A Kerala Inspired Spicy and Tangy Seafood Stew

Kerala is a southern state shaped and positioned with respect to India much like Chile is to South America. It is a beautiful region strewn with lovely beaches, dreamy backwaters and even misty mountains. I was there once while I was still in school and have fond memories of that trip. Look forward to going there again.

Keralites or Malayalees are very similar to Bengalis in at least one important aspect. We love fish and seafood. But being a coastal state, the cuisine in Kerala uses more coconut than mainstream Bengali cuisine which tends to be dominated by influences from the landlocked parts of Bengal. Also they eat more seafood than the Bengalis I know, whose exploration of seafood does not extend to things like mussels.

One of my favourite dishes from Kerala is the traditional “Isshtew”or stew, made with meat or vegetables, spices and coconut milk. It’s soothing yet bracingly spicy…in a way that probably doesn’t make sense in print but does on the palate!

The other day I made this one pot meal out of shrimp, mussels, chinese cabbage, bell peppers, yellow squash and cherry tomatoes. It’s super easy to make and if you are willing to use frozen seafood, will perk you up in no time on a blue winter day.




1 Chinese cabbage

1 green bell pepper

2 small yellow squash

1 tsp chopped ginger

1 handful plum or  cherry tomatoes

shrimp shelled and de-veined as much as you want. I had 125 gms

handful of mussels or more – shucked

3-5 dried red chillies (if you can’t handle heat, add only one for flavour and pick it out within the first five minutes of cooking)

A handful of curry leaves or if you don’t have any, use coriander or parsley  rinsed and patted down of excess water

1 tsp oil

1 tsp black mustard seeds

clove of garlic (optional)

200 gms coconut milk (I used canned)

1 cup of water

Sambhar powder or good curry powder – I used a dash of sambhar powder to give a mild colour and aroma

Juice of half a lemon


  1. Rough chop the cabbage and dice the other veggies
  2. In a large stew-pot, heat the oil and add chillies and mustard seeds
  3. Once the seeds splutter and the chillies turn dark red, add the ginger and curry leaves and fry for a few seconds until the sizzling stops
  4. Add the sambhar powder and seafood. Stir for a few seconds
  5. Add all the vegetables, coconut milk and water.
  6. Once things come to a boil, add a tsp of salt. Fish out your chillies if you prefer mild food.
  7. Simmer until the veggies are cooked to your liking. If you like a more soupy stew, add more water.
  8. Check for seasoning and add more salt to bring everything to life.
  9. Turn off the heat and add lemon juice. Taste and add more if you like things more tangy.
  10. Serve with rice or rice noodles. In Kerala you could have had some freshly made traditional rice noodles called idiyappam to go with stew – I sometimes use the dried fine rice noodles that one gets in Asian stores.   With this stew I served jasmine rice. My son called it Thai-Chinese-Indian fusion and lapped it up happily.