In Gujarat the general term for vegetable is shak and the majority of the people are vegetarian. Kutchhis (from the Kutch region), Jains (similar to Buddhists), and Vaishnavs (worshipers of Lord Krishna) are just some of the many sects in Gujarat and while tastes differ from region to region in the state—Jains for instance don’t eat roots or tubers that grow underground—all have contributed to the vegetarian dishes that appear in subtle variations on the tables of Gujarat. This is a very simple, delightful green bean stir-fry I tasted in my hosts home in the Kutch region—the biggest district in Gujarat, bordering Pakistan and containing the vast salt flats called the Rann of Kutch. During the monsoons this area is flooded with seawater and when it recedes the land sparkles like snow with a blinding white crust of salt stretching to the horizon. The people in this part of western Gujarat are mostly tribal and each tribe wears colorful embroidered clothing. Their dwellings are round mud huts called bhungas with a central support pole and thatched roof, with a cluster of huts surrounding a large communal courtyard. The smooth interior mud walls are washed with lime paste and embedded with tiny bits of mirror that throw hundreds of shimmering reflections. When the mud stove was lit, flickering pinpoints of fire spun around the kitchen where I shared a simple meal with a tribal family. Kutchhi cuisine is slightly sweet and spicy. Water is scarce in this harsh region so cooking vegetables in a little oil with mustard seeds, garlic, and crushed hot red peppers is common. The green beans are quickly cooked until tender-crisp with a little salt and sugar and peanuts for crunch. I often whip up a pan of these spicy-sweet green beans to bring to pot lucks and they are always one of the first dishes to disappear.
1 pound green beans, cut into 2-inch segments (about 3 packed cups), blanched in boiling water about 2 minutes, plunged into ice water and drained
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
4 large or 8 small cloves of garlic, smashed, skins removed and minced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt crystals (less if using salted peanuts)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 generous tablespoons skinless roasted peanuts (plain or salted), coarsely chopped
COOKING THE BEANS. Heat the oil in a large wide skillet over medium-high heat. Drop in the mustard seeds and fry until they start turning gray and sputter, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add the garlic and quickly stir, scraping up from the bottom of the pan with a slotted spoon, about 1 minute. Add the green beans, red pepper flakes, salt, sugar and peanuts, stirring and scraping frequently until the green beans are tender-crisp, about 3 to 4 minutes (for less crunch cook another few minutes, stirring all the time and sprinkling in a little water). Transfer to a serving dish and serve garnish with chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves, if you wish.