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Bilimbi masala with toasted coconut rice

I learned about bilimbi, also called tree cucumber or tree sorrel, recently after I was presented a wonderful pickle by a close friend. The fruit is commonly found in South India, South East Asia and the islands of Mauritius, Maldives and Seychelles. It is closely relayed to star-fruit or carambola, and shares a similar super tart flavor but without the sweetness.

I was able to find a few recipes in my library, here is the first one that highlights the fresh flavor of the fruit.

This super simple curry is loaded with flavors, the tartness of the bilimbi is balanced by the explosion of spices. I paired this with a delicate toasted coconut rice, which served to balance and compliment the flavors. Although the recipe may look long, this is a very simple set of two recipes.

Yamuna Devi's cookbook (more recipe here) is probably the first cookbook I bought when I moved to the US 30 years ago for my Ph.D. Over the years, I have cooked almost half the recipes, it is the cookbook that taught me technique, flavor profiles and always gave me a wonderful meal. This vegetarian cookbook is essential on any shelf, it is the bible of Indian vegetarian cuisine.

This cookbook was sent to me by a friend, Sunid, who I know from my school days many moons ago. This is a cookbook not just about recipes, but tradition, family, and love. A family written cookbook, where they have shared closely guarded secrets that have been handed down through generations. For more delicious recipes from this cookbook click here.


For the bilimbi masala:

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

10-12 curry leaves

1 lb bilimbi, cut into circles

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin seeds

1 tablespoon ground coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon chili powder, or to taste

1 tablespoon garlic paste, or 3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon tamarind paste

1/2 cup water

Salt, to taste

For the toasted coconut rice:

1 cup basmati rice

2 whole cloves

1 1/2-inch cinnamon stick

Water, as needed

2 tablespoons ghee or oil

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

4-5 tablespoons fresh grated coconut, frozen is fine, thawed

Heat the oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds. Sauténon medium heat for 30 seconds till the mustard seeds begin to pop. Add the curry leaves, give them a quick stir and add the cut bilimbi. Sauté for 2-3 minutes.

Add the cumin, coriander, turmeric, chili powder and garlic and sauté for 2-3 more minutes coating the vegetable with the spice paste. You will begin to smell the spices as they cook.

Add the tamarind, salt and water and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 3-4 minutes till the vegetable has reached a thick consistency and the tamarind no longer smells and tastes raw. Take off the heat and taste for salt, spice and tamarind, you are looking for well spiced very tart dish that is a bit saucy. Be careful not to over cook the bilimbi, they will fall apart.

To make the toasted coconut rice:

Cook the rice on the stove or in a rice cooker as per the manufacturers instructions with the cloves and cinnamon stick aromatics. As soon as the rice is cooked, fluff well with a fork.

While the rice is cooking, heat the ghee in a wide frying pan and add the mustard and cumin seeds. Sauté on a medium-low heat till the mustard seeds pop, about 30 seconds. Add the grated coconut and sauté on low heat till the coconut is toasted to a golden brown and the sugars are caramelised. Remove from the heat and cool, do not allow the coconut to cook more and burn.

Mix into the fluffed rice, leaving a bit for garnish.

To serve:

The two dishes can be served in seperate bowls heated or for a plated serving, add a scoop of the rice, moulded if desired, and add some of the bilimbu masala either besides it or on the rice. Top with the remaining toasted coconut. Sefve while still warm.

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