With its tranquil beaches, lush mountains, and incredibly delicious cuisine, Kerala, located in southwestern India, is often called paradise on earth. It’s a place where traditional dishes are born of
a unique geography and enhanced with spices such as mustard seeds, curry leaves, and coconut milk. In fact, it’s one of India’s most exciting culinary regions.
Coconut Lagoon by Joe Thottungal, a collection of 80 easy-to-make recipes designed for home cooks. The cookbook features authentic regional dishes such as mango pickle, dosa, Malabar parathas, biryani, Thrissur-style fish, and banana fritters, as well as more widely known Indian recipes that are loved around the world, such as chai, butter chicken, and poori. You’ll even find traditional vegetarian dishes that are served at the Onam sadya, the annual harvest festival.
Handy sections on ingredients and equipment as well as basic how-tos teach home cooks how to navigate the cuisine with confidence. Moreover, the book offers a list of gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegetarian recipes, making it an ideal reference for those with special dietary requirements. Coconut Lagoon is a delicious tribute to family, food, and home, Kerala style.
Joe Thottungal is a Canadian chef and the owner of the restaurants Coconut Lagoon and Thali Coconut Lagoon in Ottawa. For five years he worked in hotel kitchens in Toronto and Windsor and at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Ottawa, where he earned his Certified Chef de Cuisine (CCC) designation. In 2008, Joe was named Ottawa Chef of the Year by the Canadian Culinary Federation. In 2016, he won the top prize at Ottawa’s Gold Medal Plates competition, followed by a silver medal at the 2017 Canadian Culinary Championships. Joe lives in Ottawa with his wife and three children.
We would have been much better off, financially, if we’d had butter chicken on the menu from the very beginning. After four years of patiently explaining to our guests that butter chicken was a north Indian dish and that we were a south Indian restaurant, we finally created our own version. The truth is, this gentle dish introduces children to the flavours of India, serving as a stepping stone for them (and their parents!) to then dig a little deeper into the menu. And besides, my son Mathew, raised on Kerala cuisine, claims butter chicken is his hands-down favourite. So this is for him.
2 cups raw cashew nuts
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 Tbsp plain yogurt
1/2 tsp red chili powder
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp salt, plus extra to taste
1 tsp coconut oil
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 small onions, chopped
1 1/2 tsp Ginger-Garlic Paste (recipe below)
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
3 Tbsp tomato paste
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chaat masala
3 cups milk
Chopped cilantro, for garnish
In a saucepan, combine cashews and 4 cups water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, until nuts have softened. Strain and set aside to cool. Transfer to a food processor or blender and purée until smooth.
In a large bowl, combine chicken, yogurt, chili powder, turmeric, salt, and oil and mix well until chicken pieces are fully coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place chicken on a prepared baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, until par-cooked.
Melt butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté for 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Add ginger-garlic paste and cook for another 3 minutes. Stir in coriander, cooking for 1 more minute.
Add tomatoes and tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in 2 Tbsp cashew paste, sugar, fenugreek leaves, cumin, and chaat masala and cook for 1 minute. (Leftover cashew paste can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.) Add chicken and milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 8 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through but still juicy and tender. Season with salt to taste.
Garnish with cilantro and serve with rice.
Makes ½ cup
Dairy-free, gluten-free, vegetarian
1 (4-inch) piece ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped (1/4 cup)
10 cloves garlic
Using a dish towel, pat ginger dry and transfer it to a mini food processor (or use a mortar and pestle).
Add garlic and 2 Tbsp water and process until smooth, wiping down the sides of the food processor as required. Stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Recipe reprinted with permission from Figure.1