Spicy Shrimp curry- Kerala Style (Chemmeen Theeyal or Varutharacha Chemmeen Curry)

Kappa vevichathu, Chicken Lollipop & Spicey shrimp Curry

Kappa vevichathu, Chicken Lollipop & Spicey shrimp Curry

I love it when my hubby decides to cook us Shrimps, particularly his spicy prawns or shrimp curry – popularly known as Chemeen Theeyal. Reason: He is allergic to shrimps and that means me and the kids…get to finish the last drop on the pot . MUAHAHAHAHAHA!!

Here’s how he makes his special shrimp theeyal and its possibly his best ever dish and its a shame the man cant even taste it :P


1. Prawns : You can use medium sized prawns or small prawns. For this recipe, he used medium sized ones. About 2-3 cups.

2.Pearl onions or shallots (Kunjully): About 15-18 pieces You can get this at the frozen section of your local Indian supermarket if you are particularly lazy and dont want to deal with peeling small onions. Otherwise, you can find fresh small pearl onions at most groceries and hypermarkets in the vegetable section. Alternatively, you can also use the regular large red onion. You will need about one onion.

3. Green chillies: 5-8 pieces slit longitudinally. (Can you tell, we like it spicy :P)

4. Grated coconut – About 1 cup. We get freshly grated coconut at our local grocer. You can also find it at the frozen section of your local Indian supermarket. You will need to heat this in a pan and dry roast it to a light reddish brown on low flame. (Don’t over roast the coconut powder to very dark brown or burn it. This will turn the gravy bitter and the curry will lose its authentic taste.

5. Turmeric powder :1/4 tablespoon

6. Coriander powder : 1.5 tablespoon. He uses dry roasted coriander powder. If you do not have roasted coriander powder, make sure that you add the coriander powder to the shredded coconut when that is being dry roasted. Kind of killing two birds with one stone  ;)

7. Chilli powder : About 1 tablespoon. You can go lower or higher depending on your spicemeter :)

8. Kudumpuli  : about 4-5 pieces. It is also known as Gambooge, Malabar Tamarind or Fish Tamarind and is an essential ingredient in seafood cooking in a Kerala kitchen.  It is different from kokum. Puli means “sour” and the Gambooge which is actually a fruit is dried in the sun and is used as a souring agent. Its known for its medicinal values and is an important ingredient in Ayurvedic kashyams. But I digress…. Soak the kudumpuli in 1/4 cup of hot water for atleast 30 minutes.

You can also use tamarind paste to get the tangy taste although the flavor will slightly be different thank when you use kudumpuli. If you can’t find kudumpuli and tamarind paste: use 2-3 tomatoes to get the tangy flavor or a medium sized raw green mango.

9. Curry leaves: 10-12 leaves

10: Ginger: About 2 inches.

11. Garlic: About 7-8 cloves

12. Coconut oil: About 2 tablespoons. You can use regular cooking oil if you do not have this at home.

13. Fenugreek seeds (methi seeds) : 1/4 teaspoon. In Kerala cuisine, the seeds are usually added after sauting in oil when its pleasant aroma is released – during the last stages of cooking a seafood dish- to mask any unpleasant “fishy” odour.

13. Mustard seeds and a few red dry chillies for seasoning.


1. Clean and wash the prawns with a little salt and lemon juice. De-vein the prawns if they have not already been de-veined. Marinate with salt and a little turmeric powder for atleast half an hour, if possible.

2. Place the marinated prawns, green chillies, about 7-8 pieces of shallots, ginger, curry leaves and turmuric powder in an earthenware pot/ claypot. Fish curry and chemmeen curry are traditionally prepared in an earthen ware vessel known as manchatti. It is said that cooking in the manchattis or earthen ware vessels ensure that the earthen aroma of the pot permeates into the seafood being prepared adding to its flavor and unique taste. If you don’t have one, do not worry too much about it, any deep cooking vessel will suffice.

3. The soaked Kudumpuli is then added along with the water that it was soaked in.

4. Meanwhile, grind the roasted coconut, the roasted coriander powder, chilli powder, the remainder of the shallots/ pearl onions (reserving a few for the seasoning), curry leaves, ginger and garlic to a paste using ¼- ½ cup water as needed to  grind.. Add this paste to the prawns. Cook this for 15- 20 minutes on medium to high flame. Flavor with salt.

5. In a separate pan, heat coconut oil and splutter the mustard seeds. Add the fenugreek seeds and fry for a few seconds. Add the remainder of the shallots, red chilies and curry leaves and fry till brown. Pour this over the prawn curry.

This curry tastes better as the tamarind/ kudumpuli soaks in – usually after 4-5 hours.

Ah-ma-zing fact: If this is cooked in a manchatti or earthenware pot there is no need to keep this in a refrigerator overnight if you have leftovers. It will remain outside for 4-5 days without going bad and the taste only magnifies with each passing day. You will just have to heat the earthenware pot for 10 minutes each night before retiring to bed.