Kerala Style Vegetarian Stew or Ishtew Recipe
When we talk about Kerala, we are transported to the gorgeous backwaters, immense greenery, pleasant weather, the tea plantations and spices. The recent devastation due to rains have destroyed much of the beauty but has not been able to shake the undying spirit of the people who are now struggling hard to revive their home, land and their spirit to overcome the loss of their loved ones too.
Being a Keralite (I hail from Palakkad), the news of the devastation deeply disturbed me. Though, I have to admit, I have not seen much of Kerala, since I was born and brought up in Mumbai and my parents and grandparents moved to Mumbai much earlier so there is nothing much left for me to go back. Nevertheless, the place has my heart for 2 reasons – Guruvayoor and my paternal side Ancestral deity which are my roots.
So, inspite of being a busy month with Ganesh Chaturthi Celebrations at home and managing several other commitments, I couldn’t say no to the Shhhh Cooking Group on FB when they announced that this month, we would be cooking from the Kerala Cuisine as an ode to the lost lives and property and with a wish that things resume back to normalcy. Happy to be partnered with Jayashree Trao who blogs at Evergreendishes and receiving my two secret ingredients namely (1) Ginger and (2) Black Pepper, I decided to make one of my favourite vegetarian side options, the Veg Stew or Ishtew as its called. Do check out Jayashree’s blog for some lovely recipes.
Stew is a thin gravy or broth that is flavoured with the best of Kerala spices namely Peppercorns, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon. Another key ingredient the dish uses, is coconut milk. Coconut grows in abundance in Kerala and perhaps the reason it forms part of all the gravies, vegetarian sides and even rice dishes too. Some add garlic to the gravy whereas some skip as it gets a bit overpowering. I have skipped garlic and only added the pearl onions to the gravy.
Originally the Kerala Christians made the stew with chicken and some vegetables like potatoes and flavoured with all the Kerala spices and thickened the gravy using coconut milk. However, the Hindus adapted the same recipe and replaced the chicken with loads of vegetables like French beans, carrots, peas, potatoes and cauliflower. This dish is gluten free and vegan.
The stew has a medium consistency broth which is extremely flavourful and aromatic – courtesy the fresh local spices. Its best eaten as part of breakfast with Appams or Idiappams. Appams are similar to dosas but spongier and softer in texture with crisp edges. Idiappams are string hoppers which is basically rice flour passed through a press mould and then steamed, served with either the stew or even plain coconut milk mixed with some sugar.
Aviyal or Avial, another Kerala favourite is made using mixed vegetables and cooked in a coconut based gravy is completely different from the Stew. It doesn’t include whole spices nor coconut milk. But this vegetable forms part of all the Onam and Vishu Sadya meals in every home. Do check out the recipe on the blog.
Our trips to Kerala and Guruvayoor in particular are incomplete without all the breakfast specials like Puttu and Kadala curry with papadam or Appam and Stew, or my eternal favourite which is Puttu Pansarai (sugar) and ghee.
If you are in love with this dish, as much as we are at home, check out the recipe with the step by step pics and make a piping bowl of Stew today. Did I tell you that the stew tastes amazing with toasted crisp bread slices? Haven’t tried that combo yet? Please do!
Recipe for Kerala Style Vegetarian Stew or Ishtew Recipe
Prep Time – 10 mins (if you are opting for readymade coconut milk)
Prep Time – 30 mins (if you opt to make coconut milk from scratch)
Cook Time – 20 mins
Serves 2 nos.
- 1 cup of mixed vegetables (carrots, peas, French beans and potatoes)
- ¼ cup finely sliced shallots or pearl onions
- 1 cup of Coconut milk (1/2 cup thick and ½ cup thin)
- 2 tsps of coconut oil
- 1 tsp of grated Ginger
- 4 to 5 cloves
- ½ inch cinnamon stick
- 1 bay leaf
- 8 nos. peppercorns
- 1 star anise
- 1 black cardamom
- Few curry leaves
- 1/2 cup water to cook the vegetables
- Salt as per taste
- Finely slice the shallots or pearl onions. In case you don’t have the pearl onions, add the white ones instead of red as they have mild taste.
- Heat a kadhai or a non stick pan and add coconut oil followed by the whole spices like pepper, bay leaf, star anise, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves.
- Now add the onions followed by grated ginger. Saute this mixture for a few minutes until the onions turn translucent in colour.
- Add the mixed vegetables, some water and salt. Close the pan with the lid and allow the vegetables to cook.
- Once the vegetables have cooked (they should retain their texture and not turn mushy), add the thick coconut milk.
- Stir well, add curry leaves and let it simmer for few seconds (without a lid).
- You will see the stew thickening. Now add the ½ cup of thin coconut milk and stir the mixture well.
- Let it simmer for a few seconds on low heat.
- Switch off the gas and serve it piping hot with idiappam or string hoppers, dosas, appam or even with chapatis or rotis.
- The cup measurement used is 1 cup is 200 ml.
- You can use canned coconut milk too for this recipe. Adjust consistency and thickness with some warm water accordingly.
- You can steam the vegetables and add them to the spice mix too but I prefer to cook the vegetables with the whole spices as the stew smells pretty good.
- Add a variety of vegetables. I have added the staple and in season variety. You can add cauliflower or broccoli too if you like.