1 tablespoon canola or other neutral cooking oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
A pinch of asafoetida (see Notes)
5-6 fresh curry leaves (see Notes)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1-2 small hot green chiles to taste, trimmed and split lengthwise (see Notes)
1 pound green beans, trimmed and sliced diagonally into thin fingernail-sized pieces
1/2 cup raw, unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt (plus a pinch more if needed, to taste)
1. Choose a very large skillet or large pan, with a lid. Warm the pan over medium-high heat and add the oil. When oil is hot, add the mustard seeds and cover the pan. The seeds will begin to pop vigorously. Shake the pan periodically as they do, so they don't burn. This will all take just about 1 minute.
2. When the popping has subsided, remove the lid and stir in the chile, curry leaves, turmeric and asafoetida for about 10 seconds. Stir in the green chiles and salt and turn the heat to medium-low. Stir in 1/4 cup of water and cover. Steam the beans in the pan for about 7-8 minutes, until tender and cooked through.
3. When beans are cooked, stir in the coconut, allowing it to take on a slightly golden color from the turmeric. When the coconut is well incorporated, taste and add a pinch more salt if needed.
This recipe comes from my friend Bhavani, who is an amazing cook. I was working on a fundraising cookbook for my daughter’s elementary school, and we needed a vegetable dish to go with Kerala Chicken Curry. Bhavani called me up and off the top of her head said, “I’d make something like this.” And so, this dish was born.
Asafoetida is a very strong-smelling Indian spice. Don’t be put off by it - you just use a pinch of it, and it gives the dish an unmistakable Indian flavor. You’ll need to visit an Indian market to find it. There’s not really any substitute for it, so if you can't find it, just leave it out.
Fresh curry leaves are another ingredient you’ll probably need to get at an Indian market. They’ve got a very distinct flavor, so again, there’s not really a substitute if you can’t find them. If you make the dish without them, you’ll have a very nice green bean dish but it will be missing its characteristic flavor.
The chiles to use for this are about the size of your pinky finger, and hot. They may be labeled "Asian hot chiles" or "green Thai chiles" in some stores. If you can't find them, you can substitute a serrano or jalapeno chile, sliced lengthwise into quarters (serrano) or sixths (jalapenos), to be about the same size and shape.
Instead of making this dish with all green beans, Bhavani suggested another fun option would be to make the dish in the colors of the Indian flag, with equal parts green beans, white cabbage and carrots. If you do this, slice the carrots thinly on the bias and begin cooking them a minute or two before adding the green beans and cabbage (since they take longer to cook).
Thank you to Bhavani Balasubramanian for the original version of this recipe.