On India’s southwestern coast, the sun bejewels a sea washing tropical shores fragrant with flowering spices. Can somewhere as lavishly endowed with vibrant vistas, aromas and colors produce anything other than an exuberant cuisine? Definitely, the state of Kerala does, and one of its favorite creations, Chemmeen Moilee, Curried Shrimp and Coconut Soup, headlines today.
Such is the sensory paradise this soup opens that its renown has traveled. All the way, in fact, to the pages of Fine Cooking, which recounted the tale in its April/May 2019 issue. If it’s possible for the page to live, to pulsate, to inspire dreams and then to make them sparkle here and now, this recipe made it happen. The moment the creation appeared it was destined for you. As the ingredients in their staggering variety were prepared, they transported the kitchen to a coast very, very far from this place.
This weekend was quite a challenge, firstly in the kitchen. As the cooking list was assembled the aromas captivated, even before the kitchen tools arrived. As preparations proceeded, the transcendence gathered momentum, and it became nearly impossible to resist the urge – no, the demand – to devour the soup long before it finished cooking.
Finally, after two-and-a-half eternities, deliverance! The first sip (far, far too hot, but who cares?) exploded the here-and-now. A bright flash, then suddenly, wherever “here” was, surely, (*1) it no longer shivered beneath leaden winter skies. The ultimate “happy place.” Is this heaven?
Ah, so the story ends well? Probably, but maybe not. See, typing these paragraphs reinvigorated the memories, the reverie and then…the longing. Trying to list all the “Tags” that follow the article is no fun, either. So many spices! After “cardamom” it became too daunting a task. You’ll see, when you look at the recipe below.
If Kerala is half as seductive as is this soup, visitors never will leave.
(Malabar Curried Shrimp and Coconut Soup)
- 1/4 cup coconut oil, divided
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger, plus two tablespoons, julienned
- 1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
- 3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
- salt, to taste
- 1-and-1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled, deveined, but with tails left intact
- 3 whole cloves
- 2 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 2 green cardamom pods
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 13.5-ounce can of coconut milk, well-shaken
- 3 jalapeño peppers, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
- 10 curry leaves (*2)
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon palm sugar (*3)
- 2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
- 3 cups cooked basmati rice (*4)
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro, plus whole leaves for garnish
- lime wedges, for serving
In a large bowl, combine two tablespoons of the oil, the garlic, chopped ginger, mustard seeds, turmeric and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Add the shrimp and toss to coat.
Set a small skillet over a medium-low flame. Toast the cloves, coriander seeds, cardamom pods, cumin seeds and fennel seeds, shaking the pan frequently. Cook thusly until fragrant, about a minute. Transfer to a spice grinder and pulse until spices are powdered. Transfer powder to a medium bowl and stir in the coconut milk.
Set a small stockpot over a medium-high flame. Pour in the remaining two tablespoons of coconut oil. When it shimmers, add the julienned ginger, jalapeño peppers and curry leaves and cook for two minutes. Add the spiced coconut milk mixture, the chicken stock, lime juice and sugar, and bring to a boil.
Reduce the flame to medium-low and add the shrimp, tomatoes and a teaspoon of salt. Cook until the shrimp are pink, about two minutes. Turn off flame and stir in the rice and chopped cilantro.
Distribute the soup among serving bowls, garnish with cilantro leaves, and serve with lime wedges.
1 – My name’s not Shirley.
2 – If you can’t find whole curry leaves, use a tablespoon of powder.
3 – Substitute light brown sugar if palm sugar is unavailable.
4 – Cook a cup of uncooked rice in two cups of water. This will give you the three cups of cooked rice you need.