Keralan banana leaf-wrapped fish recipes

Category: Starters and mains

Keralan banana leaf-wrapped fish


  • 1 whole sea bream or 2 small sea bream, cleaned and butterflied, or 4 sea bream fillets
  • 1tbsp coconut or vegetable oil
  • 1 large banana leaf, tough stalk removed, cut into large rectangles (heat on the hob to make it pliable)

For the marinade

  • 1⁄2tsp ground turmeric
  • 1tsp fresh ginger, finely grated
  • 1tsp garlic, finely grated
  • 11⁄2tbsp lemon juice
  • 1⁄2tsp black pepper

For the masala paste

  • 1tbsp coconut or vegetable oil
  • 1⁄4tsp brown mustard seeds
  • 1⁄4tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 11⁄4tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2-4 green chillies, stalks removed, pierced with a knife
  • 10 fresh curry leaves
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1⁄4-1⁄2tsp chilli powder
  • 1⁄4tsp ground turmeric
  • 11⁄2tsp ground coriander
  • 3⁄4tsp ground cumin
  • 1⁄2tsp ground fennel seeds
  • 2 small-medium tomatoes, chopped


Serves 2-4

Mix together all the marinade ingredients. Season well and add the black pepper. Add the fish (if using whole fish, slash it deeply on each side first) and leave to marinate for 30-60 minutes.

To make the masala paste, heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan. Add the mustard and cumin seeds and once they start to pop, add the onion, ginger, green chillies, curry leaves and some salt and pepper and cook until the onions have softened. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or until the onions are browning a little. Add the ground spices, tomatoes and a splash of water and cook over a high flame until the masala releases oil into the pan, around 10 minutes. It should look like a paste. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding a good grinding of black pepper. Scrape into a bowl and set aside.

Give the frying pan a wipe then add a splash of oil to the pan and cook the fish skin-side down over a medium-high heat until crisp and lightly brown, around 1 minute, then turn and cook for a further 30-40 seconds.

When you are ready to cook, preheat the barbecue or grill. Spread a quarter of the masala paste on to a banana leaf, sit the fish on the paste then add a similar amount on top. Enclose it envelope style in a leaf. There should be enough leaf wrapped around to keep it secure but you can also use some wet kitchen string or toothpicks.

Repeat with the other fish. Place the banana leaf parcels on the barbecue rack or grill and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side if cooking from room temperature or closer to 5 minutes on each side if cooking from chilled. If using whole fish, it will take longer. Serve with the lime wedges.

Recipe credit: Recipes and photographs taken from I Love India by Anjum Anand. Photography by Martin Poole (Quadrille, £20).

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