Discover a delectable array of regional Indian coconut curries on World Coconut Day. From Kerala's creamy Ishtu to Goa's fiery Xacuti, explore 8 diverse coconut-infused curries brimming with authentic flavors. Delight in a culinary journey celebrating the versatility of this tropical delight.
Indian cuisine is as diverse and multifaceted as the country itself, with every town, city, state and region translating its own unique past onto their menu. But one thing that has made itself at home in the dishes from almost every region, is the humble coconut.
The physical embodiment of multipurpose, every part of the coconut from the husk down to the meat can be used and used well in daily Indian life. From its sustaining water to its strong fibres, it’s one of the most useful naturally occurring plants known to man. Naturally, with all that it’s given us, we had to give something back and so, the 2nd of September marks World Coconut Day 2023, a day to honour and celebrate something we all too often take for granted.
In Indian cuisine, coconut finds its way into a number of dishes, from namkeen to desserts, but the place where it can be spotted most frequently is in the wide world of curries. Be it the creamy coconut milk – first or second pressing – or ground into a toasty masala paste, it manages to make everything a bit better.
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So in honour of World Coconut Day, let’s take a look at some curries from across India that use coconut as their base:
1. Kozhi Thengai Curry:
Most often seen as a family dinner, this simple Kerala curry offers the creaminess of coconut milk also with lowly simmered chicken. Well-spiced, but not spicy, this mild curry is a perfect comfort meal and the layers of spices and curry leaves give it a distinctly south Indian soul. If you do prefer things on the spicier side, black pepper can add a unique kick to the dish that’s perfect to scoop up with appam or rice.
2. Chingri Malai:
This Bengali favourite, showcases the luxurious side of coconut-based curries and appears more simple than it is. The name itself has a double meaning as ‘Malai’ could mean cream to represent the coconut base or it could refer to the fact that it made its way into Bengali kitchens via Malaysian traders and the ‘Malaikari’ is just what ‘Malay Curry’ became over time. This dish is a testament to the culinary artistry that combines the bounty of the sea with the richness of coconut.
3. Nadan Kozhi Mappas:
This special from Kerala’s Syrian Christian contingent is a coconut lover's dream. Usually made for the Easter feast, tender chicken pieces are stewed in a coconut milk gravy infused with fragrant spices like cloves, cinnamon, and star anise. The curry's mild heat and creamy texture make it a comforting choice. The marriage of coconut and spices reflects the essence of curry, creating a dish that's both soul-satisfying and deeply aromatic.
4. Kori Gassi:
Usually made with chicken this unique recipe from Mangalore’s Bunt community is a tasty slow-cooked blend of roasted spices, coconut, and tamarind, resulting in a tangy and rich flavour profile. With a hint of jaggery for sweetness, this dish offers a unique balance of sweet, sour, and spicy. It’s usually served with paper-thin crunchy kori roti crushed over the top.
5. Kerala Ishtu:
A breakfast favourite for many Kerala natives, this stew, or ‘Ishtew” is a dish of simplicity and elegance. A medley of vegetables, often including potatoes and carrots, are gently simmered in coconut milk. The addition of whole spices like cloves and cardamom enhances the curry's aroma. This mild, subtly flavoured curry is often enjoyed with appam, a delicate rice-based pancake. Kerala Ishtu's gentleness offers a soothing contrast to more robust curries.
6. Kobbari Charu:
In contrast with Andhra’s unusually fiery cuisine, Kobbari Charu is a mild and almost delicate flavour in comparison. This coconut-based rasam is made with roasted chana dal, a melange of spices and the creaminess of coconut. This tangy and spicy curry is known for its aromatic blend of curry leaves, mustard seeds, and green chillies. It's a feast for the senses, with the coconut's richness complementing the boldness of the spices.
7. Chicken Rassa:
Renowned as a rustic Maharashtrian dish, this Indian chicken curry made with bone-in chicken is fashioned with simplicity. Embraced in numerous homes along the western shores of India, it's relished with piping hot rice and chapati. The gravy is characterized by a harmonious blend of roasted coconut, poppy seeds, and sesame seeds. The fiery red chilli powder adds a spicy kick to the dish. The coconut's nutty undertones provide a counterbalance to the heat, especially when enjoyed with bhakri or rice.
8. Prawns Xacuti:
Xacuti, commonly referred to as Shagoti in Goa, is believed to trace its roots to Harmal village (now Arambol) in Pernem taluka, Goa. In the past, indigenous fishermen crafted a flavourful sauce using ingredients like black peppercorns, chillies, turmeric, onions, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. It imparts a layered flavour that's slightly sweet, tangy, and mildly spicy. Prawns soak up the rich coconut gravy, creating a taste experience that's both indulgent and a reflection of Goan cuisine's vibrant heritage.