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  • Rohan Kamicheril

Basale Soppu with Shrimp and Kanji

Breakfast takes all sorts of shapes and comes in a dizzying array of flavors. This recipe, for a stir-fry of basale soppu, comes from a woman named Jaya Gaonkar, whom I met in the coastal Karnataka town of Kumta. The area, near the temple complex of Gokarna, is famed for its salt pans and for its fisheries and Gaonkar told me that it wasn’t unusual for locals to eat fish for every meal because of its wide availability: some people even ate this simple and hearty mix of greens and shrimp as breakfast with a bowl of kanji, a loose rice porridge not unlike congee.

A note on preparation: You can easily make the kanji ahead of time and reheat it as needed. And if you don’t feel up to making the shrimp stock for it, skip it: it’s entirely untraditional. You can use chicken stock if you like, or just use water!

A note on basale soppu: Basale soppu, or Malabar spinach can be a little hard to find. If you have a hard time tracking it down, feel free to use regular spinach, which works wonderfully in this recipe, too.

Serves 4–5


For Ginger and Garlic Kanji:

Shells from 1 lb of shrimp

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed with the side of a heavy knife

1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices

3/4 cup short-grain rice

Salt to taste

For Basale Soppu:

½ lb basale soppu, tough stems discarded

1 lb fresh shrimp, shelled and deveined (shells reserved for kanji)

Spice mixture

2 tsp raw rice

½ cup fresh, grated, coconut

1 tsp coriander seed, toasted and cooled

½ tsp black mustard

1 tsp turmeric

4 large cloves garlic, peeled

3 tsp moderately spicy red chile powder or cayenne (or to taste)

Salt to taste

Coconut oil or canola oil.


First, make the kanji. In a medium saucepan, heat 5 cups of water along with the garlic cloves, ginger, and shrimp shells.

Once the water comes to a boil, turn down the heat and let the mixture simmer slowly for at least an hour.

After an hour, taste the stock. If it has a concentrated taste of shrimp, ginger, and garlic, turn off the heat and season with salt to taste. If not, cook for upto a half hour longer.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the shrimp shells, ginger and garlic, pressing them against the spoon to extract all the flavor from them. You should be left with approximately 4 cups of stock. If not, add a little water to make up the difference.

Add the rice and raise the heat to medium high. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is swollen and has formed a very loose porridge—about 30 minutes. Add more water if it looks like the mixture is getting too thick at any point—the kanji should almost be pourable, and not at all stodgy. Season with salt to taste and set aside in a warm place until ready to serve.

Next, prepare the ground spice mixture. In a small pan, fry the raw rice in a teaspoon of oil till the grains turn a very light brown and begin to smell nutty.

Combine with all the spices and 3–4 tbsp of water and grind till it forms a smooth paste. Add more water if needed to achieve the right consistency.

Using a large knife, cut the leaves and tender stems of the basale soppu roughly into large pieces. Set aside. The leaves will begin to ooze a mucilaginous sap, but don’t worry, this is normal!

Place 3–4 tbsp of coconut oil or canola oil in a wide pan over medium high heat. Watch the oil carefully to make sure it doesn’t smoke. When the coconut oil just begins to shimmer, add the ground spices and cook, stirring often, till the paste has thickened and the oil begins to pool on top.

Add the basale soppu, 1 tsp salt, and ¼ cup water. Stir well to combine then cook, covered for 3–4 minutes, or till the greens are wilted.

Add the shrimp and cook for another 5 minutes, covered, till they are pink and firm but not overdone, and the sauce has thickened slightly. Check for seasoning and add salt as needed.

Spoon into bowls of hot kanji and eat immediately.

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