In The Kitchen With Vinita, Part 2 of 2

Happy Onam! And, thank you for the great feedback and comments on In The Kitchen With Vinita, Part 1!

One of the things I really like about Vinita is that she's always ready for a cup of chai no matter how hot it is, indoors or outdoors. Yes, rather like me!

chai in the makingbreaking bread

Vinita was brought up in the steel city of Jamshedpur but her roots go back to the Palakkad District of Kerala. The traditional ishtu or stew from this region is a simpler version of the Kerala Ishtu that Asha Gomez had made at my workshop, Culinary India, in June. This Palakkad ishtu is one of Vinita's father's favorite dishes, she explained as she quickly peeled the boiled potatoes. Onam sadya was considered incomplete without this vegetarian potato stew.

Peeling boiled potatoes
peeling potatoes

Since Vinita had already prepped the remaining ingredients, making the ishtu didn't take long at all! We were going to simmer potatoes, onions, ginger and serrano peppers in coconut milk.

ginger, serranos, red onion

Traditionally, potatoes are simmered in the first extract of coconut milk from mature coconut meat. The rest of the ingredients are added with the second extract. Because of this and the sweet flavor of Indian coconuts, the traditional ishtu has a natural sweetness to it. Vinita recommends adding some sugar to balance the flavors.

pouring coconut milk in
adding coconut milk

Given that we are in a landlocked state and that good quality fresh coconuts are difficult to find, it only makes sense to use canned coconut milk. It is also more convenient and less labor intensive. My friend Ammini, also from Kerala, recommends using Arroyo or Chaokoh brands.

Just as I was going to ask if black pepper would make an appearance in this recipe, Vinita pulled out her peppermill and added a few grinds to the ishtu.

palakkad ishtu
could this get more divine?

Yes, it could get more divine! Vinita had asked me to bring kadipatta with me and a big sprig went into the ishtu.

kadipatta makes all the difference
just one sprig and it made all the difference

As you may have noticed, this is a thick stew. It is also rich in saturated fats due to the coconut milk. It is, however, eaten in moderation; a small serving among a plethora of dishes served for sadya.

palakkad ishtu
Vinita's Palakkad ishtu

After a couple of bites, you may be tempted to eat a whole bowlful. I certainly was! But keep in mind that this ishtu is meant to be eaten in small quantities.

I always make an ITKW dish at home at least once to test the recipe and method. The stars aligned and I am happy to report that this recipe can be successfully halved. I was also rather thrilled that I made one sadya dish on Onam. I also went all traditional and added coconut oil as a final garnish.

palakkad ishtu
Palakkad ishtu with faux pookalam (I kid!)

Onam celebrations are marked by elaborate designs made using flower petals. I knew I had two marigolds in my backyard, one orange and one yellow. I was looking forward to using them to make a teeny pookalam but the intense heat of summer had left them scorched and shriveled. My wild mint had flowered but my attempts at a design looked more like poo instead of a pookalam. There were no other flowers in my backyard. Just this huge but delicate blossom of a wild grass. It would have to do.

Palakkad Ishtu

  • 6 medium red potatoes, boiled and diced approximately 1" in size
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced
  • 3" piece ginger, chopped into matchsticks
  • 2-3 serrano peppers, sliced down their length
  • 2 cans coconut milk (see Notes)
  • A few grinds of black pepper
  • 1 3/4 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 sprig of kadipatta
  • 1-2 tsp coconut oil, for final garnish
  1. Put potatoes, red onions, ginger and serrano peppers in a medium pot.
  2. Add coconut milk, cover and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
  3. Continue to simmer until the onions have softened.
  4. Add 2-3 grinds of black peppercorns. Stir well. 
  5. Cook covered on medium-low until potatoes start to disintegrate into the lovely white coconut milk sauce.
  6. Add the sprig of kadipatta, turn off the heat, cover and allow the flavors to meld for about 5-10 minutes.
  7. Drizzle some coconut oil, if using, over the ishtu as final garnish.
  8. Serve over hot rice or palappams. 

palakkad ishtu
dig in!


  1. Vinita suggests using one can of regular coconut milk and one can of lite coconut milk. Another alternative is to use 1.5 cans of regular coconut milk and half can of water. 
  2. My friend Mamatha recommends Native Forest coconut milk which can be found at Whole Foods. 

Thank you, Vinita! It was pleasure cooking together and learning from you!


Anita said...

This has got to be the simplest recipe for a stew! The ones I have cooked from earlier called for the use of some additional spices!
The grass spring is looking pretty in a everything-white scheme.

Happy Onam to all! I had a sadya to attend on Saturday!

anna in spain said...

Lovely photo, lovely simple recipe! As you know, no kadipatta here but since I've never tasted it made properly maybe I won't miss it. Yes, I know, Manisha, you (and everyone else) just groaned and said "oh don't bother then!" But it just looks so good...I wonder what I can put in instead?
I'll think of something...of course that will make it a different dish. But what can you do? I can't even find chipotle powder here.

Namitha said...

I too love to have tea,even on a summer evening ;) At least you tried to make a pookkalam, that's so thoughtful of you . I love ishtu aka stew with appam and idiyappam(string hoppers)Will try Vinita's recipe sometimes soon :)

Shri said...

This is our traditional Ishtu/Stew- sans black pepper. When you travel into Palakkad district, away from the town, the recipes avoid black pepper! :-)

tenacity said...

Shri - You're right about the black pepper. That is probably an addition from my mom who is from northern Kerala deep in black pepper country. Our next door neighbor, Nambiar Uncle of Ottapalam made killer ishtu! The best I've ever had.


anna in spain said...

How much sugar? It says "1 and 3/4" but no measurement. Teaspoons? Tablespoons?

Indian Food Rocks said...

anna in spain, whoops! Sorry for the sloppy recipe writing! It's teaspoons. I updated the recipe. I have also added a note about coconut milk.

Indian Food Rocks said...

Anita, it is very simple! But when you think about it, most of the sadya dishes ride on simple flavors. I've only had sadya at a restaurant in Chicagoland, which eventually closed down. They served authentic Kerala food and I couldn't get enough of their fried fish and fish curry.

anna in spain, I have to tell you that I thought of you when I was writing this recipe. And I wondered if there was any way to bottle that flavor. Maybe infused oil? I will need to try that and see if it works. I am paranoid about botulism though.

So yes, kadipatta does make a difference but there really is no substitute, so doing without is better than adding something else.

Namitha, and that's why I like you! We can have chai together any time! You should have seen what my pookalam looked like with mint flowers! Also, I need to learn how to make appams soon. These store bought ones were dry compared to the spongy treats you make!

Shri, I had no idea! I associated all of Kerala with black pepper! Thank you for that wonderful nugget of information! You are awesome!

tenacity, that username becomes you! According to me, this is killer ishtu! And, I quite liked the addition of black pepper. I used peppers from my yard and those small things packed quite a punch!

Panfusine said...

wow.. the sight of the appams with the ishtu.. feast for the eyes!

Soma said...

So simple, so good. I don't think I ever had the traditional one. The ginger and the black pepper is what I love so much here, along with the hint of sweet of the coconut. perfectly balanced. Love the all white.

DineIn said...

this is called "Aapam Thengaai Paal" in tamil nadu...i like this dish very much :)

Bong Mom said...

Those appams are making me drool. Even if I have had a ishtew , I do not have distinct memories but this looks simple enough. Thanks a bunch to your friend and I like a god tea at all times too :)

J said...

I love love the last pic! This recipe sounds yummy- few ingredients but big on flavor. The best ishtu I have ever had was a chicken ishtu made in a small Kerala mess in Bangalore.

Desisoccermom said...

I don't think stew can get any simpler or more flavorful than this. And I will have that cuppa anytime too, except I need ginger in mine no matter what the season.

You got peppercorns growing in your backyard? Wow! I am having a hard time keeping my basil watered. I flourishes despite my efforts.

anna in spain said...

I just made this dish tonight and it is wonderfully delicious. I have a new comfort food!! You were right to tell us to eat small portions, because oh it would be so easy to scoff the lot!!
I know you hate dried curry leaves Manisha but I did find some and added them. The ingredients make a wonderful combination of flavours!!

Nupur said...

Manisha- I so enjoyed these two posts about cooking with Vinita! Even though I had to bookmark them and wait for weeks to find some moments to read them.
Thank you for introducing us to these awesome cooks and entrepreneurs.

Srividhya Ravikumar said...


Shri said...

Vinita! You know where I come from?!!!!:-)

Personally I have tried black pepper- a few peppercorns boiled in the ishtu does give a different but equally good flavour.

Indian Food Rocks said...

Niv, fresh appams are even better! Namitha makes super spongy appams! She's going to have to teach me soon!

Soma, try it and let me know what you think!

DineIn, thank you for that info! I like it very much, too!

BM, very easy to fix not having a distinct memory! Make this! It hardly takes any time. And, yes, one day that cup of tea together will happen!

Joyce, I love that no-one got mad at me for my miserable attempts at pookalam. Did you ever figure out how to make that chicken ishtu? Sometimes though, the magic is having it in that particular place at that time.

DSM, I love ginger in mine, too! And, yet again, I apologize. This time about poor sentence construction. No, I am not growing peppercorn in my backyard however much I would like to. I was talking about the little hot green chile peppers I have growing in my backyard. Basil, i'm finding out, is pretty darned hardy. I want to bring in a couple of plants within the next week to see if they will survive indoors.

anna, you are too much! I love that you try out my recipes and come back with feedback! I wish I could bottle the flavor of curry leaves and send it to you! A kadipatta thokku is on my list of recipes to try. If that works, then we will have to figure out how to send you a bottle. Otherwise, even though I do complain about dried curry leaves, I used to make a dry podi (powdered chutney) using kadipatta leaves from my little bush. It used to be fragrant but largely because I dried and used the leaves right away. (I think!)

Nupur, I'm glad you're enjoying these posts! Our area has a lot of women entrepreneurs, especially in the area of food. Although I am not lucky enough to call all of them my friends, I am very lucky to know the women I do!

srividhya, thank you!

Shri, I liked this ishtu with freshly grated pepper. I taste as I go along and it definitely made the flavors pop!

Unknown said...

I’ve been absent for some time, but now I remember why I used to love this blog. Thanks ,

Anonymous said...

Cool shooting..
Lovely photos