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Kerala Ishtew (Indian Coconut Milk Vegetable Stew)

Kerala ishtew, or ishtu, is a hearty coconut milk vegetable stew with a little heat (but of course, feel free to make it as spicy as you’d like). Packed full of carrots, potatoes, and green beans, this is a cheap and healthy staple food in the southern Indian state of Kerala. Vegan and gluten-free.

History & Origins

Ishtew or इश्तेव (pronounced “ish-tayv”), is a Hindi word that simply means stew. Ishtew is a hearty, soupy concoction of vegetables slow-cooked in flavourful broth. Sound vague? That’s because ishtew is an umbrella term for a whole family of dishes. Every region of India has its own take on ishtew, ranging from spicy to sour to savoury, with vegetarian and meat variations.

This version is from Kerala, is naturally vegetarian, and uses coconut milk as the base. The coconut milk gives it a velvety rich texture and unique flavour, which sets it apart from other Indian stews.

Even though I didn’t grow up eating Kerala ishtew, to me it screams comfort food. The creamy coconut milk, the soft and sweet vegetables, and the enticing aroma imparted by the curry leaves combine to make a beautifully balanced dish.

Some recipes include additional warm spices like cinnamon, cloves, and star anise, but I like the mild simplicity of this pared-down version. It’s the ultimate comfort food!

What You’ll Need

  • Coconut oil (You can use any neutral vegetable oil in a pinch, or even vegan butter. But coconut oil tastes the best in this recipe, plus it helps keep the colour of the stew a pale white colour.)
  • Onion
  • Carrot
  • Potato (Optional; it adds starch and thickens the stew.)
  • Green beans or runner beans (Green beans are more common in Kerala ishtew, but I personally love the thicker runner beans!)
  • Fresh ginger or ground ginger powder (Make sure, if using fresh ginger, to mash it up very very fine. You don’t want to be biting into a big ol’ chunk of ginger.)
  • Green chili peppers (I used bird’s eye chili; you can also use Indian green chili peppers or hari mirch if you can find them.)
  • Curry leaves (Can use dried curry leaves, but double the amount because they lose quite a bit of flavour when dried.)
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Coconut milk (Use a full-fat coconut milk for the most satisfying result!)


Step-by-Step Process

Start by prepping your vegetables: slice the onion into slivers, and chop the carrots, green beans, and potatoes into bite-sized pieces. For the chili peppers, if you prefer your stew spicy, dice it up; for a milder heat, slice them in half or leave whole.

Turn your stove on to medium heat. Add coconut oil to a Dutch oven or stockpot. Sauté the onion, chili peppers, and ginger until the onions are softened, around 10 minutes.

Now add the carrot, potato, green beans, and salt.

Pour 2 cups of water over and cover with a lid.

Add curry leaves. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until vegetables are softened to your liking, around 15–20 minutes.

Turn off the heat and stir in the coconut milk. It’s important to turn off the heat and make sure the stew is no longer boiling before you add the coconut milk, or else it may split.

And that’s it!

Make Ahead & Storage Tips

Keep Kerala ishtew in the fridge for up to five days. I haven’t tried freezing yet; let me know how it turns out if you do.

What to Serve with Kerala Ishtew

Traditionally, Kerala ishtew is paired with various Indian rice dishes:

  • Appams (fermented coconut milk rice crepes)
  • Idiyappams (steamed rice noodle patties)
  • Puttu (steamed rice flour loaves)

Other good options are roti/chapati or basmati rice.


Recipe Card

coconut bowl full of kerala ishtew

Kerala Ishtew (Indian Coconut Milk Vegetable Stew)

5 from 1 vote
Course: Side Dish, Soup
Cuisine: Indian
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Servings: 4 bowls
Calories: 283kcal
Author: Jellie
Cost: $0.87 per bowl
Kerala ishtew is a hearty coconut milk vegetable stew with a little heat. Full of carrots, potatoes, and green beans, this is a cheap and healthy staple food.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil 12g
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced 200g
  • 1 cup large carrot, chopped 100g
  • cup potato, chopped 200g *optional
  • 2 cups green beans or runner beans, chopped into 2-inch segments 200g
  • 2 tsp fresh or ground ginger 6g
  • 3–4 green chili peppers, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 2 cups water 480g
  • 1 large handful curry leaves double the amount if using dried leaves 2g
  • 1 tsp salt 6g
  • 1 14-oz can coconut milk 400g

Instructions

  • Add coconut oil to a Dutch oven on medium heat. Sauté the onion, chili peppers, and ginger until the onions are softened, around 10 minutes.
  • Add the carrot, potato, green beans, curry leaves, salt, and water.
  • Cover and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until vegetables are softened to your liking, around 15–20 minutes.
  • Turn off the heat and stir in the coconut milk.

Nutrition

Calories: 283kcal

Did you make this recipe? Please consider leaving a rating and comment below to let me know how it went.

You can also take a picture and tag me on Instagram @earthtoveg #earthtoveg, I will shout you out in my Stories!

Nutrition, Cost, and Emissions Information

One bowl of ishtew costs $0.87, contains 283 cal and releases 237 gCO2e of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

To reach the global Paris Agreement emissions target, it’s recommended to limit daily carbon emissions from food to 3,050 kgCO2e/day per person.

Nutrition data is provided by Cronometer (click the link at the bottom of the nutrition label to learn more). Feel free to contact me for sources on the cost and carbon emissions information presented here. I am not a nutritionist and guidelines on this page are provided for informational purposes only.

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4 thoughts on “Kerala Ishtew (Indian Coconut Milk Vegetable Stew)”

  1. Being a keralite, we really love to have this during our breakfast. but it’s so sad to see the way the name being changed. it is called Stew in Kerala and stew is something that’s present globally. how can the author take the freedom to change the name just like that? it’s unethical I would say.

    1. I was told this dish is known as ishtu in Kerala, which is anglicized as “ishtew.” Is that incorrect? I am definitely not the one who invented this word, nor did I randomly decide to rename a whole dish lol.

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