Monday, October 29, 2007

Potato Stew aka Kerala’s "Eshtu"

Hailing from God’s own country, CJJ and myself are God’s own kids brought up in two different corners of the same state and hence the differences in usage of certain phrases or names of objects or food and the local slangs, used to sound weird and strange and at the same time, it used to bring smiles on our faces, especially in those days when we were getting to know each other and by the time we presented our marriage proposal to our families, we had become quite fluent in each other’s vocabularies. Indeed, the real fun started after marriage, when my mother got an opportunity to pamper her son-in-law. My mother being a 100% central Kerala product was not at all familiar with the phrases and words CJJ used and it was more or less the same case with CJJ too. Real fun used to happen at the dining table. Since my mother knows that CJJ loves her cooking, she used to whip up a huge spread, with all his favourite dishes and then once we start sharing the food, we saw ourselves breaking into laughter as these two start uttering the names of the dish or the ingredient which would not be familiar to the other. For instance, “kodappan” is the local name for banana-flower in our area but CJJ was familiar with the name, “koombu” and used to find the other name quite hilarious. Similarly, Stew is also known as “Eshtu” in many parts of Kerala, especially on the central regions but somehow CJJ has not been in acceptance of that, so he used to tease my mother and tried to correct her. Next time my mother served the same dish, she used to deliberately use the same name, ”Eshtu” , just to see him doing that “correction-speech” again ; somehow she still finds the whole thing amusing and never misses an opportunity to say “Eshtu” and make him start all over again :)

"Eshtu" aka Stew is traditionally served with Palappam ( Kerala’s laced rice pancakes). Generally carnivores like us don’t prefer the vegetarian version of many of the traditional delicacies but Potato Stew is an exception. It is as good as its opponents like Beef Stew or Chicken Stew or Mutton Stew and the taste and charm of this traditional favorite lies in its simplicity. Cooked potatoes stewed in rich coconut milk and flavored with whole spices is a treat on its own and this is one dish that I prepare confidently whenever we have some vegetarian friends coming home for food and I don’t remember an instance where our friends have left without asking for the recipe or atleast the method of cooking. So here we go:


  • 2 large potatoes
  • 3 medium size big onions, thinly sliced (around 3 cups)
  • 6-8 Indian green chillies, slit open lengthwise
  • 1 small piece of garlic, thinly sliced
  • A small piece of ginger ( 1 ½ to 2 inch piece)
  • 2 sprigs of curry leaves
  • 4-6 small pieces of carrots (Optional)*
  • 3-4 small ½ inch pieces of cinnamon
  • 3 cloves
  • 3 cardamoms
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 ½ cups thin coconut milk/Radaampaal
  • ½ cup thick coconut milk/Thanipaal
  • 2 tbsp oil, preferably coconut oil.
  • Salt to taste
  • Wash and clean the potatoes thoroughly and cut them into big cubes; pressure cook or microwave the potatoes in enough water with salt, until cooked well. When warm enough to touch, peel off the skin from the potatoes.
  • Heat oil, throw in the whole spices like cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and bay leaves and let it fry in oil for 30 seconds. Add the thinly sliced big onions, ginger ,garlic and green chillies and cook until they turn soft and transparent. To this add the cooked potatoes and halve each of those cubes with the back of a wooden spoon and mash a portion of the halved ones. (Note: The cubes should not be mashed overly; they should still remain as pieces and at the same time a small portion should be mashed lightly as this adds thickness to the stew). Add the carrot pieces and combine everything well. Add thin coconut milk and salt and let it cook covered in low heat, for around 10-15 minutes. Now add the thick coconut milk and bring it to a boil and immediately reduce the heat, cook uncovered in low heat, until it reaches a creamy and thick stew consistency. Just before turning off the stove, add the curry leaves for the flavour and fragrance and stir well.
  • To Serve: Though Appam and Stew is a match made in heaven, Stew served with white bread also makes a great pair.
Notes: * Adding carrot is purely optional; it’s my mother’s suggestion to bring in some colours in the stew and hence make sure that you use very few pieces without adding more carrot flavour to the potato stew. Stew/Eshtu prepared in fresh coconut milk tastes better but I generally use canned coconut milk for the ease of cooking and they taste good. If you are using canned coconut milk, do add water to dilute it, even if you are preparing thick coconut milk. Also I prefer using golden big onions, rather than the red ones; it's a personal choice.

Update: You may try this dish with Paalappam.

UPDATE : More on regional variations and local food habits HERE & HERE.
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