#6 (Part 1): Seychellois Tuna Kari Koko and Creole Rice

I swear, I really did intend this project to be about making one recipe per week. As I’ve mentioned on the “about” pages, I am neither well off financially nor physically, and so one exciting new dish per week was a nice, realistic, affordable goal. The trouble is, I keep drawing countries that have really, really tasty-sounding cuisine. Darn you, delicious countries!

So, yeah, I made an entire meal – entree, side, and dessert – this time. Because I am crazy. This was also by far the most expensive week I’ve had ingredient-wise, although roughly 90% of that was just due to one ingredient. As it turns out, acquiring tuna steaks when you live several hundred miles from the nearest ocean is somewhat challenging. The first couple of grocery stores I visited didn’t sell any non-canned tuna at all, and when I did finally find it, the price was…not great. If I hadn’t already bought all the other ingredients for my elaborate Seychellois feast, I probably would have reconsidered making the curry at all. But I’d set my heart on tuna curry, and tuna curry I would have. I guess I’ll just eat a lot of ramen for lunch this month (and, hopefully, find cheaper things to cook in the next few weeks).

Using some sort of fish seemed fairly necessary if I wanted an authentic Seychellois experience, though, because Seychelles consists of a smattering of tiny islands located even farther from the African mainland than I am from an ocean, and while they do eat some other meats there (mostly chicken), fish is, for obvious reasons, their staple protein. Aside from fish, the other major staple of Seychellois cuisine is tropical fruit, especially coconuts and bananas. Accordingly, in the spirit of the why-not-both girl, I used all three. (Well, I used what we in America typically call plantains, but plantains are just a type of banana in the same way that Granny Smiths are a type of apple, and most of the world, including the Seychelles, appears to refer to them accordingly. Which makes sense, since according to various sources, there are anywhere from 17 to 27 varieties of banana grown in the Seychelles. Under the circumstances, treating each one as a different fruit rather than just one of the 27 available banana options would seem rather silly. Anyway, enough about plantains for now – they’ll be in the next post.)

Since I was making a complete meal, I prepared all three of my dishes at the same time, metaphorically (and, occasionally, almost physically) juggling plates in order to get everything done at the proper times relative to each other. But since I don’t think 87 variations on “and then I switched back to working on the curry while the rice was cooking” (and a dozen or so variations on “and then I almost put the wrong amount of cumin in the rice because I was looking at the curry recipe by mistake”) would make for very compelling reading, I’m going to write up the three portions of the meal separately, and you can just imagine me frantically running around the kitchen trying to make sure nothing was getting burnt or missing vital ingredients in between basically all the steps. (Also, as long as you’re imagining, please imagine me being played by, say, Scarlett Johannson, because I bet she’d make running around in stained plaid pajamas trying not to burn her curry look much more elegant. She probably wears $10,000 couture stained plaid pajamas.) I’ll discuss the tuna and rice in this post, and then finish things up (appropriately enough) with dessert in Part 2. Let’s start with the tuna.

THE PROCESS

As usual, I began by photographing my ingredients.

kari ingredients
Also as usual, I’m missing one ingredient, although I sort of made up for it by including one ingredient that I completely forgot to put in the final dish, so…yay?

“Kari koko,” in case you hadn’t guessed by now, is Seychellois Creole for “coconut curry.” Luckily for me, after all the “fun” I had trying to open a coconut for my Honduran recipe a few weeks ago, this time around, I only needed coconut milk. (I actually ended up needing a little more than one can’s worth, but I’m not counting the second can as an ingredient missing from the picture, since two cans of coconut milk look a lot like one can of coconut milk, just, y’know, two-ier.)

First I sliced up my pile of expensive tuna steaks into roughly 1-inch cubes. I coated the bottom of my biggest skillet with sunflower oil, put it on medium heat, and began pouring tuna cubes into the pan – at which point I discovered that even with my biggest skillet, there was no way three pounds of tuna cubes were going to fit in there at once if I wanted to have any room left over for stirring and flipping them. Not even close. Either people have really big skillets in the Seychelles, or the recipes I’d read had just kind of glossed over that part. Oh, well. I divided the tuna into three piles and started frying it up.

kari1
You might say there was something fishy about those recipes. Get it? Get it? Because it’s fish? I’ll be here all week! Don’t forget to tip your server!

Because the goal was to have tuna that was (a) cooked through and (b) not burnt to a crisp on the outside, the heat needed to be relatively low, and so frying the tuna was a slow, slow process, especially since I had to do it three separate times. At several points, I thought I was done, only to cut a tuna cube open and discover a patch of bright, uncooked red in the middle. Seared tuna is delicious, but that wasn’t the goal here, so I’d simply shake my fist and yell, “TUNAAAAAAAAAAAA” like William Shatner yelling, “KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN” and keep on frying. It took a while, but eventually I had three plates full of fully cooked tuna cubes. I set them aside, gave the skillet a quick wash to get rid of stray burnt-tuna bits, and set to work on the vegetables.

I chopped up an onion, grated some fresh ginger, and seeded and diced my chili peppers. Now, if I were being properly authentic about things, this recipe would have contained several little, hot chili peppers, such as bird’s eye chilis. However, as I may have mentioned before, one of the people I’m generally feeding really does not like spicy food. I do, but I try to be nice about this sort of thing, so in place of bird’s eyes, I used jalapeños. Even that, however, was probably going to be too hot for the heat-hater in the house. So once I’d chopped all the veggies, about 3/4 of the onion, ginger, and minced garlic went into the big skillet (along with another splash of sunflower oil) and 1/4 of those things went into a separate small skillet, while the proportions of the diced pepper were reversed – so that once the rest of the ingredients were added, I’d have a big pan of very mild curry (but still with at least a little heat), and a smaller pan of hopefully-not-too-mild curry.

kari2
This is the small pan, which you can tell by the fact that it is small, unlike the big pan.

I cooked the veggies just enough to get the onions soft and translucent, and then I mixed together the coconut milk, cumin, cardamom, turmeric, and black pepper in a bowl and poured it into the two pans in that same 3/4ish-1/4ish proportion. (Obviously, if you’re doing everything in one pan, there’s no particularly good reason to bother mixing things in a bowl first.) I heated that up a bit, and then the tuna, curry leaves, and lemongrass paste went in.

kari3
You put the fish in the coconut, you heat ’em both together. Put the fish in the coconut, then you feel better.

(You may possibly have noticed that I haven’t mentioned putting in any salt. One of the people I’ll be feeding pretty often is on a reduced-sodium diet, so if I’m making something where the salt can reasonably be added to people’s individual portions when they eat it, I will usually do it that way. If you’re not feeding anyone who needs to watch their sodium intake, you could add a pinch of salt when you put in the other herbs and spices.)

At this point, I did a quick taste test of both pans of curry, and determined that the mild version was so mild that the spice level barely even counted as “mild” rather than “nonexistent,” so I went ahead and tossed a couple of the dried chilies left over from week #4 in there to give it at least a touch more heat. I threw a couple of them in the less-mild pan as well, because I was in a spicy sort of mood. (I’m not listing dried chilis as an ingredient at the end of this post, though, because if you want more heat, you’re probably not going to be using fractional amounts of jalapeño instead of hotter peppers in the first place.) Then I brought the liquid back up to a simmer, covered the pans, lowered the heat, and waited 10-15 minutes. After that, all that was left was to uncover both pans and let the sauce thicken a little more, and then the curry was ready to eat. (Okay, really all that was left was to reheat the rice a bit since it got done before the curry did, put the dessert on the stove so it’d be ready around the time we finished dinner, and, of course, clear a bunch of cooking debris off the table so I could take pictures of my food without it looking like one of the smaller islands of the Seychelles exploded in my kitchen and got coconut milk dribbles and onion skins everywhere, but as we’ve established, you only get to count those steps if you also make me look like a movie star in fancy pajamas.)

kari44
The funny thing about this picture is that I specifically made a point of picking out a bowl without any little chips in its rim in which to photograph the curry, and then got distracted and photographed a chipped bowl instead. I also chopped a scallion with the goal of using it as an attractive garnish for the curry, and then completely forgot about it. Apparently trying to cook three things at once causes my brain to melt a little bit. Just wait, though – my idiocy is going to get even more impressive (and kind of hilarious) when we get to the rice.

THE VERDICT

Yummy! I still wish I’d made it spicier, though – the coconut milk doesn’t impart a lot of flavor so much as just a general sense of richness, but it does act to “cool down” the dish enough that I think I could have gotten away with adding more and hotter peppers, especially in my not-so-mild portion. I’ll go into a bit more detail about how the curry tasted and what I’d like to change once I tell you about the rice, since they’re really meant to go together. For now, let’s just skip straight to…

THE INGREDIENTS

3 lbs fresh tuna steaks, chopped into roughly 1-inch cubes
sunflower oil sufficient for frying all the things that need frying
1 onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp freshly-grated ginger
2 jalapeños, seeded and diced (use hotter peppers if you like heat!)
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp turmeric
pinch of black pepper
salt to taste
1-2 cans coconut milk
2 tsp lemongrass paste
10 curry leaves
chopped scallion to garnish (if you’re not a space cadet)

Okay, on to the Creole rice.

THE PROCESS

This is a fairly simple recipe, although it uses a lot of ingredients:

rice1
Leaving the mess from preparing the curry on the table while I took this picture was totally an artistic choice, and definitely was not at all a case of me being lazy and not wanting to clean the table twice. Also an artistic choice: that blurry piece of my finger covering the lens in the upper left. That was obviously intentional and not something I only noticed just now. It’s a very symbolic and meaningful blurry finger. If you don’t get it, you probably just don’t understand art.

Pretty much all there is to do here is cook rice, chop veggies, sauté veggies, and mix everything into the cooked rice. So, therefore, I cooked the rice, chopped up an onion and part of that bell pepper (because that pepper is remarkably large, I only used something like a third of it or maybe even a little less, but I’m going to say “half a red bell pepper” in the ingredients list, since I think that’d be about the right amount of a more typical pepper), and then went to grate some more ginger.

You know how I said a minute ago that I’m impressively idiotic? So, I just recently bought a new grater, and grating the ginger for the rice and curry was my first chance to try it out. It worked really well, and I was very pleased with it. As I went to grate this second portion of ginger, a family member walked into the kitchen, and I happily said, “Look how well my new grater works!”

Guess what happened immediately after I said that. Just guess.

finger
If you guessed “I promptly grated my index finger and bled all over the ginger,” congratulations, you win a prize! The prize is not being me!

This makes two weeks in a row that I’ve managed to injure my hand in very stupid ways while cooking dishes for this project. At this rate, I think I’d better choose a dish that doesn’t involve chopping anything next week unless I want to lose a finger or two.

Anyway, once I threw out the bloody ginger and washed and bandaged my hand, I grated some new, non-bloody ginger without further incident. (And the grater really did work well!) Once the ginger was grated, I sautéed it in sunflower oil along with the onion, garlic, bell pepper, and curry leaves until all of them were nice and soft and a little caramelized. Then it was just a matter of dumping all of the veggies and all the other ingredients into the cooked rice and mixing it up well. Again, as with the curry, I did not include any salt, since it was easily salted on people’s plates. Once everything was mixed in (and the whole thing was reheated a bit since I had to wait for the curry to finish cooking), I poured the seasoned rice into a serving bowl and sliced a tomato to use as a tasty garnish.

rice2
I made a flower! See, I told you I was artistic.

THE VERDICT

Also yummy! I do think the rice needed a little bit of salt, more so than the curry did, but adding it on my plate worked just fine.

Both the curry and the rice are capable of standing alone as foods unto themselves, and both of them are perfectly tasty that way, but I intended them to be eaten together, and the combination of the two is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. The similar-but-different flavors of each of the dishes work together extremely well. I also really liked the tomato slices with both the curry and the rice. The whole shebang made for a wonderful meal and possibly even more wonderful leftovers – I’ve been very happily chowing down on bowls of curry and rice for lunch for the last few days, and, like curries often do, it seems to get even more flavorful (and spicier, which I approve of) as time goes on. I’ve also tried it with a little mango chutney added, and it was super good that way, too.

I don’t think I’d change anything about the rice, but if I make the curry again, there is one more thing besides adding more heat that I almost certainly would do differently. Instead of the “chicken of the sea,” I think I’d just use, well, the chicken of the land. Don’t get me wrong – the tuna was great, I’m glad I made it, and I liked it very much, but I honestly think the same recipe would still work very well with plain old chicken, and it’d cost me a whole heck of a lot less. So I probably won’t be making Seychellois tuna kari koko and Creole rice again, but Seychellois chicken kari koko and Creole rice? Absolutely.

THE INGREDIENTS

1 1/3 cups uncooked basmati rice (makes 4 cups cooked)
2 tbsp sunflower oil (or enough to saute all your veggies)
1 onion, diced
1/2 a red bell pepper, diced
2 tsp freshly grated ginger
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp lemongrass paste
1/2 tsp parsley
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cloves
pinch of black pepper
salt to taste
sliced tomato for garnish

Stay tuned for dessert in Part 2 – it’s going to be a tasty one!

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