Indian spicing, used judiciously, is perfect for the warmer days and evenings of early summer, be that in a baked sea trout dish or fresh and vibrant mango salad.
There is something about long evenings that makes me turn to the Indian subcontinent: gentle spices suit balmy nights and, if used sparingly, really bring out the flavour of other ingredients, rather than overwhelming them. If you have a south-east Asian grocer nearby or world food aisle at the supermarket, you can get big bags of whole spices at little cost. Grind small amounts at a time, and you’ll have access to an almost endless armoury of aromatic spice mixes that take the same time to make as a cup of tea. Grated fresh coconut, meanwhile, tastes amazing. You can buy them in larger supermarkets, but if not, use a mix of coconut milk and toasted flakes instead.
Sea trout with fresh coconut and curry leaf relish
There is something magical about fresh coconut relish. Here, it bakes into a kind of crust around the fish: open it up at the table to reveal the succulent flesh underneath. Combined with the light marinade, it’s extraordinarily tasty. Serves four.
1 coconut 1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped 1 thumb ginger, peeled and finely chopped 2 tbsp finely chopped red onion 5 tbsp natural yoghurt Juice of 1 lime 1 tbsp brown mustard seeds 1 handful curry leaves (fresh, ideally) 1 handful coriander leaves, finely chopped Salt and freshly ground black pepper 2 medium sea trout, gutted and scaled
Heat the oven to 200C/390F/gas mark 6, and line a baking tray with baking paper. Crack the coconut over a bowl in the sink (I use a mallet or rolling pin; the bowl is to catch the coconut water, which you can sieve and drink as a chef’s perk), then break into small, flattish pieces and prise off the hard outer shell. Grate the flesh (it is easier if you hold the pieces with the palm of your hand, rather than your fingers) – it will take about 15 minutes to get through a whole coconut, but it’s worth the effort. Combine with the remaining ingredients except the fish, and season generously.
Season the inside of the fish. Spread a few tablespoons of the coconut mix all over the tray, lay the fish on top and pack the remaining relish around the bodies, leaving the heads and tails exposed. Bake for 15-20 minutes: check they’re cooked by inserting a skewer into the thickest part – it should go in easily. Hold it there for a second or two, then remove and hold to your lips: it should be warm, not cold.
Serve with a coriander chutney (just blitz yoghurt with lots of coriander, a peeled clove of garlic, a green chilli and a squeeze of fresh lime), pilau rice and maybe some wilted greens.
Chickpea, tomato and mango salad
Deep-fried chickpeas are crunchy, nutty and moreish. They add body and earthiness to this vibrant salad, which has a touch of Indian spicing and makes full use of the mangos that have just hit our shores. Serves six.
400g tin chickpeas, drained 2 small, ripe Alfonso mangos, peeled and cut into 1cm dice 200g cherry tomatoes, quartered 3 Lebanese cucumbers (or 1 cucumber), peeled, cut in half lengthways, deseeded and cut into 1cm dice 1 small bunch mint, picked and chopped 1 small bunch coriander, picked and roughly chopped 1 small red onion, peeled and sliced into thin rounds 2 red chillies, finely chopped (deseeded, if you prefer less heat) Juice of 2 lemons 1 tsp sugar 150ml vegetable oil
For the garam masala 1 tbsp cardamom seeds 2 tbsp coriander seeds 2 tbsp cumin seeds 2 small dried red chillies 5cm-long cinnamon stick 2 tsp black peppercorns
Warm a dry frying pan on a medium heat, and gently toast the spices for a few minutes, shaking the pan from time to time. Once fragrant, tip into a mortar or spice grinder, and grind to a uniform powder (sieve out any cardamom husks). Store in a jar.
Put the chickpeas in a sieve, rinse under cold water, then leave to drain while you make the salad. In a bowl, mix the mango, tomatoes, cucumber, mint, coriander, onion and half the chilli. Dress with half the lemon juice, the sugar and the garam masala, then chill.
Dry the chickpeas in kitchen roll (if wet, they’ll spit when fried). Put a wok on a high heat and add the oil. Once smoking hot, stir-fry the chickpeas for seven to eight minutes, until golden and crispy all over – be warned: if you don’t keep stirring, they are prone to popping and leaping out of the pan. Turn off the heat, and use a slotted spoon to transfer the chickpeas to a plate lined with kitchen paper, to drain.
Season the chickpeas with sea salt and toss into the salad. Taste and adjust with more salt, chilli and lemon juice, as required to brighten the flavours. Serve with grilled flatbread and the same coriander chutney as in the previous recipe.
And for the rest of the week…
If you have the time or patience, make double the amount of coconut relish: it’s great stirred into fried rice with cashew nuts and seasonal greens (pak choy, say, or chard). Freeze any leftover fresh curry leaves (they keep very well), and use to transform tomato sauce (for serving with grilled mackerel, deep-fried tofu, deep-fried polenta, etc.) or a potato and cauliflower curry. And stir any excess garam masala into plain yoghurt and peanut oil, and use to coat chicken thighs before roasting; or stir into rice salads; or just use as it is, as a dry dip for crudités and quail’s eggs.