By Joe Thottungal
In order to irrigate fields and to transport crops, a network of lagoons and canals was carved into the Kerala countryside to connect the rivers, lakes, and inlets. The small crabs of this backwater area of Kerala (there are about twenty-seven species of crab) are the inspiration for our house crab cakes. We serve these with our Chili-Lime Sauce, but you can use any good garlicky aioli with a touch of citrus.
1 lb cooked king or snow crabmeat, drained and picked clean of shells
3 small shallots, finely chopped
1/2 green or red bell pepper, seeded, deveined, and finely chopped
20 curry leaves, coarsely chopped
3 Tbsp good-quality mayonnaise
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tsp Garam Masala
2 tsp ground turmeric
1 1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2–3 Tbsp coconut oil
Cilantro leaves, for garnish (optional)
Vegetable Kuchumber, to serve
Chili-Lime Sauce or garlic aioli, to serve
In a large bowl, combine well-squeezed crabmeat, shallots, bell peppers, curry leaves, and mayonnaise and mix well. Add breadcrumbs, garam masala, turmeric, pepper, chili powder, cumin, and salt and mix gently. Stir in lemon juice.
Shape a spoon of the mixture into a 2-inch-diameter ball and, using the palm of your hand, slightly flatten. Repeat with the remaining mixture.
Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the crab cakes (avoid overcrowding) and fry for 3 minutes. Flip over and fry for another 3 minutes, or until the cakes are golden brown. Transfer crab cakes to a plate lined with paper towels. Repeat with the remaining cakes, if necessary, making sure the oil is back to temperature before added the next batch.
Garnish with cilantro, if using, and serve immediately with vegetable kuchumber and chili-lime sauce or aioli.
Joe Thottungal was born in South India. He received his Hotel Management and Catering diploma from a culinary institute in nearby Madras. His career began at the five star property of Leela Kempinski in Mumbai, before moving to Saudi Arabia to further advance his career. In 1998, Joe immigrated to Canada. He started his Canadian culinary journey in Toronto, then he moved to Windsor before arriving in Ottawa where he accepted an opportunity to work at the Crowne Plaza Hotel as a restaurant chef. He was quickly promoted to Executive Sous Chef. While working at the Crowne Plaza he completed his Chef de Cuisine certification from SAIT Calgary and became a Certified Chef de Cuisine in May 2003. His passion for cooking and serving guests gave birth to the Coconut Lagoon Restaurant. The Coconut Lagoon is the first of its kind in the nation’s capital. Joe opened his second restaurant Thali in downtown Ottawa in December 2018. Joe is active in the community and is a member of the Ottawa Chapter of Les Toques Blanches, and the CCFCC. He is devoted to South-Indian cuisine, as well as to its rich flavors which highlight culture, history, and shared culinary experiences.
Excerpted from Coconut Lagoon: Recipes from a South Indian Kitchen by Joe Thottungal with Anne DesBrisay. Photographs by Christian Lalonde. Copyright 2019 by Coconut Lagoon. Excerpted with permission from Figure 1 Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.