Kerala Stew

Fall in Houston often reminds me of the late monsoon season off the southern coast of India — the sweltering heat tapers off, with the occasional sprinkle or shower.

Kerala, a state on the ancient Silk Route, is on the southwestern Malabar Coast of India. The original birthplace of black pepper, it is also known as the “land of spices.” Since 3000 BCE, traders from the Middle East and far-away lands including Venice, Lisbon and Amsterdam traded black pepper, cloves and cardamom via ports in Kerala.

If you were to journey to Kerala today, the best way to enjoy its lush beauty is to rent a fully staffed houseboat to take you up and down the state’s beautiful backwaters. The boats usually come equipped with a kitchen and your own private cook, who utilizes the local bounty at mealtimes. If only we had similar houseboats in Galveston …

The fragrant coconut stews of Kerala are especially transporting and legendary — and we can create the same flavors in Houston with seasonal local vegetables.

makes ~5-6 cups (feeds 4)

ingredients

4 tablespoons coconut oil

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

8-10 curry leaves

2 cups minced onions

2 tablespoons grated ginger

1 hot green chili, minced (serrano, for example)

2 cups carrots, peeled and cubed into 1-inch pieces

2 cups cauliflower florets

3 cups chayote squash, cubed into 1-inch pieces

1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk

1½ teaspoon salt

1/2 cup chopped cilantro, for garnish

 

instructions

  1. In a Dutch oven or a stockpot with a lid, heat the coconut oil until it is shimmering but not yet smoking. Add the mustard seeds until they pop and sizzle (this usually takes just a few seconds), then add the curry leaves.

  2. Quickly add the onions, ginger and green chili. Cook on medium heat for 12-15 minutes until the onions are soft, translucent and light golden in color.

  3. Stir in the carrots, cauliflower and squash, cover the stockpot and cook on low heat until they are cooked through, approximately 8-10 minutes. The vegetables should be fork-tender yet firm and holding their shape.

  4. Add the coconut milk and salt, and bring the stew to a boil. Immediately lower the heat and simmer for just a minute or two.Turn the heat off and let it rest for 5-10 minutes. Garnish with cilantro and serve with simple white rice cooked with turmeric.

ideas / variations

  • Feel free to substitute vegetables for the stew, just don’t use ones with high water content. Potatoes, butternut squash, green beans and zucchini all work well.

  • To turn this into a seafood stew, add 6-8 ounces of fish (cut into 1-inch pieces) or shrimp 2-3 minutes before turning the heat off.

  • Lemony-pine-fragrant curry leaves are used to flavor foods all over India. The curry leaf tree is a tropical yet hardy perennial that does very well in Houston climate, so consider getting a plant.

  • Sprinkle chili powder on top at the end for added heat.