Quick and easy, you know you want us," they leered.

“Get lost you sluts," I yelled and slammed the door on them.

I’m not losing my mind. It did happen.

Go fish: Replace coconut with poppy seed paste for a healthy curry. Photo: Samar Halarnkar

And before you express outrage, let me hastily clarify that there were no women involved in the story behind this column.

There were some loose morals at work though.

I ate much red meat the past week, courtesy my friends, who make a lot of it but don’t really eat it for various health reasons.

It follows that I end up eating a lot of meat. Since I love tucking into those goats and lambs, I am not complaining.

I also ate a lot of coconut milk-heavy fish curries, courtesy the same friends who like the 10-minute interpretation of my grandmother’s old recipe.

Since my birthday was last week, Old Monk and cognac accompanied these lavish meals. You see, I had to test drive some swish new glasses.

It follows that I have not had a healthy week. As these celebrations wound down, I was a little tired of cooking—of eating, less so, but I did feel the need for some light food.

Wearily, I surveyed my fridge for inspiration: just odds and ends, and bits and pieces.

I cleaned out the vegetable tray and searched the freezer.

This is what I found: two cups of pressure-cooked chickpeas; some leftover red rice; a red pepper.

Also Read Samar’s previous Lounge columns

In the freezer, a kilo of sole fillets, surplus from previous dinners.

This was most promising.

The shock came as I rummaged through my larder for spices and condiments to create this healthy leftover meal for the wife and myself.

Two cans of coconut milk grinned at me. It’s they who leered and invited me to use them, offering that quick and easy time I told you about at the start of this column.

I am happy to report I am made of sterner stuff than I thought. After slamming the door, I started off on the longer, more difficult way to putting together a fish curry. I got some inspiration from a recipe from Pushpesh Pant, one of India’s culinary godfathers, but as is usual with my cooking, it soon degenerated into a free-for-all with whatever was at hand.

I always find using whatever’s at hand much easier when it comes to vegetarian cooking—at least for my wife, who treasures freshness and a light touch. So a cup or two of ready chickpeas is always hanging around in our fridge for easy days. Pair it with rice, chopped onions, tomatoes and whatever else is hiding in your larder. You will find it’s quite easy to resist the temptation of—temporarily—forbidden ingredients.

Fish with coriander and poppy seed

Serves 5


1kg fish fillets (I used sole), or slices with bones

3 onions, sliced

3 tomatoes, finely chopped

5 large garlic pods, crushed

2 tsp ginger paste

OR 4 tsp ginger-garlic paste (instead of garlic and ginger)

1 tsp red chilli powder

1 tsp turmeric powder

Salt to taste


Grind to a paste: 6 dried red chillies, 2 tsp coriander seeds, 2 tbsp tamarind extract, 1 tsp poppy seeds, 1 tbsp olive oil.

In a pan, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil. Fry onions till golden brown. Add ginger-garlic and fry for 1 minute. Add red chilli and turmeric powder. If dry, sprinkle water and sauté for a minute. Add the paste and tomatoes, and simmer for 5 minutes till the tomatoes start to disintegrate. Add 1 large cup of water (or more if needed) and stir well. Reduce heat to minimum and when the curry starts bubbling, place fish fillets. Cover and shake gently so all pieces are covered. Fish should be cooked within 10 minutes.

Quick fried fish

Serves 1-2

I had six pieces that wouldn’t fit into the curry. So, I quickly dumped them in a steel bowl, added 1 tsp of red chilli powder, K tsp of turmeric, juice of 1 lime, 1 tsp of garam masala, salt and mixed it all up. Later, I shallow-fried the fish. An old favourite in many homes, I’m sure.

Red rice with chickpeas

Serves 2-3


3-4 cups cooked red rice (remember, these were leftovers; you can use any rice)

2 cups of chickpeas

1 onion, finely sliced

1 tomato, chopped

2-3 tbsp mint leaves

2 tsp garam masala

1-2 tsp ginger-garlic paste (depends on the quantity of rice, reduce if less)

1 cup milk



Fry the onion in 1 tbsp of olive oil until golden brown. Add ginger-garlic paste and sauté. Add mint leaves and tomato and fry for 2 minutes. Add 1 tsp of garam masala and stir well, sprinkle water if needed. Add chickpeas and coat well.

In a baking dish, lay down a layer of rice. Then add a layer of chickpea mix; top up with more rice. Sprinkle milk all over, seal with a foil and bake for 15 minutes in oven preheated to 180 degrees Celsius. Uncover, sprinkle another teaspoon of garam masala and mix. Garnish with coriander and serve.

This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar writes a blog, Our Daily Bread,at Htblogs.com. He is editor-at-large, Hindustan Times.

Write to Samar at ourdailybread@livemint.com