Side dishes


South Indian green beans with coconut

My South Indian friend, Thiru, is renowned for his lavish weekend brunches, when he cooks up a large variety of traditional dishes that he learnt from his mother: spongy white rice cakes known as ‘idli’, accompanied by ‘sambhar’, a spicy lentil and vegetable gravy, along with the popular rice and lentil pancakes called ‘dosa’ and a plethora of green and red chutneys, pickles and dips. He often puts vividly coloured, quickly cooked vegetable dishes on the table, too – this being one of them.

I spent a recent weekend morning watching Thiru speedily whip up all these dishes, and wrote down the recipe for green beans exactly as he dictated it. My friend tells me that it can be made from other vegetables, too, such as green cabbage, carrots, beetroot (beets), green bananas, or other varieties of green beans like runner beans. In fact, I’ve tried a version of this dish in upmarket Indian restaurants in the UK made from asparagus, which I’m going to have a go at cooking next.

If you don’t have a well-stocked Indian larder, a trip to an Indian grocer will be necessary – or at least a visit to the ‘ethnic’ section of a large supermarket. Yes, the mustard seeds need to be black, not the more commonly found yellow, and the mild red chillies could be ones labelled as ‘Kashmiri’. Lentils are often used in South Indian cooking as a spice. If you can’t find urid dal – which is a type of white lentil with a distinctively nutty, ever so slightly smoky taste – then use ordinary red lentils. They’re there to provide crunch and texture, so it doesn’t really matter which type of lentil you use.

If you can’t get hold of fresh curry leaves and fresh coconut – both of which are also available frozen in Asian grocers – it’s not really worth attempting this recipe. Well, you can reconstitute dried desiccated coconut in boiling water before use, but the dish won’t taste as it’s meant to. Asafoetida is a type of powdered resin with a strong, pungent aroma (which mellows after cooking, giving the dish a distinctive taste), so it should be used sparingly.

I was a bit hesitant about posting this recipe, as it requires so many specialist ingredients. But I don’t believe in adapting recipes to suit western kitchens – it’s patronising and, after all, speciality ingredients are widely available in most large cities if you know where to find them. (If you don’t, ask members of the particular community whose recipe you’re cooking, and they will be more than happy to advise you). Besides, I would be assuming that all my readers live in western countries, which is not the case – one of the best things about having a blog, especially a global recipe blog such as this, is that you have readers from around the world!

This dish doesn’t have a sauce or gravy, and it needs to be cooked quickly (especially steps 2 to 5) to prevent burning. Don’t be daunted though – it’s light, refreshing, nutritious, flavour-packed, and easy to cook.

Serve the green beans with plain rice, plain yoghurt, poppadams and an Indian ginger pickle. The dish won’t keep long because of the fresh coconut, so leftovers would be delicious stuffed in warmed pita breads or toasted sandwiches, or turned into half-moon shaped pasties made from ready-rolled puff pastry. Serves 4.

1 lb/ 500g fresh fine green beans
4 tablespoons corn or sunflower oil
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
Dried large, mild whole red chillies, to taste
1 tablespoon urid dal (or red lentils)
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
8 – 10 fresh curry leaves
¼ teaspoon asafoetida
Salt
2 oz/ 50g finely grated fresh coconut
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
A squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice (optional)

1.    Trim the green beans at both ends. Either leave them whole, cut them in half, or chop them small. If you leave them whole or halve them, steam the beans for 3 to 4 minutes until tender but still crisp. (You won’t need to follow this step if you chop them small, as South Indians do, as they will cook quickly).
2.    Heat the oil in a frying pan. When very hot but not smoking, add the mustard seeds and remove from the heat immediately. Cover the pan with a lid and let the mustard seeds pop. They should become dark grey, but must not burn.
3.    Once the mustard seeds have stopped making the popping noise, place the pan back on the heat, and immediately add the dried chillies and urid dal. Stir once or twice.
4.    When the chillies turn a couple of shades darker and the urid dal starts turning pinkish-brown, add the sesame seeds and curry leaves. Stir again.
5.    Finally, when the curry leaves become crisp and turn a shade or two darker, and the sesame seeds start turning pale brown, remove the pan from the heat, and add the asafoetida. Let everything sizzle for just a few seconds.
6.    Place the pan back on heat, immediately add the green beans and coat them evenly in the spice mixture. Add the salt, and let them cook with the lid on until the beans are tender but have still retained their bright green colour.
7.    Top the cooked beans with coconut and coriander, and stir a couple of times. Add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice if you wish. Remove the red chillies and curry leaves before serving – or let your guests fish them out from their own plates, as South Indians do – and eat immediately.

Chinese stir-fried asparagus with black bean and sesame sauce

I adore asparagus. During its all-too-brief season, I put it in pastas, risottos, soups, quiches and salads. So, being a globalveggie, I started thinking about asparagus recipes that are ‘ethnic’, spicy, or just a bit different from the usual tried-and-tested, run of the mill stuff.

Then I remembered a traditional recipe once described by my Chinese friend Jasper Lee, in which tender, leaf-green asparagus is simply stir-fried with black beans and sesame and eaten with mounds of warm, fluffy, slightly sticky rice. I tried it – adapted it a little – and instantly fell in love with it. Here is the recipe.

Preserved black soy beans in brine are available in jars in Chinese supermarkets. I prefer the dried preserved version, flavoured with ginger, which comes in terracotta or stone jars. Whichever type of preserved beans you buy, you may want to rinse them to remove their saltiness before use. The beans have earthy, slightly gritty, flavour and texture that adds substance and body to the still-tender but often chunky late season asparagus.

Chilli bean sauce is a common ingredient in Chinese cookery, and is made from the usual yellow soy beans combined with fiery red chillies. Serve this stir-fry with plain steamed rice and a tofu dish, or simply perched on top of egg-fried rice.
Serves 2.

1 lb/ 500g asparagus
1 tablespoon groundnut (peanut) oil
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely grated
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons preserved black beans, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon chilli bean sauce
5 fl oz/ 150 ml light vegetable stock (instant is fine)
¼ teaspoon white sugar
4 tablespoons Chinese rice wine
1 tablespoon dark toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds, lightly toasted in a small saucepan
A pinch of salt (optional)

1.    Trim the asparagus, cutting off the tough ends of the stalk at the bottom. Slice the asparagus diagonally into 3-inch lengths.
2.    Heat a wok on high heat until it is hot. Add the oil. When the oil is hot – which will only take a few seconds – add the ginger, garlic and black beans, and stir-fry quickly for a few seconds. The aromatics should turn a couple of shades darker, but must not turn brown or burn.
3.    Add the chilli bean sauce, followed by the asparagus a few seconds later. Stir-fry quickly and continuously for about 2 minutes until the asparagus is nearly tender.
4.    Add the stock, sugar and rice wine. Cook on high heat for 2 more minutes, stir-frying continuously.
5.    Add the sesame oil and sesame seeds. Stir thoroughly, and adjust the seasoning, adding a little salt if necessary. Serve immediately.

Flageolets with green and yellow beans and spring onion butter

This is a contemporary take on the traditional French dish, haricots panaches, in which equal amounts of flageolets and green beans are combined and served with roasted or grilled lamb. You can eat this version as a first course, side dish, or for a light lunch – accompanied by some bread, if you like.

Flageolet beans have a pretty pistachio-green colour, and a delicate, refined flavour that is less earthy and mealy than other types of beans. Combined with vivacious, grassy, fresh bright green and yellow beans, this dish tastes luxurious, while at the same time looking like it’s been plucked from the French countryside.

Yellow wax beans, little bundles of summer savoury, and fresh, tender spring garlic with papery skin that’s tinged with green and lilac are all seasonal ingredients that are available in farmers markets, or even supermarkets these days.

This dish tastes lovely as it is, but you can liven it up by adding a splash of lemon juice and finely grated lemon zest and/ or some Dijon mustard to either the beans or the butter. Another variation to the spring onion butter is butter flavoured with chives and chive flowers. Any leftovers can be eaten as a salad, and would be ideal for picnics. Serves 4.

8 oz/ 200g dried green flageolet beans
Water
2 bay leaves
A large sprig of summer savoury or thyme
2 medium spring onions, trimmed and very finely chopped
4 oz/ 100g unsalted butter at room temperature
Fine ground sea salt (ideally French fleur de sel)
Freshly ground white pepper
6 oz/ 150g fine green French beans, stringed and left whole
6 oz/ 150g yellow wax beans, stringed and left whole
2 cloves fresh spring garlic, peeled and very finely chopped
Salt and pepper

1.    Soak the flageolets for 8 hours or overnight in plenty of cold water. Drain and rinse. Place the beans in a saucepan with water, bay leaves and summer savoury, and bring to the boil. (Do not add salt, otherwise the beans won’t cook properly). Reduce the heat to low, and cook for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the beans are tender but have still retained their shape. Drain, leaving aside 2 tablespoons of the cooking liquid, and discard the herbs.
2.    To make spring onion butter, combine the chopped onions with butter, sea salt and ground white pepper. The butter will be flecked with an attractive emerald green colour. Refrigerate for around 30 minutes until firm.
3.    Steam the green and yellow beans in separate compartments of a steamer for about 7 minutes until they are tender but still retain some bite. Drain thoroughly.
4.    In a frying pan, combine the cooked flageolets with the 2 tablespoons reserved cooking liquid, garlic, and salt and pepper. Cook over gentle heat for a minute, stirring from time to time. Add the cooked green and yellow beans and mix well. Keep the bean mixture on very low heat.
5.    Set aside a cube of spring onion butter (about a tablespoon), and add the remaining butter to the pan of beans about 2 tablespoons at a time, heating just until the butter is absorbed. The beans will take on a shiny gloss. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
6.    Transfer the beans to a serving dish, and place the cube of butter that you have set aside on the top. Toss before serving.

Kashmiri morel mushroom pilau

Morel is the only mushroom to eat at this time of the year – but I’m surprised how little-known and difficult to obtain this fine delicacy is in the UK. You should be able to find morels in well-stocked delis, good health food shops and large supermarkets.

I love their honeycomb-patterned, tulip bud-like shape. What I love even more, however, is that Kashmiris refer to them as ‘gucchi’ – making their traditional ‘gucchi pilau’ sound like a designer rice dish. Suffused with saffron soaked in flower essence and studded with spices (all of which are available in Indian grocers, large supermarkets and specialist spice shops), it is indeed an exotic and aromatic dish.

Serve with plain yoghurt, raita, or a few spoonfuls of my Kashmiri Spiced Spring Greens – the recipe for which I posted on 25th March 2009. The pilau is also grand enough to eat all on its own. Serves 4 to 6.

12 oz/ 300g white basmati rice
3 oz/ 75g almonds
¼ teaspoon saffron strands
1 teaspoon pure screwpine essence (or 1 tablespoon rosewater, orange flower water, or jasmine flower water – they will all give their own distinct taste)
4 oz/ 100g dried or 6 oz/ 150g fresh morel mushrooms
3 oz/ 75g clarified (or unsalted) butter
4 black cardamoms, lightly crushed in their pods
6 green cardamoms, lightly crushed in their pods
3-inch piece cinnamon, broken into 2 or 3 pieces
6 cloves
3 dried bay leaves
A small pinch of asafoetida
1 teaspoon dried ginger powder
Salt
1 ¼ pint/ ¾ litres cold water
1 teaspoon garam masala
Fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves

1.    Wash the rice in several changes of cold water until the water runs clear. Soak the rice in just enough water to cover it, and set aside.
2.    Steep the almonds in boiling water from a kettle for 10 – 15 minutes. Drain, cool a little, remove the skins from the almonds and slice them vertically.
3.    Crush the saffron strands in a mortar, and soak in 1 teaspoon flower essence or 1 tablespoon flower water, as available. Set aside.
4.    Wipe the mushrooms with a damp cloth, but do not wash as they will lose their flavour. Halve them lengthways.
5.    Heat the butter in a wide heavy-bottomed saucepan, taking care not to burn it. Add the whole spices and bay leaves. Stir for a few minutes until they turn a shade darker and start to perfume your kitchen.
6.    Add the asafoetida and let it sizzle for just a few seconds.
7.    Add the prepared mushrooms and almonds, and sauté for a couple of minutes until the nuts begin to brown.
8.    Drain the rice thoroughly and add it to the mushroom mixture. Sauté for a few minutes until the grains of rice become shiny.
9.    Add the powdered ginger, the saffron mixture, and salt. Add the cold water and bring the rice to the boil. Then lower the heat, cover with a lid, and let it cook undisturbed for 20 minutes.
10.    Check to see whether the rice is cooked by pressing a couple of grains between your fingers. Remove from heat and set aside, keeping the lid on. Do not disturb the rice.
11.    Sprinkle the rice with garam masala and coriander leaves. Remove the whole spices before serving, or allow your guests to fish them out individually on their own plates.

persian-broad-bean-pilaf

Regular readers must be getting bored of my enthusiastic – and prolonged – welcome to this cherry blossom season, with recipe after recipe showcasing greens, asparagus, broad beans (and in forthcoming weeks, also peas, artichokes and other seasonal vegetables) on this site. But it still feels like such a novelty after the freezing winter we’ve had in the UK for so long, and the cooking really is different this time of the year. It’s lighter, more fun and frivolous, more visual, and more colour-oriented.

I’ve been meaning to share this great-tasting recipe ever since I started this blog last autumn, but I was just waiting for the right weather: this dish just doesn’t taste the same any other time of the year. It’s the vivid orange and green colours, the lively ingredients, and the simple, fuss-free flavours that make this easy-to-prepare rice such a quintessentially springtime dish.

You can serve the rice as an accompaniment – but when it tastes so good, why let it share the limelight with another dish? Serves 4.

8 oz/ 200g white Iranian or Indian basmati rice
10oz/ 250g fresh broad beans (or mixture of broad beans, peas and runner beans)
Salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 oz/ 50g butter
1 large onion, trimmed, peeled and finely sliced
½ teaspoon powdered saffron

Optional garnish 1 (herb omelette):
1 large organic free range egg
1 heaped tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill, tarragon, or mint – or a mixture
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

OR

Optional garnish 2 (herbed yoghurt):
8 tablespoons thick creamy yoghurt
1 heaped tablespoon fresh dill sprigs, roughly torn
Salt and pepper

1.    Wash and rinse the rice until the water runs clear. Soak it for half an hour or so in barely enough water to cover it.
2.    Then add a little more water to the rice – enough to cover it up to an inch. Add salt. Cook the rice for 20 minutes until tender. This is the absorption method, and for best results the rice must not be disturbed whilst cooking. Keeping the lid on, set the cooked rice aside for 10 minutes.
3.    Then remove the lid, place the container of rice in a bowl of iced water, and let it cool thoroughly – the longer you leave the rice to cool, the better will be the texture of this recipe. Hours, rather than minutes, is what I am suggesting. . (Alternatively, use 1lb/ 500g cooked leftover rice!).
4.    Meanwhile, shell and steam the broad beans (and other vegetables, if using) for about 5 minutes until tender. (Check by crushing a couple of beans between your fingers). Cool the beans a little, and skin them if you have the time.
5.    When ready to cook, heat the oil and butter together in a saucepan, and sauté the onion for a few minutes until lightly browned. Add the cooled rice, saffron, and more salt if needed. Stir gently so that the grains of rice don’t break or go mushy.
6.    Add the cooked broad beans. (Also add cooked peas and sliced runner beans if using). Adjust the seasoning.
7.    For optional garnish 1: Beat together the egg with the herbs and seasoning. Heat the oil in a small frying pan and make an omelette. Let the omelette cool a little, then roll it up tightly and finely shred. For optional garnish 2: Mix together the yoghurt with dill and seasoning.
8.    Serve the rice hot with either one of the garnishes. Although the garnishes are optional, they enhance this dish and bring out its flavour to full effect.

thai-vegetable-salad

This recipe is for Thai ‘dry yam’ – a type of strongly flavoured dish that’s a cross between a salad and a relish. There are dozens of regional variations all over Thailand. This recipe is pretty flexible, and you can increase or reduce the quantity – providing you roughly keep to the suggested ratio of vegetables and dressing.

You may use any vegetables you like, and either cook them or leave them raw – or combine both. Two or more of the following would be good: oriental broccoli (gai lan), fresh or (reconstituted) dried mushrooms (ideally oyster, enoki, or shiitake), baby corn, baby pak choi, white or red cabbage, water chestnuts, bamboo shots, beansprouts, carrots, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, spring onions (scallions), wing beans, ‘yard long’ beans, Thai ‘pea’ aubergines (eggplants), and so on.

You can add fruit, too, if you wish: pineapple, star fruit and pomelo go particularly well with the spicy dressing.

This salad is very strongly flavoured, and is meant to be eaten as part of a meal – not on its own – accompanied by other dishes, such as plain jasmine rice, a tofu dish, a curry or a stir-fry, and a soup. Alternatively, you may serve small quantities with alcoholic drinks, particularly spirits, as Thais do. Just place miniature quantities of the salad in small individual dipping plates, egg cups, or paper cones, and give everyone a small spoon or pastry fork to eat.

If you’re eating the salad as part of a meal, leave the vegetables chunky; or chop them very small if you’re serving it with drinks.

Add chillies according to taste. I like using 2 or 3 birdseye chillies in this recipe, but if you’re not used to spicy food, start with a quarter or half a chilli (birdseye chillies are very, very hot). You may deseed them if you wish. In Thailand, around half a dozen or more chillies would be used in this recipe. Serves 2 as part of meal, or up to 6 as accompaniment to drinks.

For the dressing:
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
Fresh red or green birdseye chillies, to taste
1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons light soy sauce
Salt and pepper

For the salad:
8 oz/ 200g mixed vegetables (see note above)

To serve:
A few lettuce leaves
1 tablespoon peanuts
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
2 shallots (preferably red or banana shallots), peeled and finely sliced into rings
Fresh coriander, or Thai green or red holy basil leaves for garnish

1.    Start by making the dressing. Pound the garlic and chilli in a mortar or spice grinder. Mix in the sugar, lemon juice, soy sauce, and seasoning. Try some of the dressing, and adjust it according to your taste – for instance, some people may prefer a little more sugar. You can thin down the dressing with a little groundnut (peanut) oil if you wish.
2.    Prepare the vegetables: trim, peel, slice or dice the raw vegetables, and lightly steam the ones you want cooked. Mix all the vegetables well and set aside.
3.    Dry roast the peanuts and the sesame seeds separately in a small frying pan. Let them cool a little, then crush coarsely in a mortar or spice grinder.
4.    When you are ready to serve, line a serving platter with the lettuce leaves. Pile in the salad in the centre. Pour over the dressing. Sprinkle with crushed peanuts and sesame seeds. Top with shallot rings, and garnish with coriander or basil leaves. Mix gently at the table before serving.

pickled-black-beans-with-rice

This is the traditional Peruvian dish, frijoles negros escabechados: spiced black beans marinated in red wine vinegar. The black beans to use here are black turtle beans. Chinese black soy beans, Japanese black aduki beans, or Indian black urad beans are not really suitable for this recipe.

Black turtle beans have only been available in the UK for the past few years and, sadly, they are under-utilised. This is a shame because they have a sweet, floury earthiness that makes them very versatile.

I don’t normally like the combination of sweet and sour flavours, but I really enjoy the sweet, tart and deeply savoury tastes in this recipe. So much so that I always try to sneak this dish into the menu whenever I’m cooking Latin American food.

Serve the beans at room temperature with plain, steamed white rice, as Peruvians do. Alternatively, they are excellent as a salad or side dish, served on a bed of shredded lettuce and accompanied by avocado slices. Serves 4 to 6.

6 oz/ 150g black turtle beans, soaked overnight, or for several hours
4 oz/ 100g raisins
¼ pint/ 150 ml red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons corn oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon red chilli flakes (or to taste)
2 large onions, trimmed, peeled and finely sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
Salt and pepper
4 oz/ 100g pitted black olives
2 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and quartered

To serve:
Cooked white long-grain rice

OR

Shredded lettuce
Avocado slices

1.    Drain and rinse the soaked beans. Cover them with fresh water, bring to the boil, and cook vigorously for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse again thoroughly to remove any toxins. (It is believed that some varieties of beans contain toxins, so this procedure is recommended when cooking black turtle beans). Cover with more fresh water, bring to the boil, and cook for an hour or so until the beans are tender. Now drain the cooked beans and set aside.
2.    Meanwhile, soak the raisins in the vinegar.
3.    Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the cumin seeds and chilli flakes, and let them sizzle for a few seconds until they are a shade or two darker.
4.    Add the onions, and fry until lightly tinged with golden brown colour.
5.    Add the garlic and raisins (leave the vinegar aside) and sauté for a few minutes.
6.    Add the cooked beans and seasoning, and mix well.
7.    Pour in the vinegar in which the raisins have soaked. Add some water if necessary. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. The dish should be fairly moist – neither dry, nor too sauced. Adjust the seasoning.
8.    Garnish with black olives and hard-boiled eggs. Serve at room temperature.

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