Kerala Coconut Crab - Njandu Peera Pattichathu

Kerala Ginger Coconut Crab4

Kerala Ginger Coconut Crab2

This Coconut Crab dish is one of my mom's specialties, It is mildly spiced and tangy from the Kokum- a kind of tamarind. It is mouthwateringly good and a childhood favourite. This recipe is common among Kerala households and is often made with prawns or the flaked white flesh of other fish like tuna or seer fish.

Kerala Ginger Coconut Crab3

My mom always made this whenever she chanced upon fresh crab from our neighborhood fishmonger who would drive up with an icebox perched precariously behind his moped. Crab and Kari-meen (Pearl spot fish) were in high demand, and so we were always aware of the extra-special-ness of a lunch with either of these on the table! 

Kerala Ginger Coconut Crab6

She would usually make it the same way each time. Poaching the crab in a little warm water in which sour Kokum was soaked to infuse it with it's tangy flavour. The water was evaporated to ensure that every bit of the tanginess was absorbed by the crab, usually in a wide, shallow clay pot ( mann chatti) reserved for cooking seafood, that also imparted it's rustic earthiness.

Kokum
Kokum- used like tamarind to impart sourness usually in seafood dishes

Kerala Ginger Coconut Crab8

This process of cooking is termed Pattichathu, where delicate seafood is cooked in a little amount of flavorful liquid until all the liquid is absorbed and evaporated.  She then stirred the tender meat gently, along with coconut, tempered spices and curry leaves over a low flame so that the flavours danced together harmoniously. 

Kerala Ginger Coconut Crab5

When I saw crabs at my neighborhood grocery store I was suddenly filled with all the memories surrounding my mom's crab dish and a deep craving for it, so I immediately decided to make it. Halfway through wheedling the flesh out of one crab and my hands were scraped red. I decided I didn't have to do everything exactly like my mom did, and left the rest of the flesh intact  to crack open at the dinner table, which was actually kind of fun! The rest of the process is quite simple and you can make this with any kind of fish by flaking the meat, and is especially delicious with tiny shrimp. It is also one of the most magical things you can do to a can of tuna, along with this, although of-course it is most excellent with crab. 

The handsome dude who came over for dinner!

Crab

We ate it with mounds of rice and a little spiced buttermilk and the tantalizing play of contrasting flavours - the sweet crab meat and coconut, tang from the Kokum, the zing of freshly grated ginger, heat of the green chillies with the crunchy toasted mustard seeds is something you will never forget.

Kerala Ginger Coconut Crab7

A new friend, the very lovely Jean from Lemon and Anchovies had been cooking with crab too, and I couldn't wait to see what she would make with it, especially since she mentioned homemade pasta and fried Meyer Lemons! To see what Jean made with her crabs go to her beautiful blog here. Isn't it great how one ingredient can be cooked in so many delightfully different ways? Never ceases to amaze!

Update: I thought this recipe deserves an illustration! ( Click to enlarge) 

Kerala Coconut Crab Illustration


Njandu Peera Pattichathu ( Crab Shredded and Poached) 

Ingredients
  • Crab meat -1 pound or 500 gms of meat 
  • Kokum ( Kodampuli) – 3 pieces ( A kind of tamarind, available in Indian stores, else substitute with a marble sized ball of regular tamarind, if you can't find either, just squeeze some lemon before serving for some tang) 
  • Turmeric powder – 1/4 teaspoon
  • Red chili powder – 1/2  tablespoon
  • Grated coconut – 1 cup ( If using frozen shredded coconut like I do, thaw for about a minute in the microwave) 
  • Fresh ginger, peeled and grated – About an inch (Do not use store bought ginger paste instead, omit it if you have to) 
  • Thai green chillies slit in half – 6-10 
  • Warm water for poaching the crab and soaking Kokum- 1 cup for fresh crab (1/4 cup if using cooked crab) 
*Note: I used one and half of a Dungeness crab, which is atleast twice the size of the the smaller crabs my mom cooked in India. I cracked the small legs and kept the flesh intact but extracted the flesh out of almost all the other parts of the shell to make it easier on the diner- aka myself and the hubs!
Also if you are not used to spicy food, please reduce amount of red chilli powder and green chillies to suit your tastes

For the tempering:
  • Coconut oil – 1-2 tbsp
  • Mustard seeds - 1 tsp
  • Cumin seeds- 1/4 tsp 
  • Garlic pods, each sliced in half – 8
  • Small Pearl onions or Shallots– 3-4 (sliced thin or use half of a red onion instead chopped fine) 
  • Dried Red chillies – 3 ( or 1 tsp red chilli flakes) 
  • Curry leaves- 8 ( Optional, avaliable in Indian grocery stores. Do not substitute with curry powder) 
  • Sprinkle salt to taste
Method

If you are using uncooked crab meat, soak the Kokum in about a cup of warm water in a pot or saucepan ( but preferably an earthernware mann chatti). 
If you are using already cooked crab use less water, only about 1/4 cup, just enough to cover the Kokum pieces in a small cup.
Soak the Kokum until it softens and the water turns a brown colour- about 15 mins
Now add all the ingredients including crab meat with the kokum water and stir gently together- just to flake up the flesh a little. 
Turn on the heat to a medium and bring the liquid to a gentle boil.
Cook, stirring very occasionally till all the water has evaporated
In a separate pan or skillet, heat the coconut oil and just before it begins to smoke, add the mustard seeds and wait for all of them to finish popping. 
Cover with a lid to prevent the seeds from popping all over your kitchen!
Once it begins to slow down to just a few pops, add the cumin and stir until it turns brown and no longer smells raw. Careful not to burn or blacken them.
Add the garlic and lightly brown it, then the onions and golden brown them too. 
Add the chilli powder and curry leaves together and switch off the heat just as curry leaves begin to stiffen up. 
Now add the crab mixture to the tempering in the pan, salt to taste, and stir gently on low heat until the dish is completely dry and flavours are well combined. 
Enjoy with rice and spiced buttermilk ( recipe follows) 
Tastes best the day it's made. 

For the spiced buttermilk
1 cup yogurt
1 cup water
3-4 fresh thai green chillies chopped
salt to taste.

Stir in a little water at a time into the yogurt whisking with a spoon constantly to make buttermilk ( or just use store bought buttermilk- which is usually a little more hard to find than yogurt) 
Stir in the green chillies and enough salt to taste 
Serve chilled or at room temperature, pouring over rice or drinking as is. 

Although traditionally served with rice, I think this crab dish also tastes great with salad and a soft boiled egg.  Even though this dish may sound complicated, the part that will take the longest is the shelling of the crab, and you can just use crab meat instead or even most white, flaky fish as mentioned above. Everything else is quite easy. 

Melted Brie and Balsamic Bruschetta Dip

bruchetta2

Hope you are all having a great start to the new year, and dealing with the fact that the holidays are over much better than I am. I think I am in denial and am having trouble getting back into the routine. I stubbornly refuse to take down the Christmas ornaments and get into the celery nibbling mode that is typical for this time of year. All your amazing carrot soups and Tabbouleh posts may help me finally get over cookies and desserts though, so please keep them coming! 

We had a truly wonderful two weeks with my sister- in-law and family visiting us and I so miss my nephew, niece and our monkey being all kinds of goofy together- whether it was endless jumping around to Gangnam Style or being Batman, Super girl and the big monster and chasing each other around the house.  Thank God this time the three kiddos did not decide to fall sick together and we didn't have to make those dreaded trips to the ER like we did the last two times we all met up. So we had a great time- lots of poker playing, charades, just dance 4 sessions, and my cute as a button little niece and I were even able to do craftsy shrinky dink jewelry making and use her easy bake oven cake decorating kit which I admit was a Christmas gift as much for myself as it was for her! 

wine country6

We even managed to do a little sightseeing this time, and went wine and cheese tasting and picnicking in wine country.Yes, it is almost always picnic weather in California, but hey, all weather is wine and cheese weather :)

wine country3

wine country2
Photo taken by my sis-in-law 
 We went to the Mondavi and Gundlach Bundschu Wineries in Napa and like every time we visit, I decided that we must visit more often. Would love recommendations for wineries to visit so do comment on the ones you love.
winecountry picnic2
He did ask for wine but the monkey only got to taste water :) 

wine country

winecountry picnic

The Marin Cheese Company in Sonoma (not too far from the kiddo's favorite Train Townis a great place for all cheese and wine lovers to go to and is such a nice picnic spot, with  lots of space for the kids to run around, a pretty duck pond, picnic tables and a convenient, well stocked tiny little deli with all kinds of cheese, wine, sandwiches, pastries, deli meat..all kinds of wonderful things, so you don't have to bring your own food, or even paper cups and things because they give you all that. 

They have lots of cheese set out on platters to taste, their specialty being small wheels of brie and we made a beeline for the one that was topped with an amazing roasted tomato and caper bruschetta which was the starting point for this post. We enjoyed the combination of bruschetta and the soft cheese both with garlic bagel chips and the baguette that they even slice up neatly for you, and I decided to make my own version at home with whatever I had on hand, though I would love to try another version with either broiled or sundried tomatoes. 

Melted Brie and Bruschetta dip

I LOVE cheese but I don't like brie too much, especially on its own, so this warm, gooey, cheesy dip with balsamic bruschetta was the most delicious way for me to use up the last of the cheese hanging out in my fridge and the perfect quick and easy, delicious appetizer that I see my self throwing together all this year. I love it so much, I may even put it inside a sandwich.  

Melted Cheese Bruschetta Dip
Makes enough appetizer for two-four people 

2 plum tomatoes chopped
1 clove garlic minced
3 thai green chilies chopped ( optional) 
2 small pearl onions chopped or a tablespoon of chopped regular onion
1 tsp chopped fresh basil or 1/2 tsp dried 
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp rice vinegar ( optional) 
1 small brie round ( I used Rouge Et Noir Le Petit Bleu from Marin Cheese Company and also tossed in a bit of some Parmesan that needed to be finished, but you can use any melting cheese you like, even a mix since we will be melting them together to make a spread or dip) 

Method:
Keep the cheese aside and mix all other ingredients gently together in a small bowl
Taste and adjust, adding more herbs or more tomato if you find the mix too garlicky or spicy for your taste
Set in the fridge for about an hour or longer
If your cheese has a thick rind, cut it off since it won't melt and chop up or grate the cheese if you are using a hard cheese
Heat either on the oven, stove or in the microwave on high for about 30 seconds to a couple of minutes or just until the cheese is slightly melted, warm and gooey
Stir up the melted cheese and top with the bruschetta mix
Enjoy over some lightly toasted baguette or crackers and a glass of chilled Gew├╝rztraminer!

I am sending this dip over to Lisa the Authentic Suburban Gourmet for her Appetizer party to celebrate her blog birthday!