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Recipe: P Chidambaram's Crab Masala

Last updated on: February 23, 2024 18:56 IST
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Illustration: Dominic Xavier/

Sunita Kohli's The India Cookbook: From The Tables Of My Friends is a collection of ecclectic recipes selected and edited by Delhi designer, architect and socialite Sunita Kohli.

One of the preparations in it is a a South-Indian style Crab Masala by former finance and home minister P Chidambaram and his wife Nalini Chidambaram, who is a senior advocate practicing in the Supreme Court.

"Many of these recipes have been shared with me and I have tried to recreate them in our own home," writes Sunita. "Every time I do so, I think of the friend who first introduced me to that particular dish."

This recipe has been passed down through generations in Chidambaram's family. Possible to make in under an hour, the crab masala gets its sweetness from the desiccated coconut.

The ground pepper, green chillies and red chilly powder bring in the special spice quotient.

Interestingly, it's garnished with moringa leaves and goes splendidly well with steamed rice, appams and Malabar parothas.

According to Sunita, "South Indian cuisine is unique. Its distinctive flavours are from rice, lentils, coconuts and an array of spices that tantalise the taste buds. Each state within South India has its own distinctive culinary traditions using a variety of spices that grow in this region -- from the fiery curries of Andhra Pradesh to the subtlety of Kerala's coastal delicacies. Coconut is a key ingredient.

"The Malabar coast of Kerala offers a delectable variety of fish and shrimp curries that are infused with aromatic spices and coconut milk, whereas the Chettinad cuisine of Tamil Nadu has a range of spicy and flavourful meat dishes. The concept of Sadhya that is a grand feast served during festivals and special occasions is illustrative of the community nature of South Indian dining.

She adds, "Through food there is an integral bonding between friends and the keeping of friendships. It is wonderful when friends gather together at a table to share a delicious meal and exchange views and recipes. Good food ignites conversational combustion. When I look back, many of my friendships are integrally linked to the memory of meals that one has had at the various tables of my epicurean friend."

Sunita Kohli

IMAGE: Sunita Kohli.

"Good designers and architects have the gift of an inner eye which helps them visualise projects to the last detail. Similarly, good cooks also have a visual sense of food in their head and can almost intuit the possibilities of culinary creativity.

"My mother was an excellent cook as was her mother. This is an inherited trait. Whilst reading a recipe and as each ingredient is added, one can imagine its changing colour and zaika (flavour), particularly with north Indian food. I love the zaika of other people's home-cooked food.

"Eating is always an adventure and I am very partial to cuisine from different parts of the world. I am one of those travellers who does not miss Indian food whilst out of the country. Occasionally I may think of gol guppas and miss eating a paan after dinner.

"Nita Khanna, a good friend who has also contributed to this book and is in the midst of writing her own book, has opined that 'Food in India is a religion, an identity, a cultural and social signifier beyond the pale of our quest for unity in diversity'."

Kindly note the image has only been posted for representational reasons. Photograph: Kind courtesy f0000d_for_life/Instagram

Crab Masala

Serves: 4-6


  • 1 kg crab, washed and cleaned
  • 3 large onions, chopped
  • 2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 5 tbsp, refined oil
  • 2 green chillies, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
  • ½ cup desiccated coconut 
  • ¼ tsp haldi or turmeric powder 
  • 4-5 curry pattas or curry leaves 
  • 2 tbsp dhania or coriander powder
  • 1 tbsp red chilly powder
  • 2 tbsp freshly-ground black pepper
  • 2 handful moringa leaves
  • Handful green dhania or coriander or cilantro leaves
  • Salt to taste, around 2 tsp
  • Water


  • Heat the oil in a kadhai or saucepan.
    Add the chopped onions and saute until brown.
    Add the ginger-garlic paste, green chillies and the curry leaves.
    Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring all the time.
    Add the chopped tomatoes, coriander powder, red chilly powder.
    Add the coriander leaves.
    Add the turmeric powder and the salt.
    Cook for 5 minutes or until the tomato has softened.
    Add the desiccated coconut and mix well.
    Add the crabs and pour enough water to cover them.
    Bring the gravy to a boil.
    Add the moringa leaves and the ground pepper.
    Mix well.
    Cover and cook for 15 minutes over low heat.
    Serve hot with rice or appams or Malabar parothas.

The India Cookbook

Excerpted with the kind permission of the publishers, Aleph Book Company from The India Cookbook: from The Tables Of My Friends, selected and edited by Sunita Kohli.

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