Mom’s Recipes: Spicy Kerala Shrimp Curry

I find that whenever I try to make fish curry like my mom’s, it never quite turns out right. It tastes fine, but the color is totally off and it’s not spicy enough. The last time I made it, I asked her what the heck I was doing wrong and she informed me that I was using coriander powder when I did not need to. Oh. How did coriander powder sneak its way into the recipe I had saved? It turns out I needed to nix the coriander powder and drastically increase the red chili powder. By doing this, I could achieve the deep maroon color of nice spicy, sweat-inducing fish curry.

I have not tried to make the fish curry again since learning my mistake because the very next day I made my mom’s shrimp curry. The shrimp curry was much quicker and more successful. For one, I did not need to remove any fish skin, making a mess of the fish, or avoid slicing my fingers with fish bones. All in all, the shrimp recipe took 20 minutes to prep and cook! And it was oh-so-delicious! But, fair warning, spicy.

This recipe includes dried Malabar tamarind (“kodampuli”) which gives the dish a bit of sourness. In Kerala cooking, fish and shrimp dishes tend to include this sour spice which definitely elevates the entire flavor profile of the seafood. Check your local Indian or Asian grocery store. If you can’t find it, worry not! The curry will still be good without it.

Malabar tamarind (kodampuli)

You can serve this with rice topped with moru curry, a turmeric coconut yogurt sauce (stay tuned). Or, my favorite is serving it with a mashed cassava dish that I’ll be talking about soon in an exciting collaboration!

Spicy Kerala Shrimp Curry

30-40 peeled, deveined and washed shrimp
Half a medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 tsp mustard seeds

1-2 small Roma tomatoes diced

1 sprig curry leaves (optional)
1 inch fresh ginger, finely chopped
1-2 tsp red Kashmiri chili powder (not very spicy but
offers good red color)

1 tsp regular red chili powder
1 tsp turmeric powder

1/2 tbsp coriander powder
1/2 cup canned tomato sauce

1 tbsp ketchup or tomato paste
1 tbsp coconut oil (or oil of your choice)
1 piece of dried Malabar tamarind plus 2 tbsp hot water: Let soak in a small bowl to let some of the juices leech out from the tamarind into the water
Salt and black pepper to taste 

1. In a medium saucepan, melt coconut oil and add mustard seeds and curry leaves. Turn heat to low and cover with lid as the mustard seeds pop. Once popping sound slows down, carefully add onions and ginger and sauté on medium heat until onions are translucent. Then add diced tomatoes and stew down. This should take 10-15 minutes.

2. Add chili powders, coriander powder, and turmeric powder. Saute for another 5 min over medium heat. 

3. Add tomato sauce and paste or ketchup and sauté for 5-10 min until tomato sauce is fragrant and darker red in color. 

4. Add the shrimp and toss to coat evenly.

5. Add the tamarind plus hot water from the bowl.

6. Add as much or as little water to achieve the amount of liquid you want. Can keep the curry thicker or looser. 

 7. Add salt and black pepper to taste.


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