Mom’s Recipes: Tuna Thoran

In keeping with the theme of my mom’s Malayali cooking and our heavy reliance on coconut, my next dish is a great option for fish eaters. As I mentioned before, Malayalis eat alot of fish and seafood. My mom always purchased fresh fish from the local Indian or Asian grocery store, bones included. We enjoyed a variety of fish including King fish, Indian mackerel, and one of my personal favorites, Japanese butterfish. She usually prepares fish in three forms: curried, spice rubbed and fried, and in a “meen peera” form which is dry and uses ground coconut and chilies. The curry and peera forms use sour tamarind as well. My mouth is watering just typing this out!

Sometimes, we don’t have time to go get a nice piece of fish from the market and need to rely on pantry items…which leads us to canned tuna! Though I love tuna salad, sometimes I want something that involves more than some mayo and celery tossed with canned tuna. This dish elevates a pantry staple and tastes like it took ages to make, but it is so simple and quick that you can make this on the busiest of weeknights. This dish doesn’t fit snugly into one of the three categories above, but is rather a mixture between a “peera” and a “thoran.” “Thorans” are usually dry vegeatable sides (by dry I mean not curried) made with ground coconut. “Peera” specifically refers to this same concept when used in fish/seafood dishes. Aside from coconut, ginger is the star ingredient which packs plain old canned tuna with tons of flavor.

Tuna Thoran
8 servings

Five 4-oz cans of white or chunk light tuna, well drained (I squeeze the water out to get it as dry as possible), and separated into thin flakes
45g finely diced fresh ginger, or more if you want!
2 cloves garlic – finely chopped
1-2 green chilies, finely chopped (keep seeds for heat)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1-1.5 cups frozen ground coconut, thawed (I adjust the amount based on how much tuna there is)
4-5 curry leaves (optional if you can’t find it)
1/2 tablespoon black mustard seeds
2-3 teaspoons turmeric powder
1 teaspoon red chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin powder
1 teaspoon tamarind paste, mixed with a tiny bit of water to loosen it
Optional: 1-2 dry red chilies
Salt/black pepper to taste


1. In a large-diameter shallow pan, add coconut oil (or oil of your choice) and let melt. Add mustard seeds, curry leaves, and dry red chilies. Cover with a pan and let mustard seeds pop.
2. Once seeds are mostly popped, add the garlic, ginger, green chilies. Saute well.
3. Add onions and saute until translucent.
4. Add turmeric and red chili powder. Saute. (May want to turn on the exhaust fan).
5. Add the tuna flakes and mix together, let cook for 3-4 minutes.
6. Add the ground coconut and black pepper, saute.
7. Add the loosened tamarind paste and mix.
8. Add a little bit of water and mix well until water evaporated, 2-3 minutes.
9. Once you taste it, you can add a little more cumin powder or salt/black pepper as you see fit.

The tuna does not need much time to cook as you obviously can it eat straight from the can. The heating process is simply to get all the flavors to commingle.

Enjoy! Again, if you try this recipe please let me know how it turned out!


Splatter the mustard seeds and curry leaves (and optional red chilies) in oil.


Add the ginger, garlic, green chilies, then onions. Saute.


After adding the spices and flaked tuna, add ground coconut and black pepper.


The final product!

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