In Kerala, they call it ‘Ishtu’-perhaps the Malayalam word for ‘stew’? No matter. It is a vegetable dish that is cooked in coconut milk and very mildly spiced. Traditionally only potatoes were used, but I have eaten and enjoyed ishtus that have a variety of vegetables that give the dish a colourful look. Combined with the creamy texture and sweetish taste, it can be an accompaniment for any number of main courses—rice, idli, idiyappam (noolappam/rice hoppers), appam, dosa and even chapatis! (I will be sharing the recipes of idiyappam and Kerala appam soon).
It has many close cousins in the Tamil Nadu versions of the Tiurnelveli sodhi and Chettinad vellai (white) kurma among others. As always, one can find any number of recipes for this dish-with or without onion and garlic, with or without aromatic spices like cinnamon and cloves and so on. The simplest is the one made with just green chillies, ginger and a dash of pepper powder and curry leaves.
Reading: Veena’s curryworld vegetable stew
I have adapted several of the recipes and am sharing the one which tastes both authentic and tasty, with you all. I have used several vegetables to give it a tantalising colour. This is the no-onion, no-garlic version, though I make it with a few cloves of garlic when I feel like it.
- Cauliflower 1 small
- Potato 1 large or 2 medium
- Carrot 1
- Peas ½ cup (shelled)
- Green chillies 2
- Ginger 1” piece
- Curry leaves 10-12
- Cloves 4-5
- Cinnamon 1” stick
- Black pepper 8-10
- Pepper powder ½ tsp
- Coconut oil 2 tsp
- Coconut milk 1 packet
- Salt as needed
- Wash all the vegetables. Peep carrot and potatoes. Cut them into small pieces as shown. (The vegetables should be about 2 cups)
- Grate or mince the ginger.
- Take out the coconut milk in a bowl. Take 2 tsps of it and dilute in a cup of water.
- In a heavy-bottomed kadhai or pan, heat the coconut oil. Add the cinnamon stick, cloves and pepper pods. When they turn aromatic, add the grated ginger and curry leaves. (*See notes) After a few seconds, add the chillies and vegetables. Saute a little. Add the diluted coconut milk and salt. Mix well. Cover and cook till the vegetables are tender but not squishy. They should hold the bite.
- Sprinkle the pepper powder and add the remaining coconut milk, which will be very thick. Mix well. If you want it a little diluted, add some milk. Don’t add water. Don’t boil after adding thick coconut milk. Just wait till it begins bubbling at the edges and switch off the heat.
- Your flavoursome, delicious ishtu is ready to serve.
- Remove to a serving dish and garnish with curry leaves.
- Serve hot or cold with idiyappam, appam, rice or idlis.
- You can also have it like a soup like I do. It is delicious.
*Some recipes have onions and garlic too. If you want to use them, finely chop a small onion. Crush/mince 2 cloves of garlic. Add both to the tadka once the spices turn aromatic along with grated ginger. Just let the onion wilt. It shouldn’t brown. Now add the vegetables.
Traditionally fresh coconut milk is used. I use the Dabur Homemade coconut milk. You can use other canned or dried coconut milk too.
Read more: The Best Instant Pot Beef Stew
- If you are willing to undertake some labour of love, here is how it is done:
- Grate or thinly slice fresh coconut. Add a cup of warm water and blend it well. Squeeze out the milk by pressing the pulp through a muslin cloth. This is the first milk.
- Add more warm water and blend the residue again. Then squeeze out the second milk.
- It is the second milk, which is used to cook the vegetables in.
For more information please see the list of Veena’s curryworld vegetable stew