It's turning to Fall weather up here in Sonoma. While we still have sunny afternoons, mornings are chilly in the mid 40s, the squirrels are running around like lunatics burying acorns for the winter and our decks are piled with oak leaves. Project Food Blog is starting, I still have to get the "improvements" Patsy made to my shoes corrected, and here I am still writing about my multi-course Kerala dinner.
In planning this feast I tried to get dishes that would work well together, make the correct blend of hot and cool, wet and dry, tart and sweet. Also I was working with what is in season. The buttermilk sambar I was planning on serving, needed a companion piece to balance it. Turns out the perfect fit for that sambar would be a green bean poriyal.
Luckily (well maybe not so lucky since I was planning this shindig) one of the vegetables that's all over the place up here at this time of year are green beans. There are piles of them everywhere at the farmers markets. Everything from skinny little French beans, to Blue Lake, to Italian, to wax to cranberry. Everything except the bean I was craving, and that was Chinese Long Beans.
Back when I lived in LA, I could throw a rock and find half a dozen places that sold Long Beans. Up here in Sonoma if I threw a rock I'd just break a window. No Long Beans anywhere in town, no way no how. I decided since I needed to run a bunch of errands up in Santa Rosa, I'd give the Thailao Market a shot. I've always been able to find a lot of what I need there even though it can be hit or miss. They seem to deal with a lot of small truck farmers who bring in all sorts of exotic stuff and I was hoping someone had dropped off a box of the Long Green. So I was off on the 50 mile round trip top Santa Rosa.
They keep their boxes of fresh produce right near the door and the minute I walked it I was delighted.
When I was planning the Kerala Dinner, I was planning on things I could prep and/or cook ahead, and the great thing about a poriyal is that it's perfect for that. Poriyal is a Tamil word for a vegetable dish. It's quickly stir fried with a spice paste, usually after pre-cooking or steaming the vegetables. It's most often made with green, beans but other vegetables can be used also. The masala or spice mix is ground in the food processor and the beans are quickly steam cooked, the spice paste is added at the end and bang! You're ready to serve. Once this dish is prepped, (which can be done hours or the day before) it cooks in 30 minutes.
What's not to like about something this tasty and cheap to fix that cooks up in a half hour? I cook a lot of poriyals as I find they're a really easy addition to our lunch menu, especially if Alan is grilling something. This particular one is my adaptation of a recipe I first got from Dakshin: Vegetarian Cuisine From South India, once you've made a poriyal there are as many variations as there are vegetables to put in them.
Here's how to do this one:
Green Bean Poriyal
Since I was working with long beans I had one extra task, cutting the long beans. This can be a zen exercise, or if one has a sister-in-law, or several sister-in-laws it can be gossipy good fun. My sister-in- law told me that in India that's how they do it, so when she comes to visit, that's how we do it. However when I'm alone, it's more of a navel gazing exercise. I put on some relaxing music via Pandora and get chopping.
Once the beans are chopped, set them aside. If you're going to use them later, just pop them back in the fridge.
Now to Part 2, The Masala.
This is the spice blend the beans are going to be cooked with, and a masala blend for a poriyal usually has some uncooked dal in it.
Here's how to make this particular blend.
In a cast iron pan heat 4 tsp of vegetable oil. (I use Tropical Traditions Coconut Oil)
When the oil is hot toss in:
6 Tbs of channa dal
2 Tbs of urad dal
4 Tbs of coriander seeds
8 dried red chilies
Stir fry everything for about 5 minutes, then take the contents of the pan and put them into a food processor or blender.
8 Tbs grated dried coconut
2 small round balls of tamarind pulp (I buy blocks of fresh seeded tamarind at Thailao; otherwise take the seeds out and just put in the pulp. Pureeed tamarind can also be used. I'd recommend about 2 tsps.)
A little water to keep things smooth
Salt to taste.
Grind everything up until you have a smooth paste. You may need to add a bit more or less water.
Set the paste aside.
Now these are the two parts of the dish. Done, fini! Once this part is complete you can relax until it's time to cook, and as I said, that part only takes about 30 minutes. I call it
The Last Step
Here's how this snappy bean dish comes together.
In a large skillet or kadhai, add about 1 and 1/2 lbs of green beans, a little bit of water and a pinch of salt. All you need is enough water to keep the beans from sticking. You don't want too much or you will get soggy beans.
Cook the beans on a low heat until they're just tender. Since they're chopped up, it takes about 15 minutes or so.
Once the beans are cooked through, put them into a bowl and set them aside. Keep what water is left in the pan because we're going to use that.
Almost every Indian dish gets a tempering as part of the final step, A dash of spices, curry leaves, what have you. It 's sort of the exclamation point at the end of the bean poriyal sentence.
Into the pan you've cooked the beans in add:
2 Tbs of vegetable oil
2 tsp brown mustard seeds
2 tsp raw chana dal
2 tsp of urad dal
2 dried red chilies broken in half
2 tsp of cumin seeds
A few curry leaves
When the mustard seeds start to pop add in the ground Masala Paste. Stir fry it on a low heat until it gets nice and dry and starts to crisp, this should take about 8 minutes or so.
Finally put the beans back into the pan and stir it all together until everything is mixed and the flavors have blended.
These beans go great with the Buttermilk Sambar Recipe. This dish is also great as a spicy and different addition to any western meal.
So this completes the Kerala Dinner menu. I served chai with homemade Orange flower and pistachio ice cream for dessert. If anyone wants the recipe for that, let me know and I'll post it.
Believe it or not, Sonoma has a very large Nepalese population and this weekend is the annual Katmandu Festival here in town. I will be hitting that event this afternoon and there will be stories to tell I'm sure.
Meanwhile, as to Project Food Blogger , my first entry is due this week. I must look deep into my soul and figure out why I blog. Stay tuned for the answer.