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.
No part of the content ( articles, photographs, recipes) of this blog may be reproduced without my written permission.Copyright © 2007-2010 All rights reserved.


  1. Love the recipe. Do you think we could cook the potatoes in the cooking pot itself after adding them to the onions (but before pouring in the coconut milk)?

  2. Shn.........The stew looks so pleasant.....Drool......I just want to empty it down in my mouth........Great post :-)

  3. yum...looks so creamy and delicious...

  4. Lovely recipe...i can understand the lingo difference....i have question..not related to this recipe though...Could u tell what is rose matta rice called in english? i cannt find in Indian grocery store..would be really helpful...

  5. I like the name "Eshtu" better...but is it "E" as in Egg or as "I" as in "Ink" ?

    Many Bengalis call the Western stew as "Ishtew" :D, not in these days though

    I never thought there was one with potato...looks like a rich gravy

  6. I'm so glad to see a vegetarian recipe here:-)
    Stew looks good. I have an almost similar version on my blog. Lovely pics!

  7. Hi Shn dear -- could I please come over for lunch :):)

    Eshtu looks so rich and wonderful! I am with Sirisha -- just want to empty that bowl *now* :)

  8. Our place we call this Eshtu :) But then we cook it a bit differently...have to try your version.

  9. hey Shn, Thanks for the delicious veggie post. I have bookmarked! will try them with my appams!

  10. Stew/ishtu looks yummy! this is one food that i can have any time :-D. and i know waht you mean by different food rituals and vocabularies :). It so happened that one of my friend, whose hubby is from Kollam, told me that in Kerala, they like their dosas thick. But when i talked about this to a friend from Thrissur, she was like, "No way! we enjoy our dosas thin and lacy. Its the southern Kerala people who love thick dosas" :-D. And that happens in Punjab too, different names and cooking styles for the same dish! India is indeed a land of unity in diversity :).

  11. Yum Yum, hot bowl of stew. I can have it by itself....Perfect for the bitter & cold Winters.

  12. we normally have this with idiyappam back home :)

  13. White bread did catch my attention. I dint know it could be had with stew. Looks delish.

  14. Amma makes the same stew mom's from aleppey too..

    And when she adds a few minutes..the gravy and the potatoes are all finished with all the carrots being left back..

  15. Don't you add whole pepper, Shn? I've always seen it whole pepper and curry leaves, apart from the other spices, I love eshtu, esp the mutton variety :)

  16. The stew/eshtu looks so comforting and pleasant :)

  17. Onida, stares at the deadly snaps in ur site, and for some God known reason..I am feeling soo proud !!!.Someone from our own place comes up with such creative presentations..lovely, Gal !!..and ur vocabulary thingy..well, yes, too had to face exactly the same , with my typical fort kochi baasha..what my collegues in college used to mok as "Kadaapura baasha" i even had to be consious of every single word..never knew when the listener wud start up giggling, all the way off to their own glory!

  18. shn, so lovely and beautiful.. This is food of comfort at its very best.

  19. hahaha..what a coincdence..I did try a veg recipie (ofcoz taken from and updated thatin my food blog..but unlike the one here which looks very edible..mine is a result of draconian experimentations!! ;-P

  20. ah!!! monday posts hah? :)
    i had it first time at my friend's place in kozhikode and her mom called it stew. u know what? initially when i was not that familier with the name eshtu i literally fought with one of my 'kerala' friend saying its stew not esthu coz i was confident that my friend's mom can't be wrong;) she googled and sent me an article to prove her point. LOL... ue story is quite funny:)
    and i LOVE stew. recently i made kannadiga version of palappam which we call odpole and enjoyed it a lot. i didn't know it goes well with white bread. thanks for the recipe n info:)

  21. Istu, Ishtu, Eshtu for stew!! So many avatars for one dish!:D
    Looks great. Your mum is right. Without the Carrot, it does looks so bland although it tastes great. Got to make Eshtu and Aappam one day at FH! :))

  22. I second musical...In India, there is so much difference in food habits and of course, also in the local slang, even within the same state.In Assam , there is a marked clash between upper Assam and lower Assam...the food, the manner of name it...

    'Eshtu' looks lovely...

  23. in Kochi too the older generation (chedathis) call it by the name 'Eshtu'.

    I have tagged you for Fantastic Four MEME...hope you will take up...

  24. I love stew and aapam!! Yours looks lovely.

  25. Shn, the stew looks divine I can have with toasted garlic bread anytime now as the temps are nearing 40's here in NJ. I love the simplicity of the ingredients... simply superb!

  26. cool, you have such an amazing collection of Kerala recipes, and beautiful, tempting pics to complement them! My huubby would invite himself to ur home for dinner if he sees this!

  27. love this eshtu...i love idiyappam/appam combo...i havent tried this myself..coz 's' dont like makes this eshtu ...wish to be in tvm for tasting yummm eshtu..thankz for sharing..

  28. it's eshtu..!I have heard one of my friends calling this 'eshtu'; but till now I was thinking she was from some "onamkeramoola" :D
    Shn,eshtu looks delicious ,but desperately hope those potatoes were replaced by some chicken or mutton !

  29. Appavum esthtum thinnam kothiyakunnuuuuuuuuu....Aa Bread um kooti thannalum mathi...CJJ yude oru bhagyam...
    Your Stew looks creamy ,Mouthwatering!!I will try this in your way next time.
    2kg kurangathil Assoya undalle??Athalle engane ooronne itte kothipikkunne??

  30. I love potato stew!!!! I have a version of it on my blog too! nice pics as always :)

  31. hey, I came by on Sunday night to get my weekly mishmash dose, and thought you were taking another week off ... what a curve ball!! :D
    Stew looks yummy, first time I heard ishtu, I made fun of my friends too :), it is Ishtu right?

  32. Oh yeah..kerala stew is simbllly divine..
    Goes with anything..idiappam appam those snowy white spongy bread slices..or even with chappathi and dosa :)
    Pretty looking stew!

  33. Stew or ishtu, it tastes great!
    me too make like this for appams..

    loved the pictures..

  34. a vegetarian recipe at last.....and it is so appealing to me! i have always loved stew/esthu.
    i could imagine cjj and your mother juggling with the synonyms at the dinning table and couldn't hold back the smile!I usually boil the potatoes with he onions...
    your bowl there looks so yummy!

  35. made this for dinner,,,turned out had not mentioned on when to add the green chillies.. any way i added them along with the onions.
    Dinner >Bread with eshtu without Carrots ;)

  36. Wow excelent eshtu/Stew. Now i just need few appoms to eat them.
    It was fun to read the post about you mom and husband with the dishes name.

  37. nice post!! gr8 recipe with awesome pics!!

  38. Sounds like a delightful dining table to be around.

    Your styling should be in print somewhere.

  39. u know its always such a delight to visit your blog.Kerela has a whole cuisine of its own. I never even heard of so many things i see here on you blog , and come to think of it i'm Indian !!! haha but seriously the rest of the Indians just know a handful of the famous South dishes, the rest is still well guarded with u folks.
    The potato stew looks fab.

  40. hi everybody,
    this regional variation of kerala food and language is one of my fav subjects ! in thrissur, we replace the 'sh' sound (as in 'she') with a mere 's', so it is 'istu.' i realised this word derived from the english stew quite late !
    musical,your thrissur friend is right. in southern districts, dosa is thick, and eaten with quite heavy curries. on my first visit to kollam, i got a cultural shock to see restaurants offering dosa (thick) and egg curry / fish curry as breakfast, something blasphemous in thrissur.
    and while at kozhikode, i ran into a friend from thrissur, at around 9 in the morning. we were meeting after some years. the first question he popped at me was 'you know some place that offers some normal food ?' he meant idli or dosa. and he was getting offers of heavy weight items like puttu or appam with fish or meat curry, something unimaginable for a thrissurian stomach in the morning. i guided him to the india coffee house.

  41. Love the story! :) I guess I'm lucky that everyone in my family speaks the same languages, so there's no miscommunication. We do have plenty of regional accents though. That soup is so completely appetizing. I'd love a bowl of it right now.

  42. i am going to make this today..Shn....waiting for ur other masterpieces, dear!

  43. Hey Mishmash!

    I'm speechless... and Jeaous
    Can we trade blogs? ;)

    I tried the stew and it came out well. Can I substitute chicken for the veggies next time?

    Also, I recently moved to the US. And HOWEVER I try to make chicken - be it fry or curry - it still has a bad smell :((

    I use utensils I bought from India and I dont use readymade masalas. :((

    Can you please treat this as an SOS?

  44. You can built a life around a potato. This looks so thick and creamy. You make me laugh, Shn, you and your husband jiving with the lingo in time for your marriage. Can you imagine what it's like for me going to an Indian grocery? (I've gotten better; I am fortified with glossaries and "study hall" before I leave the house.)

  45. Nabeela, yes you can cook that way too, but make sure that you cut the potatoes into small pieces , instead of big chunks and then cook the potatoes in thin coconut milk . If you are using freshly extracted coconut milk, you can use the third one , which is the thinnest one, for cooking the potatoes. For some reason, I feel cooking the potatoes separately gives better taste.But, yes, you can try that method. Hope your family enjoy this dish :)

    Sirisha, thank you dear, let me know if you try it out. Generally everyone likes this preparation :)

    Rajitha, thanks dear :)

    Rashmi, I dont think there is an english name for that, Its actually our Kuthari, known as rose matta, and it is usually seen only in Indian stores. I have not seen any International or local store selling this type rice, except basmati.Hope you get lucky!

    Sandeepa, Its "I" as in Ink :) I was trying to give a phonetic version by going for 'e'shtu :) oh bengalis also call the same right , cool ! Try this one, yes it is rich and creamy and again it all depends on the coconut milk :)

    TBC, I have blogged other vegetarian recipes too, pls do check out all that :P Thanks dear :)

    Linda, YES please :) I bet you will fall in love with this dish. I remember you preparing olan , so if you like that, this is a sure bet :)

    Pravs, yes I checked out your version, slightly different :) I wanted to try the one with hardboiled eggs :)

    Sharmi, I am waiting for your feedback :)

    Musical, you are absolutely right! CJJ was brought up in southern kerala and he likes thick dosas and me on the contrary like thin ones. so I usually end up making thick ones for him and thin for me :D

    Seema,yes you are right...its a hearty soup for the winter days, excellent with white bread :)

    Sagari, Thank you and welcome here :)

    Nags, I know, idiyappam is also great with stew, only thing is I want a non veg version for that :P

    Suganya, oh they make a great pair! :)

    Rachel,I am really happy to hear that you tried this dish and your family enjoyed. Really appreciate the feedback. :)

    Sra, yes, some do add whole pepper but my mother stays away from adding them as it changes the color of the stew as you boil the coconut milk for long time. Curry leaves are a definite yes in stew, its there in the ingredient list.Mutton stew is yum girl, I can never stop eating that:D

    Cinnamon, comforting is the word for the dish :)

    Sona, I am honored, my friend!!! Thanks a lot for such a great comment :) I know about the fort kochi accent quite well, as we had some classmates from that area and it was real fun to listen to them:)but its surprising that those from eklm has a different accent

    Anh, yes dear, very good for winter days especially.:)

    Mathew, you dont have to be so humble here...i have seen ur beef and chemmeen preparations. I could not even think of cooking all that before my marriage. so you re deft'ly doing a good job :)

    Sia, yes, I also used to have such misconceptions until I learnt that food habits and preparations and even the names change as with the regions. In short, there is no right or wrong way of preparing a traditional delicacy because of this regional difference. Odpole sounds interesting :)

    Asha, you are one experienced cook like my mother, so you know it better :) yeah, you should have this combo once at FH :)

    Sunita, I am getting all curious. You should write more about it!

    Lissie, i guess the younger generation is not using eshtu mainly coz of the awareness of the western influence on that name. Thanks for tagging me , will take it up sometime soon :)

    laavanya, thank you dear:)

    Padma, I hope you try . It is a great comfrot food especially in wintry days.

    Sneha, you guys are always welcome, Its pleasure to serve food to people who really relish each and every bite :)

    Remya, I would have invited you if you were staying close by :)

    Liz, hahah, looks like there are many from "onamkeramoola" :))) My latest post is for you my dear achayathikutti :))

    Kf, hahha...ethu njan eppozhum undakkarilla, athondu CJJ athrakku bhagyavan onnum alla :D oru stew kazhichu ennu karuthi weight onnum koodilla ente kuttee :))

    Ramya, thank you dear :)

    Sig, hahaha, let me just say I am under the clutches of Lady Laziness :)) I was just trying to give a phonetic version, Sig, so nobody would mispronounce it as "ai-shtu", yeah you can write it as ishtu too :)

    Bharathy, thanks so much, you are right, idiyappam , dosa, are all good with stew :)

    Seena,thank you so much dear :)

    Nanditha, oh dear, this is not my first veggie recipe, i have blogged a handful of them, hope you check out :P yeah, I have seen that method too, my mother used to do that earlier, but then she liked this method better, so I also follow the same procedure :)

    Happycook, its more fun if you get to witness them getting into the whole scene :)

    Swaroopa, Thanks and welcome here :)

    Cynthia, oh, yes for all that food and fun :)) hmm...wanna hire me ? :D just kidding :))

    kate,I think its mainly coz kerala dishes are served only in kerala restaurants, outside of kerala...its not popularised as parathas or roti as I have not seen any restuarants serving our "puttu", steamed rice flour cakes. so best solution is to try from our blogs and enjoy the taste of your home cooked food :)

    Renuramnath, yes, regional food habits and preparations are lot different and quite visible too and hence , there is no right or wrong way of cooking/eating a traditional delicacy. The liking and preferences are purely based on these regional differences.Thanks for stopping by :)Quite a warm welcome here:)

    Susan, this whole confusion is only based on the regional difference in the same language, I cannot imagine the fun and confusion, had I married a non-Keralite :)) Susan, this is something that would suit ur palate, so do give it a try, to enjoy a kerala flavour:)

    Sona, so did you make it? I am waiting to hear from you :)

    Macademia the nut, no trading of blog, I am ready to trade recipes though :))) Quite glad to know that you tried and liked the stew. Yes you can substitute meat for this, check out my latest post for beef stew, if you dont take beef, replace it with chicken . And the smell of the chicken, that is one common complain. See if you can find a store where you get Halal cut meat. Mostly Indian stores and some International stores sell halal meat . Hope that would help you. It has nothing to do with the utensil or masalas. Thanks for dropping by and trying out my recipe.:)y

    Susan, changed your profile pic ? :) You look different in all the fotos, only the smile is consistent :)) I can understand how difficult it is for you to shop for indian groceries, but fortunately, most of the package has the english names too, so that way it is much easier :)es, it is a thick , rich and creamy gravy, save it for wintry days and enjoy this with some bread...something like a hearty soup.:)


  46. eureka..success...made the eshtu yesterday..santho really liked was thick and really tasty...will post it soon..but the snaps didnt come out that well thou..had some other errends to finish...

  47. Absolutely gorgeous Shn. And that cutlet is stunning... can you send me some ;)

  48. Shn, dear --- just wanted you to know I made this today. It was fantastically awesome! Thanks so much :):)

  49. excellent dish!!we really enjoyed it

  50. Thank you so much for this recipe. Made it today. My family loved it.

  51. I am basically from cochin and my we never put onions and gralic in Stew/Ishtu

  52. Shn,
    I tried your ishtu recipe. We loved it with chapathi. I've put a picture in my blog

  53. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  54. I used to love the mutton version of this stew that my mom used to make. Once I felt like making the vegetable version, but couldn't reach my mom (timezone difference_) and I tried out your version. It was perfect and took me back to those good old days. Made it yesterday for guests again and turned out great! Thanks again!

  55. HI,

    I am a complete novice and haven't used coconut in any other form apart from grated coconut packets since I started entering kitchen. I would love to make this stew and impress my betterhalf who is a high time carnovorus too(though keralite raised in a different part of the country). cAn you please tell how to make thin and thick milk. Do you have to use the real coconut or can we adjust with grated coconuts or maggi? also please tell me how to do with the real coconut.

    Best regards

  56. HI,

    I am complete novice and haven't used coconut in any other form apart from grated coconut packets since I started entering kitchen. I would love to make this stew and impress my better half though keralite raised in a different part of the country. we are high time carnivorous too.

    can you tell me how to make thin/thick mil with maggie powder or grated coconut powder?
    Also how to make the same with real coconut powder?

    Best regards,

  57. HI,

    I am complete novice and haven't used coconut in any other form apart from grated coconut packets since I started entering kitchen. I would love to make this stew and impress my carnivorus eating hubby (though keralite raised in a different part of the country)

    can you tell me how to make thin tick milk with coconut and laso with maggie or grated coconut powders.



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