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.
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.
Potato is optional, but it adds some thickeness and body to the stew.
Green Beans or Runner Beans: Green beans are more common in Kerala ishtew, but I personally love the thicker runner beans!
Ginger: 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: If you can’t find fresh curry leaves, you can use dried curry leaves instead, which can be ordered online. But double the amount because they lose quite a bit of flavour when dried.
Coconut Milk: Use a full-fat coconut milk for the most satisfying result.
For a full list of ingredients and quantities, refer to the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
Step 1: Add coconut oil and onions to a Dutch oven or stockpot on medium heat.
Step 2: Add chili peppers, salt, and ginger. Sauté until the onions are softened.
Step 3: Now add the carrot, potato, green beans, and salt.
Step 4: Pour 2 cups of water over and cover with a lid.
Step 5: Add curry leaves. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until vegetables are softened to your liking.
Step 6: Turn off the heat and stir in the coconut milk until warmed through.
Note: Turn off the heat and make sure the stew is no longer boiling before you add the coconut milk, or else it may split.
Make Ahead & Storage Tips
Keep Kerala stew 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 Cooked Basmati Rice.
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Kerala Ishtew (Indian Coconut Milk Vegetable Stew)
Use Imperial/Metric buttons below to toggle between volume vs weight measurements. I recommend weighing out your ingredients for best results.
- Medium pot or Dutch oven with lid (a 2-quart pot is the perfect size for 1 batch of this recipe)
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 small onion, sliced
- 1 cup large carrot, chopped
- 1½ cup potato, chopped *optional
- 2 cups green beans or runner beans, chopped into 2-inch segments
- 2 tsp fresh or ground ginger
- 3–4 green chili peppers, sliced in half lengthwise
- 2 cups water
- 1 large handful curry leaves double the amount if using dried leaves
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 14-oz can coconut milk
- 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.