Meen Gulambu (Fish curry with tamarind) by Haris Coussidis

Sri Lanka – Baskran’s Story

Baskran is in his element in the kitchen. He doesn’t feel insecure here. Everyone should have a skill they can practice, especially when arriving in a new country. He wants to teach others to improve their cooking skills so that they can be productive and confident in supporting themselves rather than sitting idly waiting for something to happen.

No one chooses to be a refugee.

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Baskran, from Sri Lanka

When Baskran arrived in Malaysia from Colombo in 2006 with his wife Ruba and their boys, then aged one and four, they had to rely on churches and people’s good will to get food. Eventually, they were assimilated into the Sri Lankan community and gained sense of normalcy. Having individually fled their country in the 1990’s as a family seeking a safe haven, they are determined that their children never experience the violence they themselves were exposed to.

Baskran and Ruba have worked hard to provide their children with everything they need.

He counts himself very lucky to work in a restaurant whose owner wants to give equal opportunities to the employees, and where he has the freedom of being able to create different dishes.

Meen gulambu | Fish curry with tamarind

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Baskran adds coconut milk into the dish.

The long list of ingredients should not scare you from making this delightful fragrant fish curry.  Measuring the spices takes only a few minutes and to make the vibrant red curry is easy and takes no time at all. Used as a base for many gravy-like curry dishes in Sri Lanka, tamarind water gives a distinctive tangy taste. The tamarind water can be prepared in advanced and stored in the fridge for up to a week. Like in most Sri Lankan curries, there is an abundant use of chillies.  If you want to lessen the fire, adjust the spiciness by reducing the number of chillies.

Serves 4

1 whole fish (like snapper or tilapia) around 1kg, cleaned and cut in 6 equal pieces
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
3½ tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp ground fennel
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 small red onion, finely diced
10 small fresh green chillies, cut lengthways or in half
2 dried red chillies
Curry leaves from 2 stems
1 head of garlic, cloves separated, skin removed, roughly pounded
1 medium tomato, cut into wedges
400ml tamarind water
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground aniseed
1 tsp garam masala
1½ tsp chilli powder
2 ½ tbsp fish curry powder
1 litre water
100ml fresh coconut milk
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp of coriander leaves for garnish


  1. Put the fish in a large bowl, add the turmeric and salt, rub the fish all over and leave for 10 minutes. This process will remove the strong fish smell. Rinse the fish under cold water to remove the spice rub and set it aside.
  1. Heat the oil in a wide pot or deep pan over low heat. When the oil starts to bubble add the cumin, fenugreek, fennel and black mustard seeds and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly to bring out the flavour of the spices.
  1. Add the onion, all the chillies, curry leaves and garlic cloves and cook, continuously stirring until the onion is soft and golden and you can smell the spices.
  1. Add the tomato and tamarind water (p. 153) and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat for 2 – 4 minutes until some of the liquid has evaporated. Add the ground turmeric, coriander, cinnamon, aniseed, garam masala, chilli powder and fish curry powder and stir everything together until you form a thick paste. Cook for a further minute, add the water and salt and cook over medium heat for 5 – 7 minutes.
  1. Place the fish pieces in the pot and add the coconut milk. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and simmer uncovered for 10 – 12 minutes, until the fish is cooked. When the fish flakes off easily with a fork it’s done.
  2. Carefully transfer the fish pieces to a deep serving plate and pour the curry sauce over them. Sprinkle the coriander leaves and serve immediately with white rice and pappadums.

Tamarind Water

Tamarind water is made from the pulp of the tamarind fruit. The water is used as a base for many gravy-like curry dishes, giving a distinctive tangy sour taste. It can be prepared in advance and stored in the fridge for up to a week.

Makes 400ml tamarind water

1 block 500g tamarind pulp
500ml luke warm water


  1. To make the tamarind water place the block of tamarind pulp in a medium bowl, cover with the water and sit for 10 – 15 minutes, or until soft.
  1. Use your fingers to mash the pulp and break the fibres more and separate the seeds.
  1. Place a fine meshed sieve over a bowl, pour the pulp and push the pulp through with the back of a spoon or spatula. Discard the seeds and threads.
  1. Transfer the water to a glass container with a seal and keep in the fridge until needed.

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