A bowl of rice, some fish, and a coconut – there are some people in the planet who would call it heaven 🙂 There are a number of dishes that combine fish and coconut in the coastal regions of India. Of all these this must be one of the simplest – Meen Peera. The flavors are incredibly fresh in this dish from Kerala. Meen means fish and Peera means shredded/ grated coconut. Traditionally the fresh caught fish is cooked with freshly grated coconut and a few spices. There are no elaborate sauces, or deep frying , just s few fresh ingredients steam together for tongue tickling experience.
Mom used to make these with small fish like anchovies or sometimes sardines. But this dish tastes equally good when prepared with any flaky white fish – tilapia, cat fish , cod etc. Pieces of fish, no larger than 2 inches are mixed with grated coconut , fresh spices and cooked covered. All the ingredients steam together and in 15 to 20 minutes the dish is ready.
Isn’t that simple? When made with fresh ingredients – the day’s catch, fresh grated coconut, curry leaves from the backyard – this is just of this world.
Onions , ginger, garlic and chilies are sliced into small pieces or crushed with a mortar and pestle and added to the pan along with curry leaves to make the base layer. The onions of choice were pearl onions , but when not available use regular red onions or shallots. Slice the fish fillets into about 1/2 ” thick pieces and add to the pot. This is the middle layer.
Layer half of the grated coconut on top and add the turmeric and salt . Give it a gentle mix and pour the kokum with the soaking water on top. Kokum is the acidic component for most of the fish dishes of southern parts of Kerala, but you can use regular tamarind or none at all at this point . If not using any tamarind , round out the taste by adding a dash of lemon juice in the end.
Cover and steam over medium to medium low heat for 10 to 15 minutes until the fish is cooked and flakes when pressed with a fork. Taste , add the remaining coconut , stir everything together and taste and adjust and salt. Cook for a minute and drizzle a little coconut oil on top and take off the heat. Cover and let it rest for 10 minutes before serving.
There is no need to add the coconut oil, but it definitely enhances the fresh coconut flavors.
These are usually served with rice. Add a side dish of vegetables and well there you have a perfectly balanced meal. I am perfectly happy to serve these with a slice of bread or rotis as well.