Mussels Moilee

I made this for dinner last night with the last of a mega-bag of mussels from Costco. I posted the picture on Facebook and a friend asked for the recipe—you may as well have it too.

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
  • Salt
  • Coconut oil
  • 1/2 a lime


  1. 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.
  2. As soon as the mustard seeds start spluttering add the curry leaves.
  3. 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.
  4. Add the onions and saute till just softened/translucent.
  5. Add the haldi and ground pepper and mix thoroughly.
  6. Add the tomatoes and saute till almost cooked down.
  7. Add the water and bring to a boil for a few minutes.
  8. Add the coconut milk and just as it all begins to come to a high simmer add the mussels and cover the pan.
  9. Cook till the mussels have all opened.
  10. Taste and adjust salt and squeeze the lime in.
  11. Serve with steamed rice.


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

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