Malabar Spinach In prawn Gravy

Malabar Spinach in Prawn Gravy/Bassela-Yetti Gravy

Malabar Spinach in Prawn gravy/Bassela Yetti Gravy is a favorite dish of the people of Mangalore, a coastal city in Southern India. Malabar Spinach/Bassela when paired with prawns(yetti), clams and dried shrimp is believed to bring out the best taste in both.It is a delicious creamy, flavorful curry with good nutritional benefits.

Spinach and Prawn Gravy (Malabar Style)

What is Bassela or Malabar Spinach?

Bassela or vine spinach is a popular tropical leafy-green vegetable, commonly grown as backyard herb in the home gardens.

Vine-spinach belongs to the Basellaceae family and has two chief cultivars-

  • Basella alba, which features green- stems and deep-green leaves, and 
  • Basella rubra with purplish stems and dark green leaves with pink veins.

It is native to South Asia, probably originated in the monsoon fed tropical regions of Malabar Coast of India and Sri Lanka, hence the name Malabar Spinach.

Difference between Malabar Spinach and English spinach

Malabar Spinach is different from English spinach (Spinacea oleracea) in that the vine spinach is a creeping vine with bright, broad, dark green, thick, and mucilaginous leaves.

Malabar spinach is a perennial vine and grown as annual or biennial pot-herb. It prefers hot, humid climate and moist, fertile, well-drained soil to flourish.Being a vine, it requires trellising(mantap/dhompa/support) for its spread.

What does Malabar Spinach taste like?

When it’s raw Malabar spinach has very fleshy, thick leaves that are juicy and crisp with tastes of citrus and pepper. When cooked, though, Malabar spinach does look and taste a lot more like regular spinach. It doesn’t wilt as fast, though, and it holds up better in soups and stir-fries.

Malabar spinach leaves are succulent and a bit slimy in a way similar to okra. Some people find this texture delightful, and others distasteful, but in any case, the mucilage that causes the sliminess also makes Malabar spinach rich in soluble fiber and a helpful aid for digestion.

How do you eat Malabar spinach?

Malabar spinach can be used raw, in salads, or as a stand alone vegetable. You can also use it like spinach in soups and stews. Steamed malabar spinach is great and will yield more than conventional spinach due to its fleshy nature.

Types of Malabar Spinach

Malabar Spinach/Vine-spinach belongs to the Basellaceae family and has two chief cultivars –

  • Basella-alba features thick, fleshy, broad, oval to heart-shaped leaves all along its vine length.
  • Basella rubra has pink or purplish stems and pink color veins running across its leaves.

Different names for Malabar Spinach

  • Vali Bhaji in Konkani
  • Mayalu in Marathi
  • Pui Shak in Bengali
  • Bacchali in Telugu
  • Kodip Basale in Tamil
  • Mong toi in Vietnam
  • Paag Prung in Thailand

The backstory

Growing up in Tamil Nadu, yet being a native of Mangalore, I never really understood the passion my Mom had for this Malabar Spinach or Bassela. Honestly I dreaded it each time, my Mom religiously packed this Bassela to carry it back home (to grow) on our train journey, from Mangalore after our summer holidays.

Needless to say I still get nightmares to think of the endless relatives who would come to say goodbye at the train station each brandishing another roll of Bassela/Malabar Spinach for my Mom. Until the train left the station they would get into an elaborate  discussion on the luscious green & healthy home grown leaves of Basale. I slid deeper into my seat dreading the endless bassela recipes that will pop up at home, once this shoot survived.

It was my Mom’s pride and joy, to see these deep green, dinosaur sized leaves grow healthy and strong , in her make shift mantap/dhompa/support for the growing vine, in her kitchen garden. She nurtured the dhompa with vegetable peels & fish stock ….the real “organic” way, though at that time ,we were never really were familiar with the word .

Me, I never developed a liking for these slippery slimy leaves & their tender stems, except when they were cooked with prawns or some dry fish.Growing up, we never had a choice, we just had to finish what was in the plate, so I sulked & toyed with my food some more ( Only God knows about the nights, when I had secretly prayed that this make shift Dompa/support would just fly away in a storm & we never had to endure the bassela for lunch again).

My precious Pappa tried to say some amusing childhood stories about Bassela dhompa, on the dining table, just to reduce the blow…. it still did not help with this one.I dared not look up from my plate, lest I hear another mouthful from my Mom about the benefits of bassela/malabar spinach (I swear I’m not so tough on my lil one while trying to market broccoli and its benefits).

You can imagine my shock when I visited a family friend here in the US, when she affectionately took me to her kitchen garden( knowing my passion for gardening) and showed me herBassela dhompa“……I literally fainted. I know Mangaloreans to be passionate about their food, but out here in this tricky weather?

That bassela has a long story indeed, it haunted me here in this land too.It certainly cannot be tamed & grows wild! To me, it reminded me of the tentacles of mutant plants seen in science fiction movies.

Bassela Yetti Gravy Recipe

Malabar Spinach in Prawn Gravy/Bassela-Yetti Gravy

Malabar Spinach in Prawn Gravy/Bassela-Yetti Gravy

Recipe by Maya Shetty
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  • 1 bunch Malabar Spinach/ Bassela leaves along with tender stems

  • 30 -35 Prawns cleaned & de-veined

  • 8 -10 Byadgi Red Chilies

  • 1 tin Coconut milk can use fresh grated coconut 1 cup instead

  • 1/2 tsp Turmeric powder

  • 1 large Onions chopped fine

  • 1 large Tomato cubed

  • 1 tsp Coriander seeds

  • 1/2 tsp Cumin seeds

  • 1/2 tsp Tamarind paste Tamarind extract/Tamico

  • 5 -6 Garlic cloves crushed

  • Salt to taste


  • Clean the Bassela leaves and stems off dirt. Rinse them a few times and set aside.
  • Next cut the tender stems and chop the leaves of the Bassela and pressure cook them with 2 cups of water, to which a little salt is added. Allow for 2 whistles, remove from stove and set aside.
  • Next dry roast all the spices one by one, along with the Byadgi red chili’s until the aroma of the spices emanate.
  • Transfer the spices to a blender, once cool and grind them together with onions, garlic cloves, tamarind paste and turmeric powder into a fine paste. If you are using freshly grated coconut, you can blend it along with the above too. Since i used tinned coconut milk for this recipe,, I did not use grated coconut to blend along.
  • Now transfer the blended masala paste into the pressure cooker containing the cooked Bassela,( I added in the tinned coconut milk here) stir well and allow to cook on medium flame until the curry comes to a boil.
  • Next add the clean and deveined prawns to the boiling curry allowing it to cook for 5-10 minutes only. Cooking prawns/Shrimps longer will cause them to become rubbery.You don’t want that to happen!
  • Remove from stove & serve it with hot brown steamed rice.


  • One can use freshly grated coconut 1cup instead of tinned coconut milk for this recipe.I used tinned coconut milk since freshly coconut was not available.
  • Tomato sauce can be used instead of tomatoes if they are not available

Nutrition Facts

  • Amount Per ServingCalories318
  • % Daily Value *
  • Total Fat 4g 7%
    • Saturated Fat 1g 5%
  • Cholesterol 454mg 152%
  • Sodium 1420mg 60%
  • Potassium 854mg 25%
  • Total Carbohydrate 30g 10%
    • Dietary Fiber 6g 24%
    • Sugars 13g
  • Protein 42g 84%

  • Vitamin A 30%
  • Vitamin C 58%
  • Calcium 35%
  • Iron 33%

* The % Daily Value tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.

Health Benefits of Malabar Spinach

  • Leafy green vegetable revered for its wholesome phytonutrient profile.
  • Low in calories and fat content, high in fiber.
  • Rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
  • Fresh leaves, particularly of basella rubra, are rich sources of several vital carotenoid pigment anti-oxidants such as ß-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin.

My Spinach Recipe links

Some of the links to my published spinach recipes are listed below for your interest :

My Seafood Recipe links

Some of the links to my published sea food recipes are listed below for your interest :

The Bottom Line

Now that you know all about the Mangalorean Bassela/ Malabar Spinach and how to incorporate prawns into the making of this delicious curry, I dare you to try making this recipe.For those of you like me who have this inborn repulsion for Bassela/Malabar Spinach, let me assure you that the effect is well masked by the delicious prawns in the recipe. At the end we get to believe that we are healthy eaters after all !

Have you tried eating Bassela/Malabar Spinach ? How have you incorporated the Malabar Spinach in your cooking? Would love to hear all abut it and your feedback in the comments section below.

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4 years ago

I couldn’t find the recipe.. disappointing..

Padmavathi Aravindan
Padmavathi Aravindan
6 years ago

So you didn’t add basale !