Crab Xacuti

(Photo by sayamindu/Flickr)

Serves 4.


2 fresh raw crabs
6 large dried red chillies
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
4 whole green cardamom pods
4 whole cloves
small piece cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons white poppy seeds
5 tablespoons freshly grated or desiccated coconut
2 medium onions, finely sliced
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon ghee
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
2 teaspoons chopped ginger
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
2 tablespoons tamarind purée or lime juice


Clean the crabs as described and cut each into 2 if small, 4 if large.

Remove stems from chillies and soak in a little hot water to cover for 10 minutes. In a dry pan over low heat stir the coriander seeds constantly until fragrant. Turn onto a plate then dry roast the cumin, fenugreek, peppercorns, cardamoms, cloves and cinnamon in the same way, just until fragrant. Turn onto a plate with the roasted coriander. Roast the white poppy seeds, stirring constantly, until golden. Roast the coconut until quite dark brown. Finally dry roast the sliced onion, stirring, until brown. Put all the roasted ingredients into a powerful electric blender with the turmeric, chillies and some of the soaking water. Blend to a smooth paste.

In a heavy pan heat oil and ghee and fry the ground mixture on low heat, stirring constantly, until oil separates from the mass. Add the crab pieces, salt, tamarind and just enough water to cover base of pan and prevent spices sticking. Cover and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, turning crab over in the spice mixture from time to time until crab shells are red. Add a little water if necessary but the gravy should be very thick and dark. Serve with plain steamed rice.

Recipe excerpted from Encyclopedia of Asian Food by Charmaine Solomon (Periplus Editions, 1998)