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swirl and savor

Spicy Coconut Fish Cakes in Grilled Banana Leaves

Beth Ribblett

I fell in love with Indian cooking when my niece Rika (pictured right on a recent visit to her homeland) joined our family about 10 years ago. After immersing my self in the cooking styles of many different regions, the one I came to appreciate most was that of southern India where fish is a staple and the foods are a bit lighter than what we are usually exposed to in Indian restaurants.

This recipe is sort of mix between the flavors of Kerala in southern India and Thailand. Banana leaves are used in both regions as are coconut milk, coriander, turmeric and others while the Kaffir lime leaves are distinctly Thai. You can find them at the Hong Kong market on the West Bank or my friend Rachel's backyard! :) While using the banana leaves takes a little extra time, it is well worth the effort. Fortunately, I can walk to the corner and cut them down from trees on the side of our street, but if you can't do that you can put the mixture in a baking dish and bake in the oven.

I am pairing this with a Vouvray from the Loire Valley (see wine of the moment). The acid in this wine is a good match for the rich coconut milk while the off-dry musky, floral notes work beautifully with the spicy heat.

Serves 10

-Fresh banana leaves cut into 6"x10" sheets (see "prep" below)
-2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
-2-inch piece of turmeric root, peeled and sliced
-2 Serrano chilies, seeds removed
-Zest of one lemon
-10 shallots
-1 tablespoon ground coriander
-1-1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds
-1 14-ounce can light coconut milk
-1 tablespoon sugar
-1-1/2 teaspoons salt
-2/3 cup Panko Bread Crumbs
-10 kaffir lime leaves or zest of 1 lime
-1/4 cup fresh cilantro
-1-1/2 pounds deboned, filleted drum, haddock, cod, any other white, flaky fish. I used fresh drum from K-Jeans.

Prep Banana Leaves:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
This recipe serves 8-10 so pick 6 big leaves. You'll get 2 sheets per leaf and have a few extra in case one rips. Pick young, wide, broad leaves that are whole, not torn.

First cut lengthwise along the vein separating the two sides. Find the widest part of the leaf, this will be your center and make your cuts 5 inches on either side of the center to make a sheet that is approximately 8"x10".

Carefully wash the leaves leaving them slightly damp and lie them on the racks in the oven. Bake at 200 degrees for about 10 minutes. This will make them more pliable and easier to use.

1. Place ginger, turmeric, chilies, lemon, onions, cardamom and coriander in a blender or food processor and puree. Add a little water if needed.
2. Place pureed spices in a skillet or wok and cook 2 minutes, just enough to release spicy flavor. Turn off heat and allow mixture to cool. Stir in coconut milk.
3. Add sugar and salt to mix, and stir.
4. Add the bread crumbs. Stir thoroughly.
5. Remove center vein of kaffir lime leaves and mince finely, or substitute lime zest. Mince the cilantro and add both to spicy coconut mixture.
6. Take raw, deboned fish and put it in the food processor; pulse it quickly to make small chunks. Stir into spicy coconut mixture and mix well.
7. *Spoon about 5 tablespoons of the mixture into center of banana leaves, make rectangular shaped parcels, and secure ends with toothpicks or skewers. Grill over hot coals for 4-5 minutes each side, or until mixture has set and leaves are charred.
*If you don't have banana leaves you can bake in the oven. Pour fish mixture into an 8-inch cake pan. Bake in 350°F oven for 25-30 minutes until edges are golden brown and mixture has set. Cool slightly and cut into squares and serve. To make small, round fish cakes, pour mix about 1-1/2-inches deep into muffin tins and bake for 15-20 minutes.

Open the parcels and enjoy with a nice cold glass of Fouquet Aubuisiere Vouvray!