South Indian cuisine has a reputation for being some of spiciest, most flavorful food around. A lot of times, however, people mistakenly believe it is strictly vegetarian. Not so for Chettinad cuisine, which is the food of the Chettiars, a group of Tamils in southern India who do eat certain meats (i.e. mutton, chicken) and seafood. I first tried Chettinad food at an Indian chain called Anjappar, which had a restaurant in Colombo, Sri Lanka (they also have a location in Manhattan). I found it to have some of the most complex flavors of any cuisine I have ever enjoyed. Even with my extensive knowledge of spices, I was a bit intimidated to try cooking this cuisine myself. But the best way to approach things like this is to dive right in, so I did, and the following is the result.
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. crushed garlic
2 Tsp. sliced fresh ginger
1 cup sliced onions or shallots
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. cayenne pepper powder
½ tsp. turmeric
14 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 tsp. tamarind juice
1 pound shrimp, shelled & deveined with tails intact
salt to taste
2-3 fresh green chilies, sliced
1 spring fresh curry leaves (for garnish)
spice blend: 6 dried whole red chilies
½ tsp. fennel seeds
½ tsp. cumin seeds
½ tsp. fenugreek seeds
½ tsp. black mustard seeds
- Heat 1 Tbsp. of oil in a pan. Combine spice blend ingredients, and sauté until mustard seeds start to pop.
- Add garlic and ginger to pan and sauté another minute. Add onions or shallots and sauté another 2 minutes.
- Add remaining oil as well as coriander, cayenne, and turmeric, and stir to combine.
- Stir in tomatoes, tamarind juice, and ¼ cup water, and cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Add shrimp and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly until sauce thickens and shrimp are cooked. Add salt and fresh chilies, and stir for another minute.
- For garnish, heat a little oil in another pan and fry curry leaves until crispy. Sprinkle over shrimp before serving.
Makes 3-4 servings.