“The first time I saw live lobsters or soft-shell crabs was at Café Annie, the first and only restaurant I worked for in Houston,” writes the Texas chef Anita Jaisinghani in her new cookbook, Masala: Recipes from India, the Land of Spices. “At first, I was horrified seeing them squirm and move about in the boxes. Watching the fish guy spear the live critters and then drop them in hot water made my heart pound. Unfortunately, this did not prevent me from tasting the crab hours later. I do recognize that whether it’s a giant king crab leg or pristine jumbo lump crabmeat, most of us omnivores love crab. Whether it’s stuffed into a samosa, tossed in a crisp cold salad, or fried into a cake, enjoying crab is a no-brainer. This warm bubbly crab dip combines the best of good South Indian cooking and can become a lovely party appetizer. Serve it with warm bread, small dosas, naans, rotis, or parathas.”
Coconut Crab Dip
A Houston chef combines South Indian flavors and Southern seafood in one decadent spread
Photo: copyright © 2022 by Johnny Autry
Coconut Crab Dip (Yield: 4 servings)
1 lb. fresh jumbo crabmeat
½ cup fresh or frozen grated coconut
½ cup coconut milk
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tsp. sea salt
3 tbsp. coconut oil
1 tsp. black mustard seeds
15 to 20 kari (curry) leaves
8 to 10 garlic cloves, sliced
2 cups sliced leeks, white and green parts
1 tsp. red chile powder
1 cup canned ground tomatoes, or 2 cups diced fresh tomatoes
1 tsp. sea salt
½ tsp. garam masala
Fresh herb sprigs for garnish
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Make the crab: In a large bowl, gently combine the crabmeat with the grated coconut, coconut milk, lemon juice, and salt and set aside.
Make the masala: In a medium frying pan, heat the oil over high heat. Pop the mustard seeds in the heat, then add the kari (curry) leaves and cook for a couple of seconds. Immediately add the garlic and leeks, decrease the heat to medium-high, and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until the leeks are translucent. Lower the heat; add the red chile powder, tomatoes, and salt; and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes, until the fat in the masala has risen to the top or to the edges, it is an orange red in color, and thick, chunky, or semidry. The time will vary based on the water content of the tomatoes. If the tomatoes start to stick to the bottom of the pan, add a few tablespoons of water. Turn the heat off and stir in the garam masala.
Make the dip: Spread the tomato masala evenly on the bottom of a baking dish. Place the coconut-crab mixture on top, letting the edges of tomato masala peek out. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until bubbly, and top with fresh herb sprigs. Serve with a crispy dosa, uthappams, naan, or crusty bread.
Reprinted with permission from Masala: Recipes from India, the Land of Spices by Anita Jaisinghani, copyright © 2022. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.”