaming ensure that there is enough water to last for about 30 minutes of steaming on low heat, but not so much that the water enters the aluminum foil. In the traditional idli maker, you can use the idli plates to separate the fish from the water. In a pressure cooker use suitable stand which is stable and which can hold the fish.

Finish Garnish and ServePhoto1440

Steam the fish for about 30-35 minutes on medium heat. Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves. Serve hot. While serving, try to retain the juices that flow out of the fish. Goes well with idli, dosa, steamed rice, appam, amboli etc..

Sep 252010

The regular readers of this blog know that I was a shippie until very recently. Shippie is a term used for a person who work on ship. I worked in the capacity of a marine engineer on five different ships. Following is not my resume. It explains to you the food habits on a normal ship.

My very first ship was with the shipping corporation of India. Before being inducted in the corporation, I had to undergo training for a period of one year under the guidance of very senior marine engineers, with lots of good tales to tell and experiences to share. I never had my mind on studies during the training period, but whenever any instructor recollected any incidence regarding food onboard(on the ship), my eyes would wake and my ears open up. From what they told, I had a general impression that the food onboard was good most of the times. Very rarely would it be bad. Bu it was always abundant and free flowing, considering the long voyages(journey between two ports). And the cooks seemed to be the best of all.

During the tenure of my five ships I had a very mixed view about this.

My very first ship, M.T. Subhedar Joginder Singh PVC, was a crude oil tanker, and being old, most of the voyages were to the Indian coastal ports(Except for that one time when we went to Labuan, Malasiya). So, food getting spoiled, was almost a rare event. But, I do not recollect a single day when all the three meals, were fit for a king. I would always be either a good breakfast, a good lunch, or a good dinner. But never a combination of two goods and one bad, or three goods all together on a single day. Be it diwali, Id, Christmas, or any other festival celebrated in India. The catering department pointed out that this kind of diet was abiding to the INSA-MUI rules, and was a balanced diet. Funny to hear this on ship where you work hard with heavy machinery under extreme conditions.

Here I must interrupt to explain in brief, a funny kind of agreement made between the INSA(Indian National Ship owner’s Association) and the MUI(Maritime union of India), with regards to food(most of the clauses from the entire agreement are very ridiculous, but I stick to food.)

The agreement states the type of meals a seafaring officer will be provided. It goes in length and details to explain the number of official meals, served by stewards, an officer is entitled to. And it does not stop here. The union has even quantified the amount of milk a person can have, in milliliters. And the catering officers stick to it. They have described in details what type of combination of food should be prepared for each meal.

So back to my ship, where we were served slices of cheese after lunch, as a mouth freshener. With only one good meal, we had to decide early in the morning which meal to load ourselves with, and adjust our other meals accordingly. The very first month when I was put up for a night shift along with the fourth engineer, I learned that its a common practice on ships during the night watch, to cook something in the galley(kitchen of the ship). Most of the times, we would boil eggs inside the engine control room itself, using an electric tea kettle. Which was forbidden, so don’t tell my chief engineer. But once I went to the galley, and being interested in cooking and all, and made some scrambled eggs. The next day, I found some chicken legs in the refrigerator. I fried two of them and shared with the other junior engineer. The third day, the refrigerators were locked with a custom made latch onboard. So no more “stealing” supplies from the fridge. For the next six months, we were scrambling eggs which we were supplied for our night shift.

On to the second ship, which I joined at Mumbai port, where picked up supplies for our journey to Iran. From there we were scheduled to go to mohammedia, morocco and the catering officer got some “news” that the ship was supposed to come back to Mumbai from Morocco. So he ordered for the minimum supplies, as he calculated that he could pick up some on the return voyage at the Suez canal transit. Just before arrival to Morocco, it was declared that we would be going to the Angola offshore oil field, and then to Houston. All the calculations went wrong. The catering officer could not pick up supplies from Morocco, due to the exorbitant prices(a slice bread packet for 200 rs and a dozen eggs for 400 rs.). And there were no provisions at Angola offshore field. So we had to cut down on our food varieties during the transit to Houston. A one point at the end of the voyage, we had no bread, almost no milk, no fresh vegetables(salads were stopped from the day the catering officer found that his calculations had gone wrong.) Those were the days when I came to know about chicken giblets. One fine morning, the menu announce that we would be served chicken giblet curry for lunch. I was thrilled since I was about to taste something new, even when we have a food crisis onboard. Only later did I realise that giblets were the spare parts of chicken, which included the toes.I am fortunate enough not to have read chicken giblet curry on any menu card, anywhere, after that day.

On the day of my signoff(when we are relieved from our duties, its called as signing off from the ship) I went for lunch, only to find prawns curry. I started eating it, and mid meal, I asked the chief steward about when he had picked up new supplies with the prawns. He informed that the provisions were from Mumbai, about 8 months, and hundreds of of run/stopped refrigeration operations, old. May be that was the reason I had to stay empty stomach from afternoon till 10 pm when I entered the Cairo airport. Another common thing on both these ships were the mackerel. Very old and dry. Felt like they had been purposely dried to preserve for many months. They stink when fried.

My third ship wasn’t any better, being the same old SCI mentality. In fact, I was a food on that ship, with all the bed bugs sucking out my blood.

Things changed a lot after I moved to a foreign flag ship. This ships, though managed by Indian staff from land, had a very different culture. Though the provision stores were under lock and key, we never went disappointed whenever we requested something to the chief cook, who was the in charge of the entire galley operation under the supervision of the Master(the captain of a ship is called the master. He is the owner of the ship while onboard and is responsible for its proper functioning.) Provisions were picked up just enough for the voyage, and a bit more accounting for any delays. There were fresh provisions every 7-15 days. There was no rule regarding how much milk or juice a person consumed. Also there was an advantage of working with Filipino crew. I could try out various dishes popular to Pinoy(Filipinos). Various kind of soups including pork, meat, shrimps, crab were common. Onboard was the first time I tried crisp fried squid(kalamari in pinoy). Steak was good. And, this was the first time I came across a full fledge party onboard, with barbecue on the poop deck(aft deck, or the deck on the back end of the ship). A pigs head, with apple in its mouth, was roasted almost every time we had a party. Parties didn’t require occasions. A long voyage with calm weather and a jolly captain would suffice. Drinks were free flow. Beer, whisky, rum, vodka, wine…you name it.

Then we had times when we officers, who had some interest in cooking, would take over the galley for one meal. Its would be fun, and the end product would be exciting. Its surprising to know how efficient, men, who have no training in the kitchen, can be in the galley.

Though the times have changed, and its rare to find a ship with the “free flow of good food” culture depicted by our senior instructors at the training institute, I still feel that with the combination of right people on board, the sailing tenure can be a fun. Food wise or otherwise. Tags: ,,
Mar 162010

So what is development?

Lots of things are being done, lots of changes made, in the name of development. But the true question when put  forward, produces some vague responses, very few laudable, but most of them hilarious. No one seems to have understood, or have a desire to understand the true meaning of development. My attempt of an answer to this might be unsatisfactory to a few, but its my view point and you can comment upon it.
An example to start. Our area is being converted in to municipal corporation from a village panchayat, and we have a view that it will affect us adversly.
Hence there is a huge resistance from our side to this move. But its difficult for some people, and one particular person from a nearby city asked me and my friend, who stay in the same area as mine, why should we resist since the formation of municipal corporation brings about development? My friend ask him the million rupee question, “What is development?” The prompt reply was that there was construction of lots of huge buildings, which wsa good for the city. When asked as to how many of this towers had proper access road or electricity for 24 hours or continuous water supply, there was a mumbled attempt to some answer, but in vain. Then the next question was about the location of a government run hospital providing to the needs of poor, on which the reply was prompt and pointing out one particular hospital. We reminded him about the condition of the hospital and the lack of experienced doctors. We even pointed out how it was used only for carrying out autopsies. On being asked about a good educational institution, he pointed out many of them located in the gram panchayat area, but none so well known from the city area. So is this development? What has stopped any city from building proper health care centers or educational institutions, when it can keep on building huge commercial buildings?
I work in the city of Mumbai. I stay in a village which is around 60 km from my workplace. The british connected my town with the main city way back in 1925, since they had some foresight towards future population explosion around the financial hub. But the condition of this mass transport system has not improved much since then. The crowd, keeps on growing, no matter how many lines are added to the route or no matter how many coaches are attached to the trains. And this transport system has reached its saturation point with further expansion impossible. The travel time has increased due to congestion at nodal station.
Half of my life is wasted in travel to my workplace. Surely there is a roadway as an alternate, but if all the people start using their personal vehicles on this roads, the condition on roads would be much worse than now.There is no proper mass transport system to connect two cities. So whatever “development” was done since independence, seems to have dragged up back in time.
Food, clothing and shelter are the three basic needs of mankind, and any kind of progress or development as we call it, needs to keep in mind this three basic factors for survival of our species. But building high rises seems to be the priority of our authorities, thus neglecting the food department of our basic needs. What about the agrigultural land that is turning barren because farmers are preferring migration to cities for jobs, due to lack of any proper support mechanism to the farmers from the government in case of any natural calamity. What about the water supply? Major city like Mumbai faces acute water shortage in summers, even after water cuts throughout the year. How can any city, or a country be developed if its not self sufficient in food? Agriculturally advanced countries like the USA, Autralia, New Zealand, Brazil, Argentina, which are self sufficient in food, are much ahead of us with regards to development.
What about the secondary needs of mankind like transport, power etc. Lets say electric power. We all know that India has a huge shortfall in supply of the power to its consumers. Except for major cities, rest of the India faces scheduled power cuts, which are increasing in frequency. So isn’t the city thriving at the expense of small towns and villages. Why this unequal treatment when both pay equal taxes? And how much of this tax has been used for true development
by government? Private firms, which can charge higher amount for power supply, build up huge power plants on large scale, but how much megawatts of power has the government added in previous 10 years? Not much I guess, else the demand supply gap wouldn’t have increased explosively.
We build buildings and then we remember that we had to have wider roads for easy traffic movement. So we demolish those buildings or houses which are not strong enough to resistance. After the road is completed our gas company remembers that it has forgotten to lay down pipes for supplying gas to the buildings. Dig dig dig. Then our telephone company again goes dig dig dig to lay down communication lines. Oh!! The municipal corporation forgot to laydown proper sewers aroud the city. So dig dig dig. The road endup being digged up more often than usable. A very recent case makes my point where the construction of a skywalk begun with digging of road and in the process congesting traffic, breaking up communication lines and water supply pipes. Then the dug up holes stay for few months and were ultimately filled back. It seems that the project scrapped. Only sign of that project is the damaged road which, I doubt, will be repaired soon. The civic authorities seem to not know that the planning is amongst the first step for proper development.
No one is against development. But the consequence of development were better life for mankind, and this doesn’t seem to happen anymore.
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