Burmese Fish Curry For Shavuot
Burmese Fish Curry (Ngar Si Byan) / Ronnie Fein
Dairy is the culinary star on Shavuot, and for Ashkenazi Jews like me, blintzes are always on the menu. I look forward to cooking and eating a big batch of them the way my grandma showed me how: stuffed with cheese (just a hint of lemon), then baked – not fried – and served with a cold blob of thick, full-fat sour cream.
For dessert? Cheesecake of course.
And yet, man cannot live by blintzes alone. We like them for lunch (and even for breakfast). But dinner needs more. We stick to dairy-oriented meals because the usual Jewish holiday stuff -- brisket and roasted chicken -- just isn’t right (plus the tradition to eat dairy on Shavuot may refer to the Songs of Songs comparing the Torah, whose receipt we celebrate on Shavuot, to honey and milk).
For us, Shavuot means either a meatless, vegetarian entrée, or some sort of fish for the main course.
I eat so much fish during the year that it seems more celebratory to serve a jazzier, more interesting recipe on the holiday, a dish that’s a bit more interesting, creative, and festive looking. For inspiration, I often turn to foods from cultures other than my own. I might use a spice or herb, a sauce or condiment that I don’t normally rely on for any old weekday for dinner – homemade chimichurri or tandoori sauce, for example, instead of just a sprinkle of dill on that hunk of salmon.
Recently I listened as friends raved about the fish dishes they had eaten on a cruise on the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar (Burma). It all sounded so delicious that I experimented with a few recipes and – pun intended – I was hooked, especially on a dish called Ngar Si Byan. Sure it sounds unfamiliar and some might find that too intimidating to cook and eat, but Ngar Si Byan is actually just a type of fish curry. The ingredients are completely kosher, well-known, and widely available: firm fish, chili peppers, fresh ginger, turmeric, and tomatoes.
I made the dish several times using different fish and learned that solid white fish such as cod, halibut, and snapper hold up best. There’s a big bonus too: you can prepare this dish in advance, either set up to the point of covering the ingredients and cooking them or completely cooked and rewarmed over gentle heat (don’t let the sauce boil or the fish might lose its lovely tender texture).
Ngar Si Byan doesn’t need much more to make dinner into a feast for the stomach and the eyes. It goes nicely with steamed rice or cooked rice noodles and a simple green vegetable such as sautéed spinach, steamed green beans or roasted asparagus. It is a substantial meal, and filling, but light, which means you’ll have room for cheesecake.
Ronnie Fein is a cookbook author, food writer and cooking teacher in Stamford. She is the author of The Modern Kosher Kitchen and Hip Kosher. Visit her food blog, Kitchen Vignettes, at www.ronniefein.com, friend on Facebook at RonnieVailFein, Twitter at @RonnieVFein, Instagram at RonnieVFein.