Stir-fried Shrimp, Kerala Style


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves

    4 to 6

    as part of a rice-based meal

Appears in

Seductions of Rice

By Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Published 1998

  • About

Don’t be scared off by the number of ingredients in this recipe from Kerala. Almost all are simply seasonings for the shrimp, and if you don’t have one or two of them, you’ll still be fine (though you should have the coconut). The dish takes only about twenty minutes to prepare, including eight minutes cooking time.

The reason we’ve included this recipe is because the dish is really good, and because it gives an idea of what happens in a kitchen in South India. There is an infinite number of possibilities for how a seasoning paste or mixture can be put together, and how it can be added to or punctuated further along in the cooking process. It is this kitchen wizardry, kitchen alchemy, that for us makes Indian cooking Indian cooking.

This shrimp thoran, like all thorans, is deliberately somewhat dry, meant to be eaten with rice and complemented by a moister dish—a pachadi or a wet curry.


  • pounds shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • ½ cup fresh, frozen, or dried grated unsweetened coconut
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • ¼ teaspoon dried chile pepper flakes ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • About ¼ cup water
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar or cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ¼ teaspoon mustard seed
  • ½ teaspoon urad dal
  • 1 teaspoon raw long-grain white rice
  • Pinch of fresh or dried curry leaves
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • 1 cup minced onions
  • 1 tablespoon minced green chile
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon black peppercorns, coarsely ground


If using large or medium shrimp, cut or tear into approximately ½-inch pieces. Set aside.

Combine the coconut, garlic, chile flakes, and turmeric in a bowl and stir with a large spoon to blend. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons water, or enough to make a crumbly paste. Set aside. In a small bowl, mix 2 tablespoons hot water with the vinegar, and set aside.

Place all the ingredients near your stovetop.

In a heavy pot or deep skillet, heat the oil over high heat until very hot. Add the mustard seed, urad dal, rice, and curry leaves and stir briefly. Lower the heat to medium-high, add the ginger, onions, and green chile and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 to 4 minutes, until the onions are well softened. Keep warm, over low heat.

Heat a lightly oiled wok or heavy pan over medium heat. Add the coconut paste and stir-fry until the color changes. Add the shrimp and stir-fry briefly, then add the water-vinegar mixture, cover, and raise the heat to medium-high. Let steam for 3 minutes. Uncover and stir well over medium heat for 20 seconds.

Add the shrimp mixture to the onion mixture, raise the heat to medium, and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute, or until all the shrimp have changed color. Stir in the cayenne and black pepper. Remove from the heat, mound on a plate or in a shallow bowl, and serve.