Food & Wine

Spices, coconut flavor mutton stew, a specialty of southwestern India

Kerala, a state in southwestern India, is known as the “Land of Spices.” The food is rich with coconut, an array of spices, chilies, curry leaves, mustard seeds, tamarind and asafetida. In Kerala, food traditionally is served on a banana leaf and eaten by hand.

Kerala cuisine is a blend of indigenous and foreign dishes adapted to local tastes. Coconuts grow in abundance in Kerala, so grated coconut and coconut milk are frequently used in dishes and curries as a thickener and flavoring ingredient. Black pepper, cardamom, cloves, ginger and cinnamon play a large part in the food of the region, which has been a major producer of spices for thousands of years.

The accompanying recipe for South Indian Stew is a local adaptation of English stew. There are several variations to the basic recipe, including substituting chicken for the mutton or adding a shallow-fried fish coated with turmeric, salt and flour to the coconut milk gravy. By replacing the mutton with vegetables, you can conjure up a vegetarian stew. A stew of carrots, potatoes, whole small onions, peas, beans, turnips, cauliflower and mushrooms – or plain potatoes and onions – is equally delightful to the taste buds.

A mix of spices and coconut milk delicately flavor this South Indian Stew, which tastes great with plain boiled rice. The flavors blend beautifully, while the toasted spices offer deep flavors and the chili adds an unexpectedly pleasant kick.


South Indian Stew


• 1 pound mutton (lamb/goat meat cut into small pieces, bones included, if any

• 10 curry leaves

• 1 tablespoon white vinegar

• 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground

• 1 cup stock or water

• 4 tablespoons canola or olive oil

• 2 large onions, finely chopped

• 1 green chili, slit lengthwise (optional)

• 1 teaspoon garlic, finely chopped

• 8 black peppercorns

• 1/2-inch stick of cinnamon

• 2 cloves

• Seeds from 3-4 green cardamoms

• 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

• 4-5 baby potatoes

• 1 1/2 cups coconut milk

• 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar

• Salt to taste

• Juice of 1/2 lemon

• Pinch of garam masala (to garnish)


Put meat, vinegar, 5-6 curry leaves, freshly ground black pepper and water/stock in deep pan and cook over medium flame until meat is done. This could take 45-60 minutes on slow flame if not using pressure cooker. Set aside for later use.

Heat flat pan on medium flame and gently roast cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, black peppercorns and fennel seeds until they begin to darken and release aroma. Cool, then grind into coarse powder in clean, dry coffee grinder.

Heat cooking oil in deep pan on medium flame and add onions, chili, garlic and remaining curry leaves. Cook until onions are soft.

Add powdered ground spices and mix well. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Add meat and cook until browned.

Add baby potatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Add previously cooked water/stock and bring to boil. Add coconut milk and cook for another 5-7 minutes.

Add brown sugar, salt and lemon juice. Mix well.

Garnish with garam masala.

Serve hot with boiled white rice.

Gitika Baveja is author of “Indian Flavors to Savor: The Easy Home-Cooked Way.” For more information and additional recipes, visit

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