Coconut "Butter" with South Indian Flavors

In South India, coconut oil is the cooking oil of choice. Many dishes are garnished with a drizzle of coconut oil, popped black mustard seeds, crispy fried curry leaves, and frizzled small red onions. I like to stir these wonderful ingredients together like a compound butter and spread or melt it on various foods as the whim strikes: on savory pancakes, pilafs, or grilled whole fish. Curry leaves come from a small tropical plant. They have a complicated taste and fragrance that can be redolent of mixed spices. (Curry powder is not made from curry leaves.) They are commonly fried until crisp and used as a crunchy garnish or added to simmered dishes for an herbal depth. Fresh curry leaves can be found at specialty markets. I often have some stored in the freezer. If your climate allows, try growing a plant of your own.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup pure coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 cup thinly sliced shallots (about 4 large shallots)
  • 1/4 cup fresh curry leaves, torn into pieces (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot Indian chile powder, cayenne, or similar hot red chile powder (optional)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric

Instructions

Yield: About 1 1/2 cups 

Heat 3 tablespoons of the coconut oil in a sauté pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mustard and cumin seeds and cook until the mustard seeds pop. Add the shallots and curry leaves, if you have them, and cook until the shallots are brown and the curry leaves have turned dark and crisp, about  6 minutes.

Put the remaining coconut oil in a bowl. Add the cooked shallot mixture, the salt, chile powder, and turmeric and stir together. Serve.

Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week. The chilled mixture will look grainy, but it will melt evenly when heated.


Photography and recipe from Mastering Sauces by Susan Volland. Copyright © Susan Volland. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company. All rights reserved.

 

 

Related Stories & Recipes

The Indian Cooking Course

"Everything about India can be better understood if we accept that there are no generalizations about the country. Every few miles, the language, food, dress, and ways of life change and it's a lan...

17 Recipes for When You're In the Mood for Curry

Curry, a mix of spices originally from the Indian subcontinent, has survived in many forms in its diaspora. The base of flavors -- turmeric, cumin, and coriander -- is expanded in countless ways, f...

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup pure coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 cup thinly sliced shallots (about 4 large shallots)
  • 1/4 cup fresh curry leaves, torn into pieces (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot Indian chile powder, cayenne, or similar hot red chile powder (optional)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
Subscribe
Build your own subscription bundle.
Pick 3 regions for $60
We will never share your email address with anyone else. See our privacy policy.