By Meeru Dhalwala and Vikram Vij
Vij’s, Vancouver, BC


We always have some version of this recipe on our menu at Vij’s. The coconut masala is very versatile and accompanies many different types of seafood, including spot prawns and crab. In some versions of the curry we add more cumin and coconut milk, while at other times we add less coconut milk and more cilantro. (Note: Although not authentic, you can make the coconut curry on its own, cook it with spot prawns or Dungeness crab, and toss it with linguini.)

Makes 6 servings

2½ pounds tilapia fillets, trimmed with skin on (if possible)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp cumin seeds
2 large onions, chopped
1½ cups tomatoes, chopped
1/3 cup coconut milk
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground cayenne pepper
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 bunches green onions, chopped
1½ cups water

Rinse the tilapia fillets and set them aside in a colander to dry for a few minutes or pat dry with a kitchen towel. Cut the fillets into 12 pieces. In a large mixing bowl, gently toss the tilapia with the salt and pepper. Set them aside in the refrigerator.

In a medium saucepan, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add the cumin seeds and allow them to sizzle for 30 to 45 seconds, or until they turn a darker brown (but not black). Add the onions and sauté them for 5 to 8 minutes, or until they are dark brown but not burned. Stir in the tomatoes, coconut milk, salt, and cayenne pepper. Simmer the mixture for 5 minutes. Add the vinegar and green onions, and stir well. (Don’t add the water until you are ready to cook the tilapia.)

When ready to cook the fish, stir the water into the coconut curry mixture. Working in batches, place four pieces of tilapia in a large frying pan, skin side down, and add about one-third of the curry. Cook the fish over medium-high heat until the curry boils, then reduce the heat to medium and cook the fish for 2 minutes. Carefully turn over the fillets and cook until the flesh begins to flake, 1½ to 2 minutes. Transfer the fillets and curry to a large platter, covered with foil, to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining fillets. To serve, place two cooked fillets onto each plate and spoon the curry on top. This dish is great with basmati rice on the side.

Recipe adapted from The Ocean Wise Cookbook: Seafood Recipes That Are Good for the Planet, edited by Jane Mundy. Whitecap Books, 2010.