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South Indian Green Bean Curry with Shredded Coconut

October 25, 2012

Apparently we are suffering from a curry leaf shortage in Santa Barbara. Or rather, a curry leaf quarantine.

That’s right: no curry leaves (or their relatives– citrus trees/fruit, for that matter!) are to be transported in or out of Santa Barbara County.

(Of course, there’s no shortage of citrus trees or fruit, because we have so many wonderful local farms around here, but this has just pushed fresh curry leaves off the Hard-To-Get list and onto the Impossible-To-Get one.)

Confused? I was too, when I first heard the news. I stopped by one of the little Asian markets in town specifically (only) to buy fresh curry leaves, knowing that there was only a small chance they’d have them in the first place. And… they didn’t.

But I still managed to spend $28 (oops!) on who knows what.

When the owner was ringing me up at the cash register, I asked if he expected to get some curry leaves in any time soon, and he said they were banned from Santa Barbara (for now) because they carry a virus! (He then hinted that if I were desperate, I could always consider smuggling some up from LA.)

At times like this, I really wish I had a green thumb, so I could just grow my own…

The virus story didn’t turn out to be quite true, but close enough I guess. I found the real reason on this gardening post called Citrus Under Siege.

According to the post, the real culprit is a “citrus greening disease,” Huanglongbing (HLB), which is lethal to citrus trees and is carried by tiny insects called Asian citrus psyllids. A lemon/pomelo tree in Hacienda Heights, CA– not too far southeast of Santa Barbara County– has tested positive for HLB, and so have many psyllids in the same neighborhood.

The only way to prevent the spread of HLB to citrus trees in other areas is to refrain from transporting the trees, fruit, or other closely related plants, such as curry leaves. (In 2009, there was a lucky catch: a duffel bag shipped from India was stopped at a FedEx facility in Fresno when infected psyllids were found on the curry leaves inside.)

Long story short: I will not be smuggling any curry leaves up from LA, and my South Indian green beans are curry leaf-less. I shouldn’t complain, though; maybe some of you live in spots where it’s even harder to find special ingredients!

So what to substitute for curry leaves? There’s no real substitute for the flavor of the edible leaves, but lime zest and/or lime juice is probably about as close as you can get. And this dry South Indian green bean curry with coconut* tastes even lovelier with lime juice. Somehow it brightens up all of the flavors, gets absorbed into the green beans– making them juicier, and rounds out the spice with a tangy hint of zest.

Lime juice has become my go-to substitute for curry leaves. It’s so good that if the quarantine ever gets lifted, I think I’ll prepare this dish with both curry leaves and lime juice; there’s no going back!

This is the second South Indian dry curry I’ve posted here; I stuffed the first potato curry inside a lentil crepe to make Masala Dosa.

I know these green beans are supposed to be a side dish, but I like to eat them as a main course, on top of fluffy basmati rice or with some warmed Indian bread. To make it more filling, I’ve suggested pretty generous amounts of the lentils, and even tossing in some diced potatoes, but it’s just as good without!

* The frozen grated coconut I used was leftover from this spontaneous coconut purchase, but if you don’t feel like tackling your own whole coconut like I did, you can most likely buy frozen grated coconut in your local Asian market.

Print this recipe.


South Indian Green Bean Curry with Shredded Coconut
Roughly adapted from Anjum’s New Indian by Anjum Anand.

(Serves 2-4 as a main dish, or 4-8 as a side dish)

~ ⅔ cup yellow split mung lentils, rinsed
~ 16 oz. green beans
~ pinch of sugar
~ 3-4 Tbsp. coconut oil (or ghee)
~ 2 tsp. black mustard seeds
~ 2 tsp. brown mustard seeds
~ 1 tsp. cumin seeds
~ 2-3 Tbsp. urud dal (split black gram dal)
~ pinch of turmeric
~ 5 whole dried red chili peppers
~ 1-2 green chili peppers, mostly de-seeded and diced
~ juice of 1 lime
~ pinch of salt, to taste
~ 2-3 Tbsp. grated coconut (fresh or frozen)
~ 12 oz. small Yukon potatoes (4 or 5 small potatoes)
~ pinch or two of asafoetida powder
~ zest of 1 lime
~ 20 fresh curry leaves (if you’re lucky! …by the way, these freeze well)

How to make it:

1. Start the mung lentils soaking in a bowl of water (for 20-30 minutes). Meanwhile, rinse and trim the green beans, then cut them into 2-inch lengths.

2. Bring a large, salted pot of water to a boil. If using potatoes, boil them for 10-15 minutes (small ones can be left whole), then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool (or rinse in cold water). Then add a pinch of sugar to the same pot of boiling water, and boil the cut green beans for 3-5 minutes, then drain and rinse in cold water.

3. Once the mung lentils have soaked 20-30 minutes, drain them and boil them in a small saucepan of fresh water– optionally with a pinch of asafoetida– for 7-10 minutes, or until just soft, then drain and rinse. (Keep a close watch, and stir occasionally, as these are likely to foam and boil over!) Meanwhile, dice the potatoes, once cooled.

4. Cook the curry: In a medium saucepan, heat the coconut oil over low heat. Add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds and cook until they splutter. Then add the coconut (reserving a pinch or two to garnish) and the urud dal, along with a pinch of turmeric and a pinch of asafoetida, and fry for 1 minute.

5. Add the chiles, then add the diced potatoes and fry, stirring frequently, until the potatoes are nearly cooked through. (I lower the heat and put the lid on for 3-5 minutes, then I remove the lid and fry them over medium heat for another 3-5 minutes.) Then add the lime zest/juice and curry leaves (or add these right along with the chiles, if not using potatoes), and cook for another 30 seconds or so.

6. Add the mung lentils and green beans. Mix well and cook for another few minutes until the green beans are heated through. Season with salt, to taste. Garnish with the remaining pinch of coconut just before serving.

Print this recipe!

Related recipe posts:
> South Indian Spicy Coconut Chutney
> Masala Dosa (with Potato Curry)
> Canning 101: Pickled Green Beans

32 Comments leave one →
  1. October 25, 2012 8:38 am

    Delicious! I am planning to make some coconut curry tonight :) The weather has finally cooled down (we got some snow last night) and it sounds just perfect.

    • October 25, 2012 9:08 am

      Nice! Snow already?! I’m actually excited to be back in the snow (temporarily) when I go home to the Midwest around Christmas this year… Enjoy your coconut curry!

      • October 25, 2012 7:40 pm

        Yes we sometimes will get a couple light snow falls in October but believe me, the weather still could be sunny tomorrow. CO is always a mystery :) Where are you currently located? I was in Minneapolis a couple weekends ago and there weather was definitely colder than ours!

      • October 26, 2012 8:02 am

        I’m in Santa Barbara, CA but I grew up in Wisconsin. I’m looking forward to seeing the snow there, but definitely NOT to the cold. (California has spoiled me…)

  2. Sandhya permalink
    October 25, 2012 8:45 am

    Nice! But I’m going to be annoying and proprietary for a second. :)

    1. why is the shredded coconut so white? Or is that part of the presentation? Because it’s traditionally sauteed along with the mustard seeds and other garnishings. And more importantly, tastes better that way, I think.

    2. I would consider dicing the green beans much smaller next time. It really ensures that the spices are more blended in and that every beany bite is more flavorful. Until I came to the US, I had never seen green beans sliced that big.

    but it looks amazing all the same and now I’m hungry.

    • October 25, 2012 9:03 am

      Haha, don’t worry about it. I like hearing your feedback on my recipes.

      #1 is a good question, and the answer is: I actually always make this by cooking the coconut into the curry, but closer to the end (should I really saute it at the very beginning?), but because I added turmeric, that coconut turns yellow, and you can’t really see it… (the last time I made this, Paula said “wait, where’s the coconut?”). So this time only, for the photos’ sake, I strategically held half of it back to sprinkle on top at the end. I meant to include that bit in the recipe too (cook the coconut into the curry, and save a bit for garnishing at the end); I will definitely edit that when I get a chance. :)

      And I’ll try dicing the green beans smaller next time, too. I love that you used the phrase “every beany bite.”

      • Sandhya permalink
        October 25, 2012 7:16 pm

        Re. 1 — yes, actually. The convention is to saute the coconut right from the beginning, in the oil. along with the mustard seeds and curry leaves. To me, that’s part of the experience, and part of the familiar aroma and taste. And it tastes nuttier and crunchier, quite different from the fresh kind, I think.

      • October 26, 2012 8:06 am

        Got it! I just edited it to reflect that. Thanks!

        I’m sure that’s how you taught me how to make curries like this one in West Philly, but oddly the cookbook I cited as a refresher for the recipe suggests adding the coconut only at the end.

  3. October 25, 2012 10:09 am

    I’ve never heard of curry leaves! I assumed curry blends were just from peppers.

    • October 25, 2012 3:17 pm

      Curry leaves aren’t the origin of curry spices (there are a whole bunch of spices– including chili peppers, yes– that go into the seasonings of most curries, and even “curry powder” is a customizable blend of spices). Curry leaves are their own thing– that’s why my substitute for them is lime juice/zest, not spices– and they’re edible and great in curries and soups.

  4. October 25, 2012 12:20 pm

    This looks so very delicious :) Ya … your white coconut and long diced beans have taken this dish to another level!

  5. October 25, 2012 12:38 pm

    I love coconut curries my friend and yours looks so tasty :)

    Choc Chip Uru

  6. October 25, 2012 1:59 pm

    These beans look delicious…and so authentic just like they make it in South India, one of my favorites dishes from my years there! Wish the curry leaves would get back soon:)

    • October 25, 2012 3:19 pm

      Thanks, Peri! I know, I wish they would, too… Although considering this has been going on since at least 2009, I don’t see any end in sight to the agricultural officials’ worries about that citrus tree disease. I guess it’s a good thing they’re careful, since I *really* don’t know what I’d do without limes!

  7. October 25, 2012 5:54 pm

    I’ve never heard of curry leaves, thank you for sharing all your knowledge. This recipe looks delicious!

    • October 26, 2012 8:01 am

      :) Luckily it is delicious even without curry leaves, but even better if you can find some!

  8. October 25, 2012 7:13 pm

    I was just in Hacienda Heights and my aunt wouldn’t let me bring lemons from her tree back to VA because of the quarantine. I hadn’t though how it would have effects beyond lemon trees. Yikes!

    • October 26, 2012 7:59 am

      Whoa, I’m glad your aunt was on top of that, and knew not to let you take any lemons. (I’m glad her tree is still ok though!)

  9. October 26, 2012 6:18 am

    What a bizarre story about the curry leaves! This looks gorgeous and vibrantly flavoured regardless. (:

    • October 26, 2012 8:00 am

      I know, so bizarre. But I’m so glad I finally asked at the market, because it’s been annoyingly hard to find them for the past few years, and now I know why!

  10. October 26, 2012 11:55 am

    Have you ever used dried curry leaves? There are only a couple of stores in the PNW that carry fresh curry leaves (and, most of the time, the “fresh” leaves are actually frozen), so I have taken to just using dried ones. They are, admittedly, not as zingy as fresh ones, but they still pack a lot of nice flavor. This curry looks lovely–I might have to use up some of my dried curry leaves on it.

    • October 26, 2012 12:39 pm

      I’ve never tried using dried curry leaves, but I’m sure they’re better than no curry leaves at all… I should look into buying some; thanks!

  11. walgenbe permalink
    October 27, 2012 2:29 pm

    I’m making this tonight! Did you make the bread too (looks like a paratha) or did you buy them? If made, any advice on recipes? I love your blog and that it has all the flavors that I want to eat :)

    • October 27, 2012 4:39 pm

      Yay, thanks! I hope you like it! We actually bought those parathas frozen, but they’ve been on my to(-make-Paula)-make list for a while now… I’ll try to post a recipe when we finally figure out one that we like :)

  12. vinicooksveg permalink
    October 29, 2012 7:58 pm

    Loved the idea of putting some fresh coconut on beans. It looks amazing.Your presentation looks better than my green beans curry! Good one Allison!

    • October 31, 2012 9:44 am

      Thanks, Vini! Fresh coconut makes everything better. And the next time I make this, I’ll try chopping the green beans much smaller, like yours. :)

      • vinicooksveg permalink
        October 31, 2012 7:50 pm

        Oh I love to exchange ideas for this reason, we get to do things in a better way!

  13. October 30, 2012 9:12 am

    Hope you get some curry leaves soon! But this curry looks absolutely mouth watering without them! Delicious :)

    • October 31, 2012 9:44 am

      Thanks! In the meantime, I can live vicariously through other peoples’ posts about curry leaves. :)


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