Kerala Green Beans

Be it string beans, Chinese long beans or French haricot verts, the humble green bean is one winter vegetable that is universal throughout the world and prepared dozens of different ways. At first my only experiences eating green beans were either in a dry ”sabzi” or cooked vegetable dish (typically overcooked in India) or in a Chinese stir-fry. Years ago, for the first time, I ate the infamous green bean casserole during Thanksgiving; I barely recognized the green beans under the gloppy mushroom soup. Inspired from that low point, I learned to cook the beans just right. The key is to braise and steam at the same time so they stay bright green, crisp and succulent. At once I began to appreciate the simple flavors more and more. Of course the addition of spices, coconut and fresh kari leaves like with most foods, is transformative but also complimentary to the unassuming legume. Finishing with pomegranate seeds over the green beans as the literal “crowning glory” remains my favorite winter garnish. The seeds are not as hard to extract as you may think. A street vendor in India taught me a lesson or two with a spoon and a simple swift motion of his wrist, seeds from a huge pomegranate cascaded out.

makes ~3-4 servings

ingredients

1 pound green beans

3 Tbsp coconut oil

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp minced garlic

10-12 kari leaves, chopped

½ cup fresh grated coconut

1 serrano minced

Salt to taste

1 Tbsp pomegranate seeds

1 Tbsp fresh coconut for garnish

 

instructions

  1. Trim the stems off the green beans and if using long beans, cut them to around 5-6 inches in length. If using plain green beans, be sure to remove the ‘string’ from one side. Wash, drain and set aside.

  2. In a saucepan with a tight fitting lid, heat up the coconut oil. When the oil is hot and just shy of smoking, toss in the mustard seeds just until they pop and sizzle (usually 2-3 seconds). Add the kari leaves, minced garlic and fresh coconut and sauté on medium heat for another minute. Garlic and coconut both burn easily so watch the temperature carefully.

  3. Add the drained beans and using tongs or a wide spatula; toss them in until mixed completely. Turn the temperature to its lowest setting and cover the pan. Cook the beans 5-6 minutes or until they appear done. The color should be a bright green. It’s better to turn the heat off sooner than later, remember that the beans continue cooking even after the heat is turned off. Garnish with fresh grated coconut and pomegranate seeds.

ideas / variations

  • Cook the green beans in ghee instead of coconut oil.

  • Replace the kari leaves with kaffir lime or lemon grass

  • To grate a fresh coconut, using a hammer, bang it gently a few times on all sides to loosen the shell. Using the same hammer, crack it open and quickly pour the juice into a glass to enjoy afterwards. Remove the coconut using a blunt knife (oyster knives work really well). Without removing the soft brown skin, grate or chop finely.

  • To extract the seeds from a pomegranate, cut it in half with the cut side facing a large bowl, using the back of a serving spoon knock the seeds into the bowl with a continuous swift motion. Keep hitting the back of the pomegranate until almost all the seeds are out and pull the few left with your fingers.