Chicken and vegetables in an aromatic coconut sauce

Chicken and vegetables in an aromatic coconut sauce

I Love Curry
Jonathan Gregson

This is a beautiful, full-flavoured, creamy dish that hails from the Christians of Kerala. It is known as ishtu, a word that is a derivation of ‘stew’, because this is a naturally-fused dish of east and west. Chicken and vegetables are all cooked together with the local flavours of the southwestern coast of India. There are lots of spices, but the flavours have been mellowed by coconut. Don’t worry, you can still taste lovely bits of ginger and the flavours of star anise and fennel seeds. You can make this without vegetables, or add whatever vegetables you have in the fridge; it’s that kind of dish. Lovely with rice, Naan or Paratha, or even the rice noodles which are often eaten in Kerala.


Quantity Ingredient
6 tablespoons coconut or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
5cm cinnamon stick
6 green cardamom pods
4 cloves
10 black peppercorns
2 star anise
15 curry leaves
1 onion, finely sliced
20g fresh root ginger, peeled weight, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2-4 green chillies, whole but pierced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4-1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, roughly powdered
salt, to taste
500g skinless chicken joints
400ml can coconut milk
1 tablespoon coconut cream, (optional)
3/4-1 teaspoon tamarind paste, or to taste
handful green beans, topped and tailed, halved on the diagonal
2 handfuls green peas, fresh or frozen and defrosted
small fistful fresh coriander leaves


  1. Heat the oil in a wide pan (a karahi or wok is ideal). Add the whole spices and, once the seeds have stopped popping, the curry leaves. Follow immediately with the onion and cook over a moderate heat until translucent. Add the ginger, garlic and green chillies and sauté gently for one or two minutes, or until the garlic is cooked.
  2. Add the turmeric, chilli, ground coriander, fennel seeds and salt with a splash of water and cook for two minutes. Put in the chicken and cook in the spice paste for two minutes more. Pour in water to come one-third of the way up the chicken, bring to a boil, then lower the flame and cook, covered, for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. The liquid in the pot should have reduced quite a bit by now. Add most of the coconut milk (try and add only the thin milk that collects at the bottom of the can at this point), cover and cook for another five minutes. Uncover and cook off most of the excess liquid, giving the pan occasional stirs. Check the chicken is cooked all the way through, with no trace of pink.
  3. Stir in the remaining thick coconut milk, coconut cream (if using), tamarind, beans and peas; the dish should be creamy. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Simmer for three to four minutes, then serve with the coriander leaves.
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