Kerala-Style Shrimp Curry

[Photograph: Max Falkowitz]

Curries from Kerala tend to be pungent, sour, and full of seafood. They're rich, not with cream or ghee, but with coconut milk. There isn't a ton of easily found English-language information on the dish, but after taking a Madhur Jaffrey recipe and some others as a guide, I came up with this version. The curry sauce is rich but light, peppery from chiles and fragrant with ginger—a flavor I love with seafood and used quite generously here. If you're less of a fan, you can cut back on it. Kodampuli cuts through the fatty sauce with a sour, sweet, and ever so slightly smoky flavor; it's what really distinguishes this curry from anything you've had without it.

Quality of ingredients matter here, and not just with the shrimp. Get the best coconut milk you can find. I'm especially fond of frozen packages of raw, unprocessed coconut milk from Thai groceries, which are very thick and nutty. Canned coconut cream (not cream of coconut, which is heavily sweetened) also works very well; my favorite is Chaokoh brand.

If shrimp isn't your cup of tea, other quick-cooking shellfish would work well here, or firm, white-fleshed fish.

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Kerala-Style Shrimp Curry

About This Recipe

Yield:4
Active time:30 minutes
Total time:45 minutes
Special equipment:food processor
This recipe appears in: Spice Hunting: Kodampuli

Ingredients

  • 3 thumb-sized pieces kodampuli
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3-inch generous knob of ginger, peeled roughly chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 Thai green chile, stem removed
  • 1 tablespoon hot red chile (such as arbol), ground
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 4 tablespoons oil, divided (preferably coconut oil, though vegetable or olive would do fine)
  • 2 teaspoons brown mustard seed
  • 8 curry leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon asafoetida
  • 14 ounces thick coconut milk or coconut cream (see note)
  • 1 pound cleaned, shelled shrimp
  • 1 tablespoon raw sugar, or to taste
  • Lime and cilantro for garnish

Procedures

  1. 1

    Briefly rinse kodampuli to remove any dust, then soak in boiling water in a small bowl before proceeding to prep remaining ingredients.

  2. 2

    Combine onion, ginger, garlic, green chile, both red chiles, and 1 tablespoon coconut oil in food processor. Process until they combine into a smooth paste.

  3. 3

    Heat remaining oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. When oil shimmers, add mustard seeds, curry leaves, and asafoetida. Stir to coat with oil and fry until mustard seeds pop about 30 seconds, then add onion paste. Stir to coat with oil and fry until paste browns slightly and becomes dry, about 10 minutes.

  4. 4

    Add coconut milk, kodampuli, and its soaking liquid, and bring pan to a simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes to give flavors time to meld. Turn off heat and add shrimp, stirring to coat them in the sauce. Let shrimp cook until almost (but not fully) done, 1-2 minutes. Add salt and sugar to taste, then serve immediately with rice, passing lime wedges and cilantro at the table.

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