Ishtu | potato stew with coconut milk

ishtu -potato stew in coconut milk

As Easter moves closer the recipes that come to my mind are the Kerala style ones. The traditional soft and spongy vattayappam with delicately spiced potato stew rules supreme in this scenario.

Why is the stew called ishtu?

The stew that travelled with the spice traders reached the Kerala coast. This stew worked its way into the local cuisine, adopting coconut milk to add creaminess and pepper and ginger to add taste. As a part of being adopted into a new culture, I guess the word stew got a bit of Malayalam accent and turned itself to ishtu. This is the most plausible explanation for the ishtu.

Ingredients to make this potato stew

The potato stew actually comes together with just a few ingredients.
Potatoes- the soft cooking potatoes are the best for this recipe. I used russet potatoes as they cook well and yield fluffy softness yet don’t completely break down. This is the key to the recipe.

Onions- I love sauteed onions in this recipe as they taste so sweet.

Coconut milk- the best to make ishtu is fresh coconut milk. However, you can make this recipe with canned coconut milk and also the coconut milk powder successfully. Each of the three methods is discussed below. Take a look before you plan the recipe so you can get the desired result.

Making coconut milk

The grated coconut flesh is blended with 2 cups of water. Strain this mix and set it aside. To the coconut, flesh ground adds 4 cups of water and blend again. This will yield thin milk that you can use to cook the potatoes at first. The first thick extract is used in the final stages to make a creamy thickness to the stew. This milk however is not suitable to be boiled as it will split hence only slow simmered for a few minutes and removed from heat.

Coconut milk from a can – the coconut milk a can be very thick. So it is best to dilute it with water so it can be used to cook the potato stew.

Coconut milk powder- stir in 1 tbsp of powder into water and dilute it up to 2 cups. Use this liquid to cook the stew. To thicken up the stew at the end. use another tbsp of coconut milk powder, this time use just 1/2 cup of water to dissolve them. 

Spices that add flavour. 

Curry leaves-the fragrance from the curry leaves making the best of this ishtu. We can do it without it, but the fragrance is not the same. 

Ginger – this is what I love to add to fragrance of the stew and pairs really well with the soft cooked potatoes. 

Green chillies- it is the spicy fragrance we want from the green chillies and not the heat. So keep the chillies intact while you are adding it to the onions. 
Salt – Regular cooking salt to flavour is perfect here. 


Other veggies. Popularly, carrots, peas and beans populate this stew recipe. This is based on what your family is used to. I love the simplicity of the basic potato stew hence stick to just that often.



Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
boiling the potato 15 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Course Main Dish, Side Dish
Cuisine gluten free, Indian, instant pot, Kerala, One pot
Servings 4 people


  • instant pot


To boil the potatoes.

  • 2 potato
  • 2 cup drinking water

To make the ishtu.

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 1-2 green chilli
  • 10-12 curry leaves
  • 2 cups coconut milk thin coconut milk
  • 1 cup coconut milk thick coconut milk


  • Boil the potatoes till they are fork tender.
  • Peel the potatoes and set aside.
  • Set the instant pot to saute mode, add the coconut oil.
  • Now add the chilly, curry leaves and onion and saute till onions are translucent.
    prep for ishtu.
  • To this add the thin coconut milk and the cooked potatoes.
  • Sprinkle salt and let this cook and infuse the flavours.
    ishtu making.
  • Let it simmer for 7 minutes.
  • Now add the thick coconut milk and simmer for just a couple of minutes.
    potato stew.
  • Remove from heat and enjoy.
    potato stew.
Keyword curry recipes, Indian vegetarian dinner, potato recipes
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Serving the ishtu

Ishtu pairs so well with steamed rice-based delicacies like noolputtu or vattayappam. In the Malabar style sadhya a bit if this stew is served on the banana leaf meal. Having ishtu with set dosa or aapam is one of my favourite combos too. This non-spicy curry recipe pairs well with triangle parathas or even simple bagara rice.

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ishtu | potato stew

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Amrita Roy
Amrita Roy
2 years ago
Rating :

When I saw your recipe I immediately tried it and everyone really liked it. Thank you for sharing this.

Hayley Dhanecha
2 years ago
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Being in a full time job, sometimes I just want to make something simple and easy yet delicious recipe. Last week my friend visited me on short notice, luckily I had potatoes and coconut milk but not curry leaves. We enjoyed it so much, will make again with curry leaves.

Priya Vj
1 year ago
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I definitely love the simple and rustic flavor of the stew . Really amazing to see how the classic western recipe has beautifully retrofitted itself with the local flavors and also the name change to Ishtu based on local dialect .

1 year ago
Rating :

I love Ishtu with neer dosa, it makes a good combination. Loved your version with only potato, my husband will be a happy person.

Preethi Prasad
1 year ago
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Ishtu looks super tempting . One of my most favourite dish . Loved reading the details about this dish Seema.

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