South Indian Green Bean Curry with Shredded Coconut
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.
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.