Coconut "Butter" with South Indian Flavors

By Susan Volland | November 18, 2015
In South India, coconut oil is the cooking oil of choice. Many dishes are garnished with a drizzle of coconut oil, popped black mustard seeds, crispy fried curry leaves, and frizzled small red onions. I like to stir these wonderful ingredients together like a compound butter and spread or melt it on various foods as the whim strikes: on savory pancakes, pilafs, or grilled whole fish. Curry leaves come from a small tropical plant. They have a complicated taste and fragrance that can be redolent of mixed spices. (Curry powder is not made from curry leaves.) They are commonly fried until crisp and used as a crunchy garnish or added to simmered dishes for an herbal depth. Fresh curry leaves can be found at specialty markets. I often have some stored in the freezer. If your climate allows, try growing a plant of your own.


  • 3/4 cup pure coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 cup thinly sliced shallots (about 4 large shallots)
  • 1/4 cup fresh curry leaves, torn into pieces (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot Indian chile powder, cayenne, or similar hot red chile powder (optional)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric


Yield: About 1 1/2 cups 

Heat 3 tablespoons of the coconut oil in a sauté pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mustard and cumin seeds and cook until the mustard seeds pop. Add the shallots and curry leaves, if you have them, and cook until the shallots are brown and the curry leaves have turned dark and crisp, about  6 minutes.

Put the remaining coconut oil in a bowl. Add the cooked shallot mixture, the salt, chile powder, and turmeric and stir together. Serve.

Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week. The chilled mixture will look grainy, but it will melt evenly when heated.

Photography and recipe from Mastering Sauces by Susan Volland. Copyright © 2015 by Susan Volland. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company. All rights reserved.



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