Chemeen Mulakittathu

Spicy Malabar Prawn curry with mustard seeds, chilli and tomato

Keralan Prawn Curry

A spicy winter curry is what keeps the cold spell at bay for me. This delicious keralan prawn dish is just what I have been craving for a while. I am so lucky to have a brilliant fishmonger not far from where I live. For me quality local seafood is a must and makes for better meals. Although I’ve used king prawns for this dish, they were a generous size and enough to feed a few of us.

Chemeen Mulakitathu essentially is a spiced thick gravy using fish or prawns, that hails from the Keralite Muslim community residing in the north of Kerala. ‘Moplah’ cuisine is distinct for their spice and yet being utterly wholesome. The food from this community is one of my favorites during celebrations. And is a classic example of how northern keralan cooking has its unique take to the rest of the state.

This prawn curry is spicy, sour, hot, sweet and tangy all at once. I use shallots for this dish as it is traditional and also they are milder. If you can’t get hold of shallots you can opt for red onions too as they impart a lovely sweetness when fried. As always the key to adding tamarind mentioned in my recipes is to check the strength of the paste. My paste for this recipe is quite weak so I required a little more than usual.

I love ghee rice and probably could eat it every day! And this prawn dish is the perfect excuse to serve it with.


  1. Heat the oil in a heavy bottom saucepan on a medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and let them splutter.

  2. Now add the fenugreek seeds and the sliced shallots. Fry for a minute and add the green chilli along with half the curry leaves. Continue to fry for 8-10 minutes over a medium heat until the shallots begin to change colour to a light brown.

  3. Add the garlic paste and stir for 30 seconds. Add the powdered spices and fry for a further 10 seconds making sure it doesn’t burn.

  4. Kerelan Chemeen Mulakitathu

    Add the tomatoes and continue to cook until they soften for 6 minutes. Mash with the back of the spoon and add water along with the tamarind paste. Season to taste. Lower the heat and bring to simmer for 2 minutes.

  5. Add the prawns and cook over a low heat for 6-7 minutes with the lid on stirring half way through. Turn the heat off and add the ginger slivers along with the remaining curry leaves and coriander.

  • Hira Usmani

    Hi maunika,

    I have been hooked to your recipes and this blog since discovering it! I have a question regarding the use of fenugreek seeds in — coincidentally I guess — most of your recipes I’ve tried. Albeit I do believe the sharp taste these seeds impart is quintessential to attaining that “pickly” burst of flavor, yet I can’t help but feel that awful bitter after taste that ensues every time I’ve used them. And its totally masks the other gorgeous flavors. I do use them sparingly and according to your guide but that bitterness still creeps up. Any ideas or tips how to nullify it? Am I doing something wrong? Thanks so much for your time.

    • Maunika Gowardhan

      Thank you! You can find information on Fenugreek in the spice pantry section as well of the site. Juts make sure you fry it only for a few seconds. So glad your enjoying the recipes!

  • Archana

    Hi Maunika!

    I made your prawns curry yesterday and it was absolutely delish!! I was in a rush to make it an added 4 tbsp of tamarind only to see your comments later about it. It was too sour, I sauteed 1 sliced onion in ghee and added to the curry.. worked out perfect! Had guests over and everyone LOVED IT!

    • Maunika Gowardhan

      Sounds wonderful and what a good tip to add the extra onion if it turns out too tangy. Really glad to hear your enjoying the recipes! x

  • Monika Packo

    Hi Maunika, I’ve made this curry tonight and it is a bit watery and dark in colour. It is not looking as yours. Don’t know what did wrong. I even gave less water as looked like too much to me. Any idea?

    • Maunika Gowardhan

      Hi Monika, The quality of tomatoes can vary so make sure to cook them slightly longer to get a thick rich gravy consistency. Also I have done most of the cooking over a medium heat. If the colour is dark thats most likely down to the tamarind paste you have used. I always advice to check colour/ strength of the paste so you can vary depending how much or little is needed. Hope this helps. M x

  • Amena

    Hi Maunika. What is curry leaves called in Indian and is there a substitute for it?? I cant easily get hold of it where live.

  • lauren

    Hi Maunika! can i substitue baby octopus for the prawns? if so how should i incorporate the baby octopus into the dish?

    • Maunika Gowardhan

      You want to ensure the octopus doesnt over cook so I’d suggest make the gravy first. Sprinkle the baby octopus with a pinch of paprika and pan fry separately just before serving with the curry. Hope you enjoy it!

  • Patrycja

    Where’s the recipe for ghee rice to acompany with the curry? 🙁

    • Maunika Gowardhan

      Thank you! We havent shared it yet although will do soon:) you can serve this with rice or naan too!

  • Jennifer Waters

    Hi Maunika, I made this tonight and it was delicious! It was an interesting blend of flavours that hit just about every taste bud… 🙂 I will make again. Thanks

    • Maunika Gowardhan

      Yay! So happy to hear this x

  • Saga

    I only had tamarind concentrate, so I looked up a conversion and decided on using 1 tbsp of the concentrate diluted in 2 parts water. But after just adding half of this mix, the curry started to look wayyy too dark and tasted very sour. Panic! Tried adding some butter to take the edge of the sharpness… Didn’t work, so then I added 200 ml coconut milk out of pure desperation. In the end, the curry turned out quite nice (despite being a bit tangy).

    Other than my tamarind mishap, the flavour profile from the other spices were balanced and complemented each other nicely. Will make again! But next time I’ll add in the extract one teaspoon at a time, making sure to taste as I go…

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful recipes! x

    • Maunika Gowardhan

      Your welcome! And glad you were able to rescue it. A tip when using tamarind is to taste it before adding. If its too sharp and also darker in colour add only a tiny amount as they all can vary in quality. Hope that helps! x

  • Hema

    Was craving prawn curry and was hoping this recipe would be a winner. I read the comments and halved the tamarind (which already looked like a lot!), but sadly my curry is still too sour…I wonder if the recipe should read 4 tsp tamarind rather than 4 tbsp?

    I will try adding coconut milk to see if that rescues the dish.

    • Maunika Gowardhan

      As mentioned in the notes and comments taste your tamarind before you add. Every brand has a different quality and the one used in this recipe required the amount mentioned as it was weak and not concentrated. Hope you give it another go!


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