The Green Bean Curry Argument

Okay, so Kevin and I used to really argue about green bean curry. The thing is, Kev’s from California, right? So he’s used to really great produce, and eating lots of salads and fresh veggies, so he thinks green beans should be cooked just ’til they’re al dente, nice and crisp and bright green.

And I am totally down with that when we’re making a salad, say, and I’m going to be tossing the green beans in with some roasted potatoes and a nice dressing and other deliciousness.

But dude. It is not the right approach for curry. Kev used to say that I was ‘cooking the green beans to death.’ He hasn’t said that in a long, long time.

(Now, I’m not sure if he’s actually changed his mind on this front or not — it may be that after thirty years together, Kev’s just learned not to say things like that about my cooking. He’s a smart man. You’d have to ask him.)

The thing is, if you just cook the green beans al dente, well, they taste like green beans. And that’s fine (especially if they’re in season and you have access to great green beans).

But if you sauté them for ten minutes with the seasoned onions, and then you simmer them in turmeric and salt and coconut milk, then the green beans pick up the fabulous flavor of the curry sauce. And yes, they’re not crispy anymore, and they’re not as bright green, and people, I am here to tell you that that is OKAY.

Do you demand that green beans in your soup be crispy? You do not. Think of green beans in curry like green beans in soup, and you’ll be just fine.

Now, there isn’t actually a green bean curry recipe in either Feast or Vegan Serendib, because it’s actually pretty much the EXACT SAME RECIPE as the carrot curry. It’s our standard Sri Lankan yellow curry with vegetables, so wherever it says carrots, you just substitute green beans.

Here, I’ll do it for you — but if you’re looking in one of my cookbooks, look up the carrot curry, and then sub in green beans (or whatever other vegetable you think would be nice in a yellow curry). In fact, half carrots and half green beans make a beautiful curry and is also delicious — that’s what I’d usually do for a dinner party.

I’ll note here that the green chilies are optional — I skip them if I’m cooking for young children, and it’s still yummy. The ginger and garlic is optional too, if you’re in a rush, but it will taste better if you use them (a cube of frozen ginger-garlic works great, if your grocery store carries it, as mine just started to!).


Sri Lankan Curried Green Beans
(20-25 minutes, serves 4-6)

3 medium onions, chopped
3 TBL vegetable oil
1 T ginger, minced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 Thai green chilies, chopped fine (optional)
1/2 tsp black mustard seed
1/2 tsp cumin seed
1 lb. green beans, ends trimmed, cut into bite-size pieces
1 rounded tsp salt
1/2 t. turmeric
1/2 – 1 c. coconut milk (can use milk instead, but be extra careful not to curdle)

1. Sauté onions in oil on high with mustard seed, cumin seed, and ginger until onions are golden. Add garlic, green beans, turmeric, and salt. Cook on medium-high, stirring frequently, until green beans are cooked through.

2. Stir in coconut milk and turn heat down to low; simmer until well-blended and flavorful, stirring frequently. Serve hot.

Tempered Potatoes

TEMPERED (cooked, mixed with seasoned onions): I used to be really confused when my mom referred to ‘tempered potatoes’ or other tempered dishes. In Western cooking, ‘tempering’ means to slowly bring up the temperature of a cold or room temperature ingredient, by adding small amounts of a hot or boiling liquid. Adding the hot liquid gradually prevents the cool ingredient from cooking or setting. In Western cooking, tempering typically refers to either chocolate or eggs.

In South Asian cuisine, tempering is a widely used cooking method; you heat spices in hot oil, and then add them to your dish at the end of cooking. The hot oil extracts the flavors of the spices and intensifies their effect. South Asian tempering is done either at the beginning of the cooking process or as a final flavoring at the end—or sometimes both! The ingredients are usually added in rapid succession, rarely together, with those requiring longer cooking added earlier and those requiring less cooking added later. For instance, you’d add black mustard seeds to the hot oil first and then later add chopped garlic, which could burn if added earlier.

You can use this method with a wide variety of spices, for a wide variety of vegetables; you can simply mix tempered onions with boiled potatoes, or add them to a simmered lentil curry. Tempering highlights flavors that have already cooked into the dish, adding a bright, fresh seasoning note.


Tempered Potatoes

(20 minutes, serves 4)

Simple, classic – my kids like this preparation.

3 russet potatoes, peeled
1 onion, sliced
3-4 cloves garlic , sliced
3 Tbsp. lime juice
1-2 tsp. dried red chili pieces
½ tsp. cayenne
¼ tsp. ground turmeric
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 ½ tsp. black mustard seed
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
1 dozen curry leaves
1 – 1 1/2 tsp. salt

1. Boil potatoes, drain, and cut into large chunks or small dice, as you prefer.

2. In a medium bowl, mix these ingredients: onion, garlic, lime juice, chili pieces, cayenne, turmeric, and salt.

3. Heat oil in a saucepan on medium-high heat; when oil is ready add mustard seeds and let it pop up (nearly 2-4 seconds). Then add cinnamon and curry leaves and let it fry for 1-2 minutes. Then add the onion mixture and stir to mix.

4. Turn heat to medium, and fry, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent-golden, about 10 minutes; be careful not to burn them. The mixture should be very aromatic by this stage.

5. Add potatoes into the onion mixture, mixing well, but don’t break the potatoes into small pieces. Stir for a minute or two until well blended; taste and add salt and/or lime juice as desired. Serve with rice or bread.

Sunday Night Crepe Bar Dinner

Sunday night dinner — Kavi had a friend joining us this time, which was new and fun. Tonight was crepe bar; her friend was a little bewildered by savory and sweet being on the table at the same time, but once we explained the protocol (do what you want, but most people do savory first, then sweet), they were fine with it. 🙂

Let Them Cook

You might think the potatoes are ready when they look like this, but you’d be wrong. That sauce is still too liquid. Give them a stir, put the lid back on, let them keep cooking.

11 seconds of bubbling.


Deviled Potatoes

On the podcast interview this morning, they asked me what was a good starting dish in Vegan Serendib — I said if you like spicy, you could start with deviled potatoes, which was one of the dishes I learned in college, as a very novice cook. It’s incredibly easy, but also incredibly yummy. I still find it addictive now, thirty years later, and Kevin loves it too.

And yes, it uses ketchup, because that’s what Amma used. If that offends you, you can take chopped tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, and salt, and cook those down until they’ve turned to ketchup, and then use that. 🙂


Deviled Potatoes

This was the first vegetable dish I learned to make, and I still find it addictive. It’s great with rice and another curry, but also works quite well mashed up as a party spread with triangles of toasted naan or pita. For a little more protein, you could add canned and drained chickpeas when you add the potatoes.

3 medium onions, chopped
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
¼ tsp. black mustard seed
¼ tsp. cumin seed
1-2 Tbsp. (or more to taste) cayenne
3 medium russet potatoes, cubed
3 Tbsp. ketchup
1 rounded tsp. salt
½ cup coconut milk, optional

1. Sauté onions in oil on high with mustard seed and cumin seeds until onions are golden / translucent (not brown). Add cayenne and cook 1 minute. Immediately add potatoes, ketchup, and salt.

2. Lower heat to medium and add enough water so the potatoes don’t burn (enough to cover usually works well). Cover and cook, stirring periodically, until potatoes are cooked through, about 20 minutes.

3. Remove lid and simmer off any excess water; the resulting curry sauce should be fairly thick, so that the potatoes are coated with sauce, rather than swimming in liquid. Add coconut milk, if desired, to thicken sauce and mellow spice level; stir until well blended. Serve hot.

Great Breakfast or Late-Night Snack

Stirring in two cups of leftover rice. 41 seconds.

It would be easier and faster doing this if I weren’t trying to record video with my other hand! Lesson learned!

(If you’re vegetarian rather than vegan, consider cracking an egg into about a quarter of this for the last minute of stirring. Makes a great breakfast or late-night snack!)


Toasting Urad Dal

Toasting urad dal (black lentils), black mustard seed, fennel seed, dried red chilies, and curry leaves. 25 seconds.

(Apologies that the videos are pretty shaky tonight — this was such a quick recipe (5 minutes or so), I didn’t want to drag one of my family members down to take video for me, but I forgot that if I’m stirring with one hand, I’m pretty much incapable of holding the phone stable with the other. Maybe it’s time to dig out the tripod…)


Tamarind Rice with Black Lentils With Leftover Rice

Do you have boring old leftover rice? Are you in the mood for a spicy, tangy, flavor EXPLOSION??? This is the recipe for you. 🙂 (You can skip or reduce the cayenne and dried red chilies if spicy is not your favorite thing.)


Tamarind Rice with Black Lentils

(10 minutes, serves 4)

Ever since I had children, I’ve become a little more focused on trying to get some protein into every meal, if possible. Lentils are protein powerhouses, and these lentils don’t even require any soaking or boiling in advance — they just fry for a few minutes, and end up as crunchy little bites mixed in with the tangy tamarind rice. This rice is delicious with fried plantains, but to be honest, I often just eat it straight up, right out of the pot.

You can make fresh rice for this, but it’s also a terrific way to revive day-old rice!

2 c. cooked rice
2 T vegetable oil
1 T urad dal (black lentil)
1/2 t. black mustard seed
1/2 t. fennel seed
4 dried red chilies
1 stalk (about a dozen) fresh curry leaves
1 T cayenne
1 t. ground jaggery or brown sugar
1 t. salt
1/2 t. ground turmeric
6 T tamarind juice (1 T tamarind paste dissolved in 5 T hot water)

NOTE: This recipe moves quickly, and it’s worth having all the ingredients prepped in advance. You can measure out the whole spices into one container, and the ground spices into another, and dissolve the tamarind paste in advance.

1. Heat oil on medium-high and sauté lentil, mustard seed, cumin seed, dried chilies, curry leaves for two minutes, stirring constantly — be careful not to burn.

2. Stir in ground spices, then add tamarind juice. Bring to a boil and let simmer a few minutes, until thickened.

3. Remove from heat and stir in rice, mixing until well-blended. Serve hot!