To be honest, cluster beans were never my favorite. While I often hanker after bitter gourds in all forms and 90% cocoa dark chocolates, the same slight note of bitterness in cluster beans never sat well with me. Of course, that didn’t deter me from cooking it occasionally when I was in Delhi. But those decisions were often made in the favor of graduate student economy and the general childhood norm against picky eating.
So when once my friend (whom I later married :-)) mentioned that gawarichi bhaji, that’s a side of cluster beans, is one of his most favorites, I was rather surprised. He used to cook it thoroughly with generous onions and cubed potatoes or crumble of roasted peanuts. That’s when I realized my mistake with cluster beans. In order to retain that fresh green colour (which I always admired in cluster beans), I used to treat those like French beans. As you know, fresh beans cook quite faster and are perfect for light roast, steams, and stir fry. But trying same with cluster beans meant that they remained undercooked.
With this note in mind, last night I decided to cook cluster beans. I was in a mood for an Indian thali-esque meal of rice, daal (gravy of lentils and/or split daals), and a side of beans. Due to time constraint though I wondered if I could make a gravied prep of beans which could be served with brown rice. That’s why I decided to combine daal and beans into an one-pot.
In a cooker pot, I heated oil and tempered upon it a mix of fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds with a pinch of asafoetida and turmeric. Upon these spices, I sautéd two medium-sized cubed potatoes for two minutes. Once potato cubes were coated evenly with the tempering, I added a packet of chopped cluster beans and paste of fresh coriander and some green chillies. My dearly beloved husband makes this paste once in a while and store it in the form of ice cubes in the freezer, which I must say comes quite handy (certainly deserving-extra-kisses move!). Afterwards, I added a small cupful of mixed lentils which I had soaked for 15-20 minutes. This is the stage when you can adjust salt to your taste and add a spoonful of any dry roasted spice/curry powders of your liking. Before adding water to the cooker, I also sprinkled some fresh coconut shavings (from the frozen section again) for extra richness. I took about 5-6 cooker whistles so that the lentils would cook bit mushy. I guess, in an open pot it would take about half an hour of cooking.
The result was a creamy delicious prep of cluster beans which went very well with brown rice and spoonful of coconut-garlic red chutney. As you can see, clicking a photo occurred to me only after some morsels of our dinner. The bitter note of cluster beans, which I used to find bit off-putting in my undercooked stir-fries before, develops into a complex but delectable taste when cooked fully with additions of potatoes, lentils, and coconut. The flavors reminded me of Indian home cooking (and not the Indian restaurant cooking!) and are perfect for meals on homesick evenings.