My husband grew up on the spice coast of South India in Kerala and each Sunday night we are treated to a South India feast. In general, South Indian cuisine is much quicker and easier to prepare than North Indian fare. It uses flavors and cooking techniques similar to those in South East Asia in combination with the classic Indian spices. My advice: If you have ever wanted to cook Indian at home, start in the South with a simple dish like this family favorite.
This is the Man’s quick and easy go-to side dish for our Sunday supers in Kerala. Coconut, mustard seeds, and curry leaves spice up the humble little snap beans and make it a Kerala classic.
Chopped cabbage or grated kohlrabi make delicious substitutions for the snap beans.
1 ½ lbs. snap beans, green or wax, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 ½ T oil, canola or coconut
½ t black mustard seeds
1 small onion, finely chopped (about a ½ cup)
½ t kosher salt
10 – 15 fresh curry leaves (optional)
¼ t turmeric
1 t paprika
Pinch or more cayenne pepper (optional)
2 T shredded coconut (unsweetened)
⅔ cup water or more as needed
Using a 12 or 14-inch sauté pan or skillet with a lid, heat the oil until hot. Add mustard seeds and sauté until they just start to pop. This is called tempering the spices.
Once they pop, immediately add the onion, salt, curry leaves, turmeric, paprika and cayenne. Saute until the onion just begins to brown—5 minutes.
Add beans and ⅔ cup of water. Cover and let steam until the beans are tender—about 10 minutes. (Add more water if necessary).
Remove lid, add coconut and continue sauteing until all the liquid evaporates about 1 minute longer.
Serve with rice and yogurt.
Unsweetened grated coconut can be found in the freezer section of any Indian grocery store. While you're there, pick up a small bag of black mustard seeds which have a slightly different flavor than brown mustard seeds. lastly, fresh curry leaves are a sort of herb from a curry tree grown in tropical climates only. Find those in the fresh produce section of the Indian grocery store.
Cooking with Kids
“Do you know what they call Indian food in India?…Food. That is one of our long running little jokey admonishments to the kids. It comes up when they make a comment about not wanting to try some dish because it is new or unfamiliar. What’s left out, but certainly implied and understood, “Now try it.” Rejecting food based on appearance or unfamiliarity is a strict no-no here and should be for you too.
From the age of about 2, kids have a natural impulse to reject any new food. It is a self preservation instinct. The first time a toddler experiences a new taste, they will only consume a little. We evolved that way so as not to accidentally ingest a big bowl full of poisonous berries and die. Instead, we eat a little, wait to see if there are any adverse effects. None noted…let’s eat a little more of that food next time around and re-evaluate. It makes perfect evolutionary sense, doesn’t it? Those of the species who threw caution to the wind and ate the big bowl of poisonous berries, well they didn’t last long enough to pro-create. Millions of years of natural selection have given rise to the picky eater.
So don’t hesitate to serve something new. Even if it is rejected, serve it again and again if you liked it. Have the kids try at least one bite each time. I guarantee that they will come around to eating it eventually. Eighteen exposures to a new food is the rule. And the next time you’re in a conversation where you say or hear something like, “Little Bobby would never try anything like Indian food,” remember what they call Indian food in India. One billion people can’t be wrong.
Snap beans are prone to frost damage. To prevent this, store them in a paper bag placed in another plastic bag and placed in the warmest part of the fridge. Do not wash them before storing. They should keep up to a week like this.
Some people love green beans. I never understood the appeal. They are a rather plain vegetable in flavor and certainly no nutritional dynamo. That said, it bothers me to not embrace and celebrate a veggie especially one as popular as green beans. It feels like a personal challenge. “How can I learn to love the green bean?”
However, after years of persistent searching and experimenting, I discovered several recipes which have changed my mind about green beans. Discovering Romano beans (also known as the Italian or pole bean) was perhaps the biggest breakthrough in my quest to embrace this humble little pod. The flavor is essentially the same as the regular green bean but the texture sets it apart. Thick and meaty, these beans can stand up to cooking techniques that require more heat and time. I have yet to find them anywhere but at the farmers market in the summer and early fall.
2 medium all-purpose potatoes like Yukon gold, peeled and cubed into 1” pieces
1.25 lb. Romano beans, chopped into ½ inch pieces (4 cups)
4 Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
3 T olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 T chopped fresh basil and parsley
Salt & pepper
Juice of half a lemon
In a large pot, boil the potatoes in salted water for 10 minutes (While the potatoes boil, you can blanch the tomatoes in the same boiling water in order to remove the skins.)
To the same pot, add the chopped Romano beans in with the potatoes and boil another 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a separate skillet, cook the tomatoes in olive oil with the garlic on medium-low heat.
Once cooked, drain the potatoes and green beans and add to the skillet with the tomatoes, Turn the heat to high and sauté for 2 more minutes.
Remove from heat; add salt and pepper to taste along with the fresh herbs and lemon juice.
Preserve it: Buy extras when they are at the peak of season. Don’t wait too late in the season when they could be tougher with pronounced strings. That is, by the way, why they call them string beans—they have a string which had to be removed. Actually, most cultivars are bred stringless eliminating that little annoyance.
Blanch them a pound at a time. Bring a large pot with a tight fitting lid to a rolling boil. Meanwhile, prepare the beans by cutting them into 1 inch pieces. Add them to the boiling water and place the lid on the pot. Begin timing immediately—4 minutes. After 4 minutes, remove them from the water and submerge in ice water. Once cool, place them in freezer bags in portions that you would want to cook in. Remove as much air as possible and label. For the best quality, use within a year.
Store it: To keep green beans in the fridge for up to a week, don’t wash them until you are ready to use them. Place them in a paper bag. Place the paper bag in a plastic bag and finally place the bag in the warmest part of the fridge. Beans are prone to frost damage in a cold fridge.
Cooking with Kids: I use kitchen shears to snip off the green bean tops and tails. It’s much easier than snapping them. Snapping takes me back to memories from my childhood of sitting on the back picnic table snapping a shopping bag of beans when I’d rather be swimming. Kids can easily do this task and perhaps happily, if you give them scissors and limit it to a pound at a time. They can also use their scissors to chop the herbs. Other possible kid-friendly tasks in this recipe: Wash and squeeze the lemon juice. Crush and peel the garlic. I have them use a meat tenderizer and a plastic cutting board or the bottom-end of a thick plastic cup for this task. I have my 6 year old use a peeler to peel the potatoes. Anything that involves a real kitchen tool is okay with her. Take the time to show your little one how to do it safely.