Shrimp Masala

Keralites in the Backwaters region sauté large tiger prawns—raised in the brackish waters of the area's rice paddies—with onions and a complex masala paste of garlic, ginger and eight different spices. Make the masala paste in large quantities and keep it in the refrigerator for up to a week; it's great as a rub or in a marinade for fish and chicken.

Shrimp Masala
Photo: © Petrina Tinslay
Total Time:
40 mins
4 to 6


Masala Paste

  • 1 ½ teaspoons coriander seeds

  • Seeds from 1 cardamom pod

  • teaspoon anise seeds

  • 1 whole clove

  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper

  • 1 /2-inch piece of cinnamon stick (broken)

  • ¼ teaspoon black peppercorns

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar

  • 2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger

  • 1 garlic clove (very finely chopped)

  • ½ teaspoon turmeric

  • Salt


  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 10 fresh curry leaves

  • 2 garlic cloves (minced)

  • 1 large onion (thinly sliced)

  • 1 /2-inch piece of ginger (peeled and sliced paper-thin)

  • ½ cup canned whole tomatoes with juice (chopped)

  • 1 pound large shrimp (shelled and deveined)

  • Salt


  1. In a spice grinder, combine the coriander, cardamom and anise seeds with the clove, crushed red pepper, cinnamon and peppercorns and grind to a fine powder. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the oil, vinegar, ginger, garlic and turmeric. Season the masala paste with salt.

  2. In a large skillet, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the curry leaves and cook over moderately high heat until they sizzle, about 10 seconds. Add the garlic, onion and ginger and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the masala paste and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juice and cook, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet.

  3. Add the shrimp to the skillet in an even layer and season with salt. Simmer, turning once, until just cooked through, about 3 minutes, then serve.

Make Ahead

The masala paste can be made 1 day in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temperature. The recipe can be made through Step 2 up to 4 hours ahead. Reheat before adding the shrimp.

Serve With

Steamed white rice.

Suggested Pairing

To elevate the sweet-spicy flavors in this dish, consider a Sémillon with clean lemon-lime flavors and balanced acidity. Look for a rare Sémillon-only wine made with grapes grown in Napa Valley.

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