It must be hard to be innocuous.. and it must be harder to be innocuous, yet elegant. Being a vegetable is work enough, but one that is always the bridesmaid, never the bride perhaps deserves a special mention, or lets say, a critics’ award. So goes the tale of Phaseolus vulgaris, the common green beans, whose life is not half as exciting as its name threatens to be. The story of the string beans is kind of the story of the not-so-good-looking supporting actor, who has to meet very exacting standards if he ever has to stand on his own.
Not that it doesn’t happen. I have seen many a disaster south Indian meal—like a recent one at Banana Leaf (a south Indian restaurant on Juhu-Versova Link road desperate to please the north Indian) that is capable of being redeemed, just by getting their beans right. Many a sambar has been salvaged by the gentle intervention of the beans poriyal, and many a stir-fry has jumped a few notches higher just because the beans were at the right degree of crunchiness.
To me, a rasam rice with beans made the south Indian way together with papadaams rates very high in the list of soul food. So does a very English recipe where you just string them, simmer or steam them, and then toss with butter, salt and pepper.
The trick is to find them young, when they are tender and succulent, as you usually do this season. The test being, breaking them using your thumb and index finger—if they do so with zero resistance, they are a prize catch. If not, nothing can really uplift their existence. So bean it.
Mike's Tangy string beans
A quickie that even inept bachelor boys can whip up in no time—it's high on taste, low on performance pressure, and the perfect accompaniment to barbecues.
Beans: 200 gm
Garlic: 3-4 cloves
Salt to taste
String the beans, wash and drain. Keep them whole, unless very long, in which case you can break into two.
Now heat olive oil in a pan and sautee the chopped garlic.
Now add the beans and sautee on high flame for 2-3 minutes, and then on low for a minute. Add soya sauce and salt to taste, mix well.
Serve as a side and mop up the liquid with a baguette or good old pao.
Beans Soudi style
You can take a south Indian out of poriyal, but you can’t take poriyal out of a South Indian. Here is my dad’s recipe for not quite the poriyal, but a less elaborate version of it, which in my opinion ranks higher simply because of its coy quotient. Colour is of essence, so whatever you do, don’t mess with the green hue.
Beans: 200 gm, chopped fine
Green chillies : two
Udid dal- one teaspoon
Mustard seeds – one teaspoon
Grated coconut (optional): one tablespoonful
Heat oil in a kadai, add mustard seeds and when they splutter, add the udid dal, and fry till brown.
Now add the green chillies and the chopped beans, salt to taste, and toss.
Cook on slow fire, stirring occasionally, and preferably uncovered. You can add water if you feel the beans are sticking to the bottom of the pan.
The beans should still be a bit crunchy and very green when you are done, which should take 5-7 minutes. Switch off the gas, and garnish with grated coconut. Serve hot with sambar rice or rasam rice.