Spicy Mussels with a Kokum-Coconut Broth
This Goa trip I just took has inspired a host of recipes – the fresh ingredients, bright flavors and colors, interesting cultural mix. I seriously have to restrain myself to prevent all of my recipes from being monopolized by this cuisine. This dish is one I was dreaming about after I made traditional Goan fish curry during my first few days there – an elegant take on mussels using a popular Konkani ingredient, kokum.
I posted about kokum before I left for my trip, but it’s effectively the dried rind of a local plum-like fruit. It adds acidity and tartness to dishes there. It’s often interchanged with fresh tamarind, so you could add a touch of that here instead if you happen to have it on hand. You won’t get the same flavor, but I’ll bet it’s still delicious.
I love how cheap mussels are. I average about 1 pound per person for a main, and at $3 a pound, there’s not a better deal. They work incredibly well for entertaining – cheap yet elegant.
The combination of coconut and kokum was really popular in Goan dishes, though they tend to use freshly grated coconut. A lot of their dishes also had this beautiful balance of tart, creaminess from the coconut, and a bit of sweetness from jaggery, which is unrefined cane or palm sugar. Coconut milk is a lot easier to work with, so I used that here, and I used honey instead of sugar because I love the flavor.
The resulting broth is warmly spiced, with heat from the chili, acidity and tartness from the kokum and wine, and tempered by the creamy coconut milk. A splash of fresh lemon juice and cilantro add brightness, and the dish is surprisingly light. I toasted up some slices of a crunchy, French loaf with olive oil and a bit of salt and used it to sop up the sauce. Decadent. Enjoy!
Makes 2 to 4 servings
2 lbs fresh mussels, scrubbed and beards removed*
3 tbsps butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 finger chili, halved and split
½ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground black pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup white wine
1 can coconut milk
1 ½ tsps honey
1 to 3 pieces of kokum (depending on the strength/souring quality of the kokum)
1 handful cilantro, finely chopped
Salt to taste
2 scallions, green and light green parts only, thinly sliced
squeeze of lemon juice
Heat a medium-sized pot or dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add butter and when foam subsides, add shallots and a pinch of salt to draw out the moisture. Cook for a minute or two and add in the chili and ground spices. When shallots are translucent, add minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds or so or until it’s fragrant.
Add white wine and reduce until very little is left. Add coconut milk, honey, kokum pieces, and 2 tablespoons of the cilantro. Some kokum is extremely sour, so start with 1 piece and increase up to 3 depending on how tart you’d like your broth. Bring mixture up to a boil and lower to a simmer. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by half. Taste and adjust seasoning at this point.
Throw in the mussels and scallions. Bring temperature up to a simmer again, and cook covered for a few minutes until mussels open. Mine took somewhere between 3 and 4 minutes – you don’t want to overcook.
Squeeze fresh lemon juice over mussels, transfer to a bowl, and sprinkle remaining cilantro on top. Serve hot with big pieces of toasted, crusty bread.
*I think a key to making delicious mussels is thoroughly cleaning them. I like to scrape around the outside of each mussel with a pairing knife, removing any debris and hairy parts (beard). Prepare an ice- cold bowl of water and add sea salt until the water tastes pretty salty. Rinse off mussels, place in salt water, and refrigerate for a minimum of a half hour. The mussels will release a lot of their sand and grit this way. Remember to rinse again before cooking and discard any open mussels.