05 October 2011

South Indian style green bean "stir fry"

Often when I'm daydreaming, my mind will wander back to memories of our beautiful wedding, which took place in February 2010. Held at a beach resort to the south of Chennai where I was born, we celebrated over three magical days. It was truly a fairytale Indian wedding - an extravaganza of colors, tastes, aromas and sounds. One of the most special things about it was that in addition to my wonderful family, we had Luis's family and over 40 friends from all corners of the world. People from all parts of our lives representing all continents (except Antartica!) flew in from everywhere - the States, France, Angola, China, Bermuda, the UAE, Portugal, England, Singapore, Germany and Burundi! I honestly don't think that Chennai had ever seen such an international extravaganza!

Of course one of the best things about living in Paris is that we are right smack dab in the middle of Europe and thus in the middle of the world....meaning that many of these wonderful friends from all corners of the globe pass through Paris or visit on a regular basis. Such was the case last Saturday, when in addition to some of our Paris-based wedding guests, other friends from New York and Haiti were in town. So as we like to do when such occasions present themselves, we decided to reunite our "India crew" around a dinner party. What was on the menu? Indian food of course!

While deliberating on the menu and shopping at my favorite Indian grocery - VS Co Cash & Carry in the Gare du Nord/La Chappelle area (little Sri Lanka/little India here in Paris) - I relished a rare moment of relative calm in what is usually a tiny, frenzied supermarket, packed on weekends with South Asian families doing their grocery shopping for the week as well as French and other customers, looking to pick up some Indian products or just having a curious look around. As I examined the vegetables and fruits, I caught a heady smell that was distinctly Indian from some of the ladies shopping there - a blend of fresh jasmine, Mysore sandal soap and silk sarees. I caught myself feeling super nostalgic and missing my mom, aunts and cousins - all of those who worked so hard to make our wedding in India such a remarkable one. I thought of the classic flavors of South India - mustard seeds, lentils, curry leaves, coconut and caught sight of some Indian-style green beans. I decided right there and then that they would find themselves into a South Indian style "stir fry", or poriyal as we say in Tamil.

Poriyals can be made with pretty much any vegetable - favorites include beans, cabbage, bell peppers, carrots, even beets. In terms of the ingredients, ural dal, for those who may not know, is the Hindi word for split or husked black gram lentils (the whole gram is black, the husked version makes for the off-white dal pictured in the right side of the photo below). Urad dal is readily available at any Indian grocery, as are the other ingredients for this recipe, which you must have in your kitchen if you're a fan of South Indian cuisine! The sambhar powder that I've listed as an optional seasoning ingredient is basically a spice mixture that is used in the South Indian vegetable and lentil stew called sambhar, but which can also be used to season any number of curries and dishes. You can make your own sambhar powder (I'll post a recipe soon!) or pick up an already mixed version at the Indian grocery.

I was delighted that the India crew loved this dish. Like me, I think it took them back to the delicious food that we had at our wedding and the amazing flavors of South India that they savored during their time in Chennai. Give it a try and you can make a virtual trip there yourself!

Serves 6

1-2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
1 tablespoon urad dal
3 dried red chillies
2 sprigs curry leaves, divided for use
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
4 1/2 cups green beans, washed, trimmed and chopped in two if they are long
1/2 - 3/4 cup water
Chili powder, to taste
Salt, to taste
Sambhar powder, to taste (optional)
1/2 cup dried (unsweetened) or fresh grated coconut

1. In a large saucepan, heat the canola oil over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and the urad dal. Cook until the seeds start to pop and the dal begins to turn a golden color. Be careful that it doesn't burn!

2. Add the dried red chillies and 1 sprig of the curry leaves and give it a good stir. Then add the chopped red onion. Stir well and cook until the onion becomes transluscent.

3. Add the green beans and a tiny bit of the water. Mix well. Season with the chili powder, salt and optional sambhar powder. Stir and let the beans cook through, adding additional water sparingly if necessary (be stingy with the water as you are aiming for a dry stir-fry here, not a saucy consistency!).

4. When the beans are almost cooked (15-20 minutes cooking time in total), mix in the grated coconut and the additional sprig of curry leaves.

5. Serve with rice or chapatis as part of a bigger Indian meal.


  1. That is such a great post and you were one gorgeous bride! :) Loved the poriyal recipe..

  2. Enjoyed reading this post. Beautiful wedding, and how lovely to cook up a dish that brings it all rushing back to mind.

  3. Your wedding was so beautiful! It was so laid back and everyone enjoyed themselves so much. Thank you again for hosting another lovely dinner and bringing back those memories of India.

    These were so addictive! It's a great snacker too. Can I replace the sambhar powder at all? And dried red pepper flakes are fine to use?

  4. Outstanding wedding photos! It looks like an amazing time :) In May, we got to be a part of our first Indian wedding when we flew to England. It's by far the most BEAUTIFUL wedding I've ever been to.

    Your stir fry is incredible too. Bookmarked and buzzed!

  5. WOW your wedding was absolutely beautiful!!! And this stir fry looks amazing, I'm loving all the flavors!! :)

  6. Beautiful wedding and so colorful environment. Love that beans recipe, just like how I make it and its our fav esp, esp with curry leaves and the rest of the spices inside.

  7. What beautiful photos of both your wedding and the recipe! How blessed you are to live in such a cool city AND to have such a wide circle of friends willing to travel to see you.

  8. A child's wedding is one of the most unforgettable and special events in any parents' lives! Your wedding was so extra special because of all your wonderful friends who came from all over the world just to be a part of your special day! They made the occasion so colorful and festive! I am sure it became an unforgettable event for everyone there as well!

  9. Thanks for sharing such personal memories and beautiful photos! Your wedding looks so beautiful and this green bean recipe looks delightful as well! I've just started cooking Indian food and am very excited to explore your site more for inspiration.