Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Kerala-Style Stew

A major highlight of this month was a week-long visit by my sister and nephew. The little guy is only a few months younger than Lila and they had a great time playing, squabbling, snacking and napping together and making the rounds of every playground in town.

One afternoon my sister cooked ishtu (stew), a recipe she learned from her Malayali friend. You simply cook vegetables, add coconut milk and finish off with a fragrant tempering.

  • Start with about 8 cups of mixed vegetables. We raided the kitchen and fridge and used diced potato, cauliflower, summer squash, carrots, and also used two veggies from the freezer- peas and cut Italian beans (these are larger and flatter than regular green beans).
  • Add enough water to cover the vegetables, add minced ginger, cut green chillies and salt to taste, and boil until the veggies are just tender. We used a pressure cooker without the weight- simply using it as a tightly closed pot to get the vegetables to cook evenly and faster. 
  • Drain out excess water from the tender veggies- and store it for use in another soup or dal or curry.
  • To the cooked vegetables, add a can of coconut milk. Bring to a gentle simmer for a few minutes. 
  • Meanwhile, in a separate pan, heat 1 tbsp. coconut oil. Make a tempering with mustard seeds, cumin seeds and curry leaves and add it to the curry. You're done! 
This stew is a great example of the cuisine of the Southern Indian state of Kerala- simple, fresh and flavorful. We served it with some freshly steamed rice and pickle on the side. I ate it in a big bowl as a stew with just a bit of rice, and a handful of potato chips to add crunch. An excellent meal! 

15 comments:

  1. I love this! Thank you for giving me a great way to get lots of veggies on the table without much fuss.

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    1. Angela- Yes! It came together very quickly and was very hearty.

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  2. Yummy! I love that ishtu meself very much. Got used to it being served in the mess when I studied in TN many years back. Since we do eat chicken I add diced chicken to it sometimes along with the veggies and the son loves it to licking-his-finger point:-)

    It must be so much fun for Lil' Lila(can't resist calling her that) to have a cousin that close to her in age to rough and tumble with. Put up pictures of both of them here so we can all go 'awwww...':-)

    And BTW that vitamix post made me big time J and I would've bought myself one too just because I loved well made soups and smoothies but my kitchen is currently overflowing with 'em gadgets. Namely, indian mixie with four jars, slow cooker(which I barely use and must sell now or give away), blender, juicer(was supposed to get hubby started on juicing veggies and his enthu dried up in a few month. Ufff!) and all sorts of other thingamummies. But the vimatix will be lusted after, longed for and perhaps finally bought....sometime.

    Deepa

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    1. Ah mess food, I had good mess food in grad school and miss it :)

      I decluttered many of my unused kitchen tools and gadgets a few weeks ago and must say it is a very liberating feeling to keep only things that are wanted and loved- no points hanging on to purchases that only take up sapce and cause regret!

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  3. After a long gap I opened your blog , Nupur and what do I find -our popular Istu ! Well,the stew can be seasoned with a sprig of curry leaves when ready with a tbsp of raw coconut oil poured on the curry leaves (switch off the stove first.) it can also be seasoned for a spicier version with a piece of cinnamon and a 3-4 cloves sautéed in oil and a tbsp. of chopped shallots or red onion. these variations run from the north of Kerala to the south. If you cook the vegetables in diluted coconut milk and then add thick coconut milk it tastes heavenly!Ishtu is the Malayalam translation of stew! Add sliced onions along with the vegetables, slit green chillies and ginger.Ishtu is also made with chicken or mutton on festive days like birthdays, Christmas and Easter as an accompaniment to Appams for breakfast.

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    1. Thanks for all the great tips! I can see how cinnamon and cloves would add lots of flavor.

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  4. interesting dish. I hadn't heard before. the preparation/ingredients/final outcome, seem to be similar to avial (another Mallu dish).

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    1. Yes, I think avial has yogurt, this does not.

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    2. also aviyal has ground coconut and a different set of vegetables

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    3. thanks for clarifying. The lack of yogurt, escaped my attention :-(. secondly, I was under the impression, it didn't matter what vegetables , as long as vegetables do not have conflicting flavors :-)

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  5. I love "ishtu" stew! I make it a bit differently - do try this as well for a slightly different flavor profile. Into a tsp of hot oil, add a cinnamon stick, clove and a couple of pods of green cardamom. Then (optional) lightly saute some sliced onion/shallot and ginger, then add in the veggies (with some slit green chillis) with just enough water to cook them. (I don't throw away the cooking liquid since there's very little left after the veggies are done; plus, it adds its own flavor). Add coconut milk and very gently heat to a simmer. Gently crush some curry leaves, if you have them, and add to the stew (or add them to a tsp of warmed coconut oil and add into the stew). That's it!

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    1. Thanks Kamini! I'm going to try your method.

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  6. I remember tasting this in Kerala with Appam. But, in my opinion, home made would taste better, I was kinda not very impressed with that version.
    Isn't it amazing that many recipes from Kerala have simple ingredients and a basic tempering and yet have amazing flavor?!

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    1. Alas, some places in Kerala (and also restaurants serving Kerala food) thicken their stew with flour, which ruins the taste. I think they compromise on the coconut milk (they just use heavily diluted, thin coconut milk) and add in flour which only makes matters worse :(

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    2. Manasi- Next time I am going to make some appam to go with the stew- it is simple to make with wonderful flavor. As Kamini says, good quality coconut milk goes a long way in making it taste good.

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