Cook | Inspired by the Jews of southern India

In the display case was a brightly painted and gilded Torah ark, familiar yet exotic beyond anything that I could imagine existing in a Jewish artifact. Nearby was an unadorned metal hanging oil menorah, plain and worn. To me, the two illustrated the breadth of Jewish life in southern India. They are part of an exhibit about Jews in Kerala at the Magnes in Berkeley.

The exhibit inspired me to play with some of the flavors and ingredients favored by Jews and others in the region. I also  liked the idea of a fried dish for Hanukkah.

For both recipes, be sure to use finely shredded, unsweetened dried coconut. Seed the jalapeños to lessen their heat.

“Global India: Kerala, Israel, Berkeley” is on display at the Magnes through Dec. 13. Call (510) 643-2526 or visit for more information.


Kerala Flavor Fish Cakes

Makes 8 cakes

4 cloves garlic

4 green onions (scallions), white and green parts, cut in thirds

1 small jalapeño, coarsely chopped, seeded if desired

1-inch square fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 lb. boneless, skinless red snapper fillets, cut in large hunks, cold

1/4 tsp. ground coriander

1/4 tsp. ground cumin

1/4 tsp. ground cardamom

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

2 eggs, beaten

2 Tbs. dried, shredded, unsweetened coconut

4 Tbs. refined coconut oil

Coconut-Cilantro Chutney (see recipe)

1 cup fresh, chopped tomatoes

Combine garlic, green onions, jalapeño and ginger in food processor. Pulse until chopped, stopping to scrape down sides of container as needed. With motor running, add chunks of fish one by one until very finely chopped and fully incorporating the vegetables. Open lid, scrape down sides as needed, and add coriander, cumin, cardamom, salt, pepper, eggs and coconut shreds. Close lid and pulse until combined. Open lid, scrape down and make sure everything is well mixed.

Wet hands with cold water. Shape fish into patties 2 1/2 inches in diameter and 1⁄2 inch thick. Heat coconut oil in a large, heavy frying pan over medium-high heat until a bit of the fish dropped in bubbles on all sides. Add fish cakes, working in batches as necessary. Fry for two minutes on each side on medium high. Lower heat to medium and fry an additional minute on each side. Fish cakes should be browned, firm to the touch and cooked through.

Drain on paper towels. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature topped with Coconut-Cilantro Chutney and tomatoes. Pass extra chutney.


Coconut-Cilantro Chutney

Makes about 2 cups

1 cup dried, shredded, unsweetened coconut

1/2 cup plus 1⁄2 cup water

1 small jalapeño, coarsely chopped, seeded if desired

1 cup coarsely cut cilantro leaves, packed

1 tsp. finely chopped ginger

1/4 cup coarsely cut mint leaves, packed

2 Tbs. tamarind concentrate or paste (or use 2 Tbs. lemon juice)

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. sugar

Combine the coconut with 1⁄2 cup water and let sit for 5 minutes. Put 2 Tbs. of remaining water in bottom of blender jar. Add jalapeño, cilantro,  ginger  and mint. Blend until finely chopped. Add soaked coconut (do not drain), tamarind, salt and sugar, and blend again until ingredients are almost puréed, adding remaining water in batches as needed to help ingredients blend. You may need to stop the blender and scrape down the sides or mix contents and then replace the lid and restart the blender several times.

Taste and correct seasoning. Stir before serving. Keep leftovers refrigerated for up to a few days.

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer. Her columns alternate with those of Josie A.G. Shapiro. She blogs at Contact her at [email protected]

Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is Contact her at [email protected].