Back in the Fall of 2008, I found myself in Frankfurt, Germany. I was still in college and my school (which was in the neighboring Netherlands) offered its students the chance to spend a semester pursuing a blank-check promise of “any type of new experience.” Think of it like a mixture between a “semester abroad” and a “gap semester.”
And so that’s what I did – I looked around for different experiences to try out, and I looked all over the place, but ultimately I landed a really great chance to live and work in Germany.
The only problem, though, was that I headed to a country where I didn’t speak the language, had very little money, and barely knew anybody. Thankfully, one of my best friends from school, Azam, was one of my lone contacts in the city… and it was all that I needed.
Azam and his family were gracious enough (like really, very gracious) to take me in for a few weeks while I got on my feet and grew more accustomed to life in Frankfurt. More awesomely, as Azam and his family originally hail from Pakistan, the food that his mother cooked every single day was outstanding.
What was more impressive, too, was that there were so many types of dishes she could make, not just this spicy tomato curry. There were succulent kabobs, amazing stews and soups, and delicious baked dishes. She can honestly cook it all. Those meals with Azam and his family remain some of my fondest memories of my time in Frankfurt.
We recently met up with Azam’s sister, mom, and Azam himself, and I very glowingly recounted my memories… and how much I missed the food.
Now I thought that was that, but by the end of our time together again, Azam’s mom gifted me with some of her favorite recipes! This very spicy tomato curry included! Needless to say that each of these recipes will be cooked in great detail and posted here over time… as they all deserve. And I consider it to be the best way to pay a special homage to Azam’s mom and her amazing culinary talents.
The recipe she gave us (which you’ll see below) is fairly straightforward, although in our own experiences there were several tweaks that we found necessary to keep the dish alive.
For starters, just in case the recipe didn’t turn out spicy enough (though we now know it could’ve), we threw in some leftover chili pepper flakes left over from our most recent batch of making our own hot chili oil. This was just our preference for making it extra spicy, which it certainly did.
Next, we needed far less time in order to cook our cod all the way through. After the initial fry and then the bake with the spicy tomato curry base, we (correctly) assumed that following the recipe’s exact timing would leave us with cod completely cooked to smithereens. So instead, we cooked it for 15 minutes instead of the prescribed 40, which turned out to be a wise choice – our fish came out perfectly. Perhaps we were using thinner cod filets than was intended? That could very well have been the case.
Other than our slight addition and the reduction in cooking time, the recipe itself was fairly straightforward and very easy to follow. And the ingredients used are all readily available ingredients too – no need for a trip to a specialty grocery shop for anything.
And as this spicy tomato curry was cooked as an homage to Azam’s mom, we opted to remain less adventurous and didn’t have very many other personalized tweaks to to the recipe. That way, we preserved the true greatness of the recipe and its source!
That said, this spicy tomato curry was really a treat to make, and eating it – while slightly different – brought me back to those times in my friend’s lovely household.
But best of all… I completely forgot how good the leftovers can be! While this dish was delectable when first made, Heather and I enjoyed the leftovers even more the next day. These flavors married so well together, so we’d certainly recommend making this well ahead of serving time… or at least making plenty for leftovers the next day.
You won’t regret it.
Pakistani Spicy Tomato Curry
Yield 5 people
- 2 large cod fillets (~1.5-2 lbs)
- 2 cups of chopped tomatoes (or 1 can canned tomatoes if you must)
- 2-3 tbs oil
- 1tsp whole fennel seeds
- 1tsp whole black mustard seeds
- 2 medium onions finely chopped
- 4 or more cloves garlic
- 1/2 inch of ginger finely chopped
- 2 tsp ground cumin seeds
- 1 tsp or more of cayenne... depending on how daring you feel
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1/2 tsp of ground roasted cumin
- 1/2 tsp of ground garam masala
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Fresh green coriander for garnishing
- Start by washing the cod fillets, patting them dry, and then rubbing both sides well with some of the salt, cayenne and turmeric
- Heat the oil in a deep skillet pan (if you have one) over medium heat and when hot, throw in the fennel and mustard seeds
- As soon as you hear the seeds beginning to pop, it's time to put in the onions. The onions will sit for a few seconds before you throw in the garlic and ginger
- Give the garlic, ginger, and onions a few seconds (30 or so) to mix and get to know each other. Then put in the cumin, salt and the remaining cayenne and stir until they're incorporated well with the onion mixture
- Add the tomatoes (with accompanying juices), the roasted cumin seeds and the garam masala
- Bring the entire mixture to a boil, cover and bring to an ever-gentle simmer for about 15-20 minutes
- With the curry base simmering, fry the cod fillets in another large pan for a couple minutes on both sides. You don't want to cook them all the way through, though! Leave them slightly uncooked
- Once halfway cooked, place the fish in a well-oiled baking dish and pour the tomato mixture over the fish
- Bake the fish uncovered for about 20-30 minutes at ~350 degree heat in the oven or until you can poke and flake the fish easily
Once out of the oven, sprinkle the dish with the fresh coriander... and voila!