I first met Chitra about 5 or 6 years ago at a potluck and we quickly became close friends through a mutual love of cooking. We banded together a few years ago and started Tangra, a Chinese-Indian vegetarian supper club using local, seasonal produce, our version of Chinese-Indian fusion in which each dish had both a Chinese element and Indian element. It was during those days of wild experimentation and creating menus for our 7-course dinners that I first learned from her how to temper spices and how to put together simple South Indian dishes, which is much lesser known in the US than North Indian food.
South Indian cooking is the subject of Vibrant India, and the book is full of salads, rice and lentil dishes, and other light but incredibly flavorful vegetarian fare. To make the green bean and coconut stir-fry, I took a quick trip to the Patel Brothers in Sunset Park to pick up a few provisions I didn't have on hand or needed more of, such as sambar powder, fresh curry leaves, and frozen grated coconut (though you can also use fresh or dry coconut too.)
One ingredient that may be difficult to find is asafetida (hing), a pungent and earthy powder from the sap of a plant similar to fennel and is used to aid digestion. I love the smell of asafetida, which has the aroma of fried onion and garlic when added to oil, though some people may find it very funky at first. If you can't find it, you can just substitute a bit of minced garlic, onion, or leeks. This stir-fry came out great, very light, lemony, and fragrant with coconut and spices. I'm definitely looking forward to trying it with fiddlehead ferns once they're at the farmers markets, like Chitra suggests.
Oh, and I'm also doing a giveaway for a copy of Vibrant India! Leave a comment below from now until Wednesday, May 26th about what produce you love to cook with in the springtime. On May 27th I'll choose a name at random and contact the winner.
Green Bean and Coconut Stir-fry
Serves 4 as part of a multi-course meal
- 1/4 cup unsweetened grated coconut (fresh, frozen, or dried)
- 1 tablespoon mild-flavored cooking oil such as vegetable, canola, or grapeseed oil
- 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 1 pinch asafetida (hing), or substitute 1 teaspoon minced garlic or 2 tablespoons minced onion or leek
- 4 or 5 fresh curry leaves
- 1 dried red chili, cut in half
- 1 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch long pieces
- 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sambar powder
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- In a small bowl, thaw the frozen coconut or add a bit of hot water to dried coconut to plump it up.
- Heat a wok or large skillet over medium heat and add the vegetable oil. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add one black mustard seed. Once the seed sizzle and pops, add the remaining black mustard seeds and the asafetida. You may need to have a lid handy to cover the pan in case the mustards seeds pop. When the popping subsides, reduce the heat to medium-low. Rub the curry leaves with your fingers to release the natural oils, then add them to the pan along with the dried red chili. Cover the pan for a few seconds in case the curry leaves cause the oil to splatter. Remove the lid and stir everything for a few seconds.
- Add the green beans, turmeric, and salt to the pan and stir-fry for a minute over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low again, add a couple tablespoons of water, and cook the beans for 2 minutes. Stir in the sambar powder and stir. Add the coconut and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes, until the beans are tender and cooked through. Stir in the lemon juice, transfer to a plate, and serve.