How to make Rukmini Iyer’s quick and easy one-pan chilli, coconut and lime salmon


When Rukmini Iyer wrote the hugely successful Roasting Tin series, she never imagined just how crucial her simple, one-tray recipes would actually be – until she became a mum.

“What I said about the Roasting Tin books, ‘Oh, it’s great if you don’t have much time’ – I didn’t know what not having much time was until I had a baby!” she says, laughing. “I really appreciate having written books where I can just put things in a tray.

Her daughter Alba is seven months old and at the “hilarious” weaning stage. “It’s mad when your life’s completely turned around,” says the 37-year-old, “So I’m very, very glad to be able to do minimal prep, hands-free cooking.”

Recipes in her seventh book, Indian Express, have been a lifesaver too, with ‘one pan’ and ‘one tin’ chapters. “Those are the ones I’m relying on right now – and the more adventurous ones when I hand [Alba] about to her dad!”

Railway inspiration

Her latest offering focuses not just on Indian flavours, but specifically the food of a 1,000-mile train route from Tamil Nadu, South India (where her dad is from) to Kolkata, Bengal (where her mum is from) – and all the regions in-between.

It’s a route her father would travel back and forth when he studied at the University of Kolkata Medical School, where he later met her mum – a journey that took 36 hours at the time. Four years ago, Iyer took the same journey with both of her parents to really discover the food of those regions – and everywhere in between.

She writes that her father’s face still lights up when he talks about the journey he first took with her mother, “Because, by then a new service had started, the Coromandel Express, a brand new train taking just 24 hours. It was also a rather unusual trip, given that it was unconventional for a couple in India to travel together unmarried in the 1970s.”

Iyer says she finds the story “romantic”, and when she recreated the journey, “We took the overnight train journey with a train picnic, listening to my parents’ stories about all the amazing food.”

Rukmini Iyer’s chilli, coconut and lime salmon

A quick and tasty one-dish dinner, perfect for midweek

Preparation Time

10 mins

Ingredients

  • 4tbsp desiccated coconut

  • 1 fresh red chilli

  • Handful mint leaves, plus extra to serve

  • 2 cloves of garlic

  • Juice or 2 limes

  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced

  • 250g vine cherry tomatoes, halved

  • 2 sustainable salmon fillets

  • 2tbsp neutral or olive oil

  • 1tsp sea salt flakes

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C fan/200°C/gas 6.

  2. Tip the coconut, chilli, mint leaves, garlic, lime juice, one tablespoon of the oil and the sea salt into a spice grinder or high-speed blender/Nutribullet and blitz roughly until the chilli looks evenly incorporated through the coconut (you’ll have a reddish, greenish rubble).

  3. Mix the sliced ​​onion and cherry tomatoes in a medium roasting tin along with the remaining oil. Make space for the two salmon fillets, place them in the tin, skin side down, then pat a tablespoon of the coconut-chilli mixture evenly over each fillet. Scatter the remaining mixture over the onions and tomatoes.

  4. Transfer to the oven to roast for 20–25 minutes until the salmon is cooked through. Scatter with mint leaves and serve hot, with rice alongside if you wish.

  5. Notes: You can substitute the salmon for cod, haddock or another firm-fleshed white fish – it’ll take about the same time to cook. To carb it up in the same tin, start by roasting off cubed sweet potato with a little olive oil and salt in your roasting tin for 30 minutes, before continuing with the recipe as above.

    India Express: Fresh And Delicious Recipes For Every Day by Rukmini Iyer is published by Square Peg, photography by David Loftus. Available now.

Local differences

So what characterizes Bengali cuisine compared to South Indian?

“My mother had a really hilarious phrase, which is – ‘Tomatoes and potatoes, Bengalis put them in everything’. And they really like seafood because it’s a coastal area, you get really amazing prawns. I was in a hotel [there] with my mum and we ordered some delicious breaded prawns and what turned up was literally the size of a small lobster – so tasty and ginormous,” she says.

“Whereas in South India, where my family is vegetarian, the food is really light and healthy. [They] cook with mustard seeds, desiccated coconut, cook things in coconut milk – it’s about fresh, quick and easy stir-fries, whereas Bengal is a bit more fish-based. But both regions are really spectacular, [and] they are both rice-eating regions.”

Iyer wanted to showcase these distinct regions, while staying true to the ethos of all of her cookbooks. “What I wanted to do was think about what makes the Roasting Tin accessible and popular, and then bring a spin on it – which was the food that I grew up with, Indian-inspired foods, [and] still have something you could make on Wednesday night,” she says.

So you’ll find simple, one-tin dishes like crisp-topped marinated sea bass with green chilli, lime and coriander, from Bengal, and South Indian-inspired beetroot, curry leaf and ginger buns. The recipes are largely vegan and vegetarian, because that’s how most people of the regions eat, with some pescatarian meals thrown in – because seafood is a “state-wide obsession” in Bengal.

train snacks

Crucially, what really makes a long journey in India is elaborate train snacks. “The really cool thing is you have snack vendors on the train, it’s much more exciting than a snack trolley [here]! You’re in your own compartment, like the old fashion train carriages, and you’ve got vendors going up and down the train,” Iyer says.

“There’s hot samosas, potato cakes, hot chai… But as the regions change, you get local things. When you get to Bengal, you get offered something called mishti doi, a delicious, sweetened yogurt served in little earthenware pots. In the south you get offered idlis, steamed fluffy rice cakes, which are really tasty. So it’s nice the food on the train reflects where you’re going through.”

Cooking and packing your own train snacks is very traditional too, and her recipes honor that – from sticky spiced popcorn with dates, caramel and sea salt, to cauliflower, onion and bread pakoras.

Iyer’s dad would always be well-equipped for his long train journeys, sent off with an array of snacks cooked by his mum. “The train snacks my grandma would have packed for my dad were really hardcore – she probably would have spent at least a day cooking,” Iyer says. Thankfully, her own recipes are generally much less time-intensive.

fast flavour

It wouldn’t have been unusual for her grandmother, who she called Thathi, to spend the majority of her day in the kitchen. “Culturally, it’s really different. If you were a stay-at-home mum back then and you’re raising a family, your job was basically cooking,” she explains.

Now you want things that are obviously tasty, but unless I’ve made a conscious decision that today I feel like spending the afternoon cooking, I don’t want to be tied to the stove.

“So a lot of the book is how can I bring some of these lovely flavors into the food without making someone have to stay in the kitchen? Can they pack it in in 30 minutes? And the answer is yes, a lot of it you can.” Much like her other books, you won’t find spices you can’t easily pick up in a supermarket on your way home from work.

And we can’t talk about these regions of India without mentioning rice – which in true Iyer style is quick and easy. It may sound like sacrilege, but her family secret to cooking the perfect rice? “The microwave! Because it’s impossible to get it wrong” – all you need is 200 grams of good quality basmati rice in a heatproof bowl, cover with three-quarters of a pint of boiling water, put a plate on top, “Put it in the microwave on a medium setting, cook for 11 minutes and let it stand for 10.

“Then your rice is absolutely perfect.”

  • India Express: Fresh And Delicious Recipes For Every Day by Rukmini Iyer is published by Square Peg. Photography by David Loftus. Available now.

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