Just as soon as I had devoured the sautéed celery with mustard seeds and coconut that my friend Linta made for dinner one night, I immediately wanted to make a version of it at home.
But that was several years ago. After a few failed attempts to get my family on board, I finally had to admit that sautéed celery with mustard seeds was too hard a sell at my house – all that sexy coconut notwithstanding.
I thought of the dish again recently, just as I was passing the celery at the farmers’ market. That’s when a small mountain of green beans caught my eye.
And I remembered that Linta had mentioned that she sometimes made the dish, called thoran, with green beans instead of celery. So the combination of flavors made perfect sense.
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I no longer had Linta’s exact recipe, but the flavors were still vivid in my mind. Along with coconut and mustard seeds, there were turmeric, chili and fresh curry leaves.
I could get everything I needed within a few blocks of my home in Brooklyn, except for the curry leaves. So I substituted a not-very-authentic combination of bay leaf and basil. They don’t have anything close to the musky, fragrant depth of a curry leaf, but they are delightful in their own fresh, woodsy ways. I also added some fresh ginger and garlic for increased pungency.
Because green beans have denser flesh than celery, they can be slow to absorb seasonings. So to make sure all the beans were truly imbued with the spices and aromatics, I added some water to the pan after sautéing everything. As the water simmered, it cooked the beans through and acted as a conduit to bring the rich, spicy flavors deep into their cores.
In this recipe, I like to cook the beans until they are just tender. They should bend when you hold one upright, but not flop over and collapse. Still, you should feel free to cook them a little more or less to taste, adding a bit more water if they need extra time in the pan.
Although it wasn’t part of Linta’s original recipe, I added toasted cashews to my green beans as a garnish. The nuts gave the beans even more of a crunch and enough protein that I could serve them as a meatless main course over rice. But if you have another protein in mind for the center of the plate, these beans are also terrific on the side.
The beans were such a big hit with my family that I may even try again with the celery.
Green Beans With Mustard Seeds, Cashews and Coconut
Yield: 4 servings
Total time: 30 minutes
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes or chips
2 1/2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 (1/4-inch-thick) coins fresh ginger
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1 teaspoon turmeric
Large pinch red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
5 large basil leaves, sliced into ribbons
1 pound green or wax beans, trimmed
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1/3 cup chopped roasted cashews (salted or unsalted, to taste)
Cooked rice, for serving
Lime wedges, for serving
1. Place a large, dry skillet over medium-high heat. Add coconut flakes and toast, shaking pan occasionally, until golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer flakes to a bowl.
2. Heat oil in the same skillet. Add garlic, ginger, mustard seed, turmeric, red pepper flakes and bay leaf. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
3. Stir in basil, green beans and salt. Toss well to coat in oil and seasonings.
4. Add 1/3 cup water, cover partly and reduce heat to medium. Cook until beans are tender, about 8 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking until most of the liquid has evaporated and the beans are wilted and lightly colored. Toss in cashews and coconut flakes. Serve over rice, with lime wedges.