Monday, September 1, 2014

Cooking at Wilch Hall #2: Indian Green Beans with Harry

You can only imagine how happy I was when Harry said that he wanted some spices to bring back to school, and some quick cooking lessons so that he would know what to do when he settled in at Wilch Hall. In some families, male bonding consists in going out to the wilds together and firing guns at birds and mammals.  In others, it is going to ball games.  For us, it is eating lunch at an Indian restaurant and shopping for spices together at Foods of India and Kalustyan's my two favorite stores in Curry Hill in Manhattan.  Then, that evening, under my guidance, Harry made chicken shawarma (no recipe necessary:  just dredge chicken cutlets in shawarma spice mix and saute in a little oil until done), cabbage salad with zaatar , a simple tahini sauce, and these not so simple green beans.  The green beans were an instantiation of the general method for cooking vegetables, Indian-style, which was my first installment on cooking in Wilch Hall.  This recipe is a concrete illustration of how it can be done.  No excess verbiage here (at least not too much),  no choices and options, just the facts:

Harry's Indian Green Beans


  • 1.5 pounds fresh green beans, washed
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • salt
  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • dash of cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup water
  • juice 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander (wash it well please, it can be sandy)
  • sprinkling (about 1/4 teaspoon) of garam masala, if available;  if not use a little black pepper
  1. Trim the green beans: you can either snap off the stem ends individually, which involves less waste, or stack them in piles of 10 or so beans and cut off each end of the stack.  This goes more quickly, but involves more waste.  Cut the beans in half.
  2. Heat the oil on high in a large skillet for about 30 seconds, and add the whole cumin seeds.  
  3. Cook the cumin seeds on high  until they start to change color, but be careful not to  burn.  Add the turmeric and stir in.
  4. Immediately add the onions, salt lightly, and cook for about 5 minutes on high until soft. Add the garlic and ginger and cook another few minutes until the aroma changes.
  5. Turn the heat down to medium low and add the ground coriander and cumin.  Cook for about 3 minutes stirring occasionally until the spices lose their raw aroma.  
  6. Add the green beans, turn heat back up to high, sprinkle with a little more salt, and stir and fry for 3-5 minutes until the beans look glossy.
  7. Cover the skillet and cook for 5-10 more minutes until done to taste.  (Indian spiced veggies are often overcooked by contemporary American Northeastern and California standards.  They are practically raw by Southern standards.)
  8. Uncover, boil off most of the remaining liquid, and then add the final seasonings:  lemon, coriander and garam masala.
  9. Enjoy!  Serves about 5 with other dishes, and is good hot, cold or room temperature.

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