Swahili Vegetable Curry

The South Asian spices in this vegetarian stew reflect the influence of Kenya's generations-old Indian community on the national cuisine. Feel free to substitute other vegetables based on seasonal availability, as Hubert Des Marais does. Satisfying Vegetarian Recipes

Swahili Vegetable Curry
Photo: © Lisa Linder
Active Time:
50 mins
Total Time:
2 hrs


  • 10 black peppercorns

  • 6 small dried red chiles

  • 4 cloves

  • One two-inch stick of cinnamon

  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds

  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

  • 1 cup grated fresh or dried coconut

  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced

  • 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground mace

  • 1 bay leaf

  • One 13.5-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk

  • 1/2 pound baby potatoes, scrubbed

  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick

  • Salt

  • 1/2 pound cauliflower, cut into 1-inch florets

  • 1/4 pound green beans, cut into 1-inch lengths, or left whole

  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces

  • 4 small Asian eggplants, halved lengthwise

  • 1 ear of corn, shucked, kernels cut from the cob, or 1/2 cup frozen corn

  • 1 large tomato, chopped

  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste

  • 1/4 pound okra, halved lengthwise

  • 20 curry leaves (see Note)

  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro


  1. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, combine the black peppercorns, dried red chiles, cloves, cinnamon, coriander seeds and cumin seeds and cook over moderately high heat until fragrant and lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Transfer the spices to a spice grinder and let cool completely. Grind the spices to a powder.

  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in the casserole. Add the grated coconut and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Transfer the grated coconut to a blender. Add half of the onion, the toasted spices and 1/2 cup of water and puree.

  3. Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil in the casserole. Add the remaining onion and the mustard seeds and cook over moderately high heat until the onion is browned, about 5 minutes. Add the turmeric, garam masala, mace and bay leaf and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the coconut-spice puree and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.

  4. Add the unsweetened coconut milk and 2 cups of water and bring to a simmer, stirring well. Add the potatoes, carrots and a large pinch of salt. Cover and simmer over low heat until the potatoes are just tender, about 15 minutes.

  5. Stir in the cauliflower, green beans, red pepper, eggplants, corn, chopped tomato and tomato paste. Cover and simmer gently over low heat, stirring occasionally, until all the vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes.

  6. Add the okra and simmer until tender, about 5 minutes. Discard the bay leaf. Add the curry leaves and cilantro, season with salt and serve.

Make Ahead

The curry can be refrigerated overnight. Reheat gently and add the curry leaves and cilantro just before serving.


Fresh or dried curry leaves are available at ishopindian.com.

Suggested Pairing

Fragrant, full-bodied white: 2009 Domaine de Lancyre Roussanne.

Related Articles