I treasure the days I spend outside in the warmer weather, from early morning to midnight. So naturally, I can't wait to gear up for grilling season. When preparing for outdoor entertaining, I try to minimize time spent in the kitchen while still maximizing flavor. Instead of a marinade, these grilled shrimp benefit from a nutty, spiced paste (or masala) inspired by the Konkan region of India.
A Konkan-Inspired Masala
Konkan is a strip of land on the Western coast of India encompassing parts of Goa, Karnataka, and Maharashtra. In developing this recipe, I consulted a Konkani family friend, Sandhya Nadkarni, who offers Indian cooking classes and runs the blog Indfused. Sandhya explained that while Konkani recipes are generally diverse in flavors and textures, some fundamental commonalities do exist. Because of its tropical climate, Konkani people (those native to the Konkan region) often cook with coconut, chilies, and tamarind.
The fragrant coconut, subtle heat from the chilies, and sour, slightly sweet tamarind create a deep, complex flavor. Dried chilies and coriander seeds toast in a small amount of oil, then blend with coconut and tamarind into a smooth masala tinted red from the chilies.
Traditionally, the masala cooks down with oil to form the base of a gravy. For a seafood gravy, shrimp or fish simmer with water in the masala. Here, we forego a gravy and rub the cooked paste directly onto the shrimp for a punchy flavor profile that comes together faster than a traditional marinade.
Key Ingredients in Konkani-Inspired Masala
A good masala balances sweet, salty, acidic, and spicy flavors.
This shrimp recipe may use a few ingredients you're less familiar with, so let's delve into some of these ingredients in more detail.
- Desiccated coconut powder: Look for unsweetened desiccated coconut powder, a finely textured form of coconut devoid of moisture. Find it online or at specialty health food shops. Alternatively, you can use a finely shredded coconut available at major grocery stores.
- Dried chiles: Many Konkani recipes recommend dried Byadgi chiles, which can be purchased online or in specialty Indian stores. Byadgi chiles are mild in flavor and predominantly add color to the paste. Dried Kashmiri chiles have a slightly different flavor profile but are an excellent substitute here. You can also use ground Kashmiri chili powder or another mild chili powder blend.
- Homemade tamarind paste: Tamarind is a sour, slightly sweet fruit. I prefer to purchase the pulp in a block and make a homemade paste for this recipe, but store-bought works too. Read more about where to purchase tamarind and how to make the paste in our ingredient guide to tamarind.
- Coriander seeds: Coriander seeds contribute an earthy, citrusy flavor to the dish.
- Alliums: Garlic and shallot add a wonderful, pungent flavor to the masala.
The Best Shrimp for this Recipe
Both fresh and frozen shrimp are good options here. If purchasing fresh shrimp, look for shrimp with a clean, non-fishy smell, and avoid any seafood with slimy or mushy textures.
If purchasing frozen shrimp, make sure to buy uncooked shrimp, then follow appropriate instructions to thaw them before cooking. Large and extra-large shrimp varieties work well for this recipe.
What to Serve With Grilled Shrimp
A mango and cilantro slaw or watermelon salad would be a great pairing with this shrimp. I also love to serve these on a bed of coconut rice.
Grilled Shrimp with Konkani-Inspired Masala
- For the shrimp
- 1 pound (16 ounces) large or extra-large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- Canola oil, divided
- 4 dried Byadgi chiles or 3 dried Kashmiri chiles
- 3 tablespoons unsweetened desiccated coconut powder
- 1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
- 5 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 small shallot, thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons homemade tamarind paste (or 1 tablespoon store-bought tamarind paste concentrate and 2 tablespoons water)
- 3 tablespoons water
- For serving
- 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro, stems removed and minced
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
- Metal or wooden skewers for grilling
- Food processor
Season the shrimp:
In a medium bowl, use a wooden spoon to toss shrimp with kosher salt and ground turmeric until combined. Keep covered with plastic wrap or foil in the fridge while you prepare the spice paste.
Toast the chilies and coconut powder:
In a small skillet over medium heat, add 1 teaspoon canola oil. Wait 1 minute, add the chilies, and use tongs to turn them every 30 seconds. Toast chiles until aromatic and softened, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Remove chiles from the pan and set aside.
Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the coconut powder and stir occasionally until toasted all over and light golden brown, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside. Wipe the skillet clean.
Prepare the chiles:
Wear gloves and use scissors to remove the stem, squeeze out the seeds, and remove the membrane of the chile.
Roughly chop the chiles, then place them into a small spice grinder or food processor and grind into a powder the texture of finely crushed chile flakes.
Avoid inhaling while grinding, as it can irritate your nose and throat and cause a lot of sneezing!
Measure out 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder for a mild spice/heat and 1 tablespoon for medium spice/heat. (Any remaining chili powder can be kept in the fridge up to 1 week and sprinkled on dishes as a condiment).
Grind the paste:
Place the chili powder, coconut powder, coriander seeds, garlic, shallot, tamarind paste, and water in a small food processor. Grind until smooth (it’s okay to have a few residual minced pieces of garlic, but otherwise the texture should be quite homogeneous).
Cook the paste:
Set the cleaned skillet to medium heat and add 2 tablespoons canola oil. Add the paste in and cook, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes or until the color slightly darkens from orange to burnt orange. The paste should have thickened slightly and begun lightly sticking to the pan. Remove the paste and let cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes.
Prepare the grill and skewers:
Meanwhile, pre-heat a gas grill on direct, medium-high heat (aim for 400°F to 450°F). If using wooden skewers, soak them in a bowl of water for at least 20 minutes.
Toss shrimp with paste:
Remove the bowl of shrimp from the fridge and use a wooden spoon to stir in the paste until evenly coated.
Skewer the shrimp:
Thread shrimp onto skewers, leaving at least 1/2-inch of space between each piece.
Grill the shrimp:
Dip a paper towel in a bit of canola oil until soaked, then use tongs to rub the oil onto the grill grates.
Place the skewers on the grill. Cook for 2 minutes, or until shrimp are seared on the bottom. With tongs, flip the skewers, and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes or until shrimp are opaque and fully cooked. Remove from the grill using tongs and transfer to a serving plate.
Garnish the shrimp with cilantro and serve immediately with lemon wedges on the side.