Moilee—often also transliterated as “molee” or even “molly”—is a Malayali (as in from Kerala) stew made with coconut milk. Where a lot of Malayali food is very robustly spiced, and often very hot, moilees tend to be mild. They usually feature seafood of one kind or the other—typically fish or prawns. I make it with fish and prawns as well but mussels are really my seafood of choice for it. I haven’t come across mussels moilee in Malayali restaurants in Delhi but for all I know it’s a very common variation down Kerala way (I’ve never been). At any rate, I find the briny-umami flavour of mussels goes really well with the other flavours in the stew. As a bonus it’s also a very easy dish to make: I pulled it together in less than half an hour last evening.
I’m not Malayali and didn’t grow up eating or later cooking this food. This is not obviously a family recipe. It is sort of an average of recipes I’ve read in a number of books and is, on the whole, a fairly traditional preparation. Though do feel free to excoriate me if there’s a major gaffe/omission in here somewhere.
- 2 lbs mussels (approx)
- 1 tspn black mustard seeds
- 2 sprigs curry leaves
- 1 tspn grated ginger
- 1 tspn grated garlic
- 3-5 slit hot green chillies (I use Thai chillies)
- 1/2 a large onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
- 1 tblspn black peppercorns, coarsely ground
- 1 cup chopped tomato
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup coconut milk
- Coconut oil
- 1/2 a lime
- Heat a couple of tblspns of coconut oil over medium heat in a pan large enough to hold all the mussels later and add the mustard seeds.
- As soon as the mustard seeds start spluttering add the curry leaves.
- As soon as the curry leaves turn glossy add the grated ginger and garlic and the slit green chillies. Saute for a minute or so.
- Add the onions and saute till just softened/translucent.
- Add the haldi and ground pepper and mix thoroughly.
- Add the tomatoes and saute till almost cooked down.
- Add the water and bring to a boil for a few minutes.
- Add the coconut milk and just as it all begins to come to a high simmer add the mussels and cover the pan.
- Cook till the mussels have all opened.
- Taste and adjust salt and squeeze the lime in.
- Serve with steamed rice.
- This doesn’t have very many ingredients but they are all crucial. Well, if you don’t have mussels use fish or prawns and I suppose you could substitute grapeseed oil or similar for the coconut oil if you don’t have it but it really does make a difference. But you really do need everything else.
- When I’m making fish or prawns moilee I make this in a clay pot but I don’t have one large enough to hold this quantity of mussels.
- I use the Aroy-D tetrapak coconut milk but use whatever is the best coconut milk you can find. And if you can add a half cup of thick coconut milk towards the very end, that will make this even richer (but will also raise the fat content). Some recipes use quite a lot more coconut milk than I do here. If you add more, then up the onions and green chillies a bit.
- You can adjust the heat down by using fewer green chillies and/or pepper but I wouldn’t suggest increasing them. As noted, this is generally a milder dish and I’m already using more pepper here than you’ll find in some recipes.
- Likewise, while some recipes add tomato earlier and cook it down—as I do here—others add sliced tomatoes with the coconut milk. Such, for example, is the version in the almighty Flavours of the Spice Coast.
- The Essential Kerala Cookbook has a few recipes for seafood moily, including one that involves a lot more spices. I do like this cleaner version better though.
- In addition to rice, you could eat this with Malabar parathas or appams—but if you know how to make appams you’re certainly not reading this recipe.