Food & Drink

Nikhil Abuvala’s Indian-Spiced Shrimp and Grits

A twist on a Southern classic, from the chef bringing world flavors to Florida’s 30A

Photo: Courtesy of Roux 30A

Shrimp easily replace prawns in an at-home version of the recipe, shared below.

Not too long ago, finding plump oysters or a grouper sandwich along scenic State Road 30A through Florida’s Walton County was as sure a bet as Panhandle beaches being covered in white sand, but a more eclectic menu was a spottier proposition.

These days, the culinary scene has been much elevated, with some of the heaviest lifting done by chef Nikhil Abuvala’s Roux 30a, an intimate tasting-menu restaurant that brings globe-spanning flavors to the area’s local bounty. How about a salad featuring charred blood oranges and dates, or soft-shell crab with black beans and mango?

“We make beautiful food but don’t make it overly complex,” Abuvala says. “We’re very ingredient-forward, using whatever is fresh, whether from a local farm or the Gulf. We just had barrel fish, which frankly I’d never heard of but was great, so I put it on the menu.”

Abuvala, born in Atlanta to a dad from India and a mom of German-Irish ancestry, exhibited a precocious flair for food, working behind a sushi restaurant counter at thirteen years old, shortly after moving to Florida. Even so, he followed a talent for clarinet to music school and contemplated a business degree. “Then my mentor, the chef at a diner where I was working, basically hit me upside the head and told me I was as good a cook as anyone working for him,” Abuvala says. “He got me moving.”

photo: Courtesy of Roux 30A
Nikhil Abuvala.

During and after culinary school, Abuvala bolstered his inherited influences with food-focused travels through France, Italy, Greece, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Thailand, Vietnam, and some twenty other countries. “I’d just knock on the back door of a restaurant, sometimes just a mom-and-pop place, and talk my way into a job,” he says. “That’s a great way to broaden your perspective.”

Back home, that perspective led to opening Roux 30a in Grayton Beach in 2013. When the pandemic limited capacity in an already cozy space, Abuvala pivoted to the tasting-menu format that takes customers on a leisurely, six-course culinary journey. He’s also opened Nanbu Noodle Bar, a ramen-and-rice-bowls-centric spot with a decidedly different vibe. “It’s a brightly colored, loud place playing 1990s hip-hop,” he says. “Nanbu is the Japanese word for Southerner. There’s not much Asian food in the area, so really I did it selfishly so I’d have a place to eat more of what I love.”

In the next few months, he also plans to launch Daytrader, a tiki-themed hangout on the beach in Seaside. And tonight he’s celebrating Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, with a special Roux 30a menu that melds South Asia and Southeastern America. Among the courses, guests can expect a dish of dry-rubbed prawns with delicately curried grits, the recipe for which is shared below. “Basically, I’m taking some strong Southern dishes and Indian-ing them up,” he says with a laugh.


  • Indian-Spiced Prawns & Saffron Grits (Yield: 6 servings)

  • For the Grits

    • 6 cups water

    • 2 tsp. kosher salt

    • 1½ cups stone-ground grits (not quick-cooking)

    • ½ cup melted ghee

    • 3 green cardamom pods, crushed

    • ½ tsp. cumin seed

    • 6 curry leaves

    • 1 serrano chili, minced (seeds removed if you want less spice)

    • ½-inch knob ginger, minced

    • 3 cloves garlic, minced

    • ½ tsp. saffron

    • ½ tsp. garam masala

    • ½ tsp. granulated sugar

    • ¼ cup full-fat yogurt

    • Juice of half a lime

    • Additional salt, to taste

  • For the Prawns/Shrimp

    • 2 tbsp. ghee

    • ½ medium yellow onion, diced

    • ½ tsp. cumin seed

    • ¼ tsp. black mustard seed

    • ½-inch knob ginger, minced

    • ½ serrano chili, minced (seeds removed if you want less spice)

    • 3 cloves garlic, minced

    • ½ tsp. cayenne pepper

    • ½ tsp. turmeric

    • ½ tsp. ground coriander

    • ½ tsp. ground cumin

    • ⅛ tsp. asafoetida (optional)

    • 1 tsp. salt

    • 1 14.5-oz. can crushed tomatoes (Muir Glen fire-roasted tomatoes are his favorite)

    • 1 tsp. sugar

    • 1½ lb. extra-large prawns or shrimp, peeled and deveined

    • ¼ cup heavy cream

    • ¼ cup chicken stock (or water)

    • 1 tsp. garam masala

    • Cilantro to garnish


  1. Make the grits: In a pot, bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Add salt. Whisk the grits slowly to combine and turn the heat down to low. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring often to prevent burning or clumping, until the grits are tender but still have a bite.

  2. In a separate saucepan, heat ghee on medium heat. Add cardamom, cumin seed, and curry leaves. Fry spices for 1 minute in the ghee, then add serrano, ginger, and garlic. Fry for 2 minutes, then turn off heat. Add saffron, garam masala, and sugar to ghee and let sit for 5 minutes. Stir well to combine, and pour into the pot of grits. Add yogurt, lime juice, and salt to taste.

  3. Make the prawns/shrimp: Add ghee to a large saucepan on medium-high heat. Add diced onions and cook until the onions start to turn brown. Turn heat down to medium and add cumin seed and mustard seed. Cook for 1 minute. Add ginger, serrano chili, garlic, and spices. Cook for 2 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes and sugar, then stir. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes until most of the liquid evaporates, stirring often to prevent it from burning. Add prawns (or shrimp) to the tomato mixture. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring often, until the prawns/shrimp begin to turn pink. Add heavy cream, chicken stock, and garam masala. Cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, until combined. Serve over Indian saffron grits and garnish with cilantro.