Bengaluru’s love affair with a great green bean
I am a storehouse of what my wife calls useless information. I get withering looks when I tell her which B- or C-lister is dating, who’s getting married, what their workouts are and where they vacationed this winter. She has no interest in the fact that the svelte actor who rules the Kannada film industry is, like her, a Sindhi. She’s Galrani, you’re Ramani, and you both do yoga, I tell her—but she has already left the room.
You see, in this breathless era of the smartphone and Twitter, I read five local newspapers, which is where I glean these nuggets. I read the pages that the few people still reading newspapers immediately discard—the city and lifestyle sections. Dominated by lurid gossip and paid-for puff publicity, these pages often have real—albeit badly written—local news.
That’s how I knew—while reading the Deccan Herald city section at the doctor’s—that the annual “avarebele mela” was on, a street-food festival based on a single bean, the avarekai, avarekalu or avarebele, Kannada words for the hyacinth or field bean.
Bengaluru is known for its festivals celebrating agricultural products. These fairs offer relaxed markets where farmers, traders and city slickers mingle. We have an annual kadalekai parishe, or peanut fair, and last week, while running through the city’s sprawling Cubbon Park, I dodged enthusiasts thronging a millets fair and millets marathon—the agriculture minister, whose trim frame betrays a proclivity to fitness, enthusiastically participated in the latter.
My wife, who always persuades me to patronize the local Ramzan and Christmas festivities—which she can appreciate through only sight and sound—has always wanted to indulge her own culinary tastes, which are vegetarian and appreciative of local farmers and traditions. The problem is the bean and peanut festivals are across town, and given my reluctance to engage with Bengaluru’s formidable traffic, we had not been there.
One bright winter morning, I bundled her into an autorickshaw and off we went to Sajjan Rao Circle in VV Puram, where old traditions, homes and trees linger. This is a vegetarian Kannadiga stronghold, and that is evident in the meat-free offerings on thindi beedi, or “food street”, a 100m stretch of carts, small eateries and condiment stores. One of these, Sri Vasavi Condiments, organizes the annual avarebele mela that focuses entirely on a green-and-white broad bean, made with skin or without. The bean is particularly appropriate for a city that is often called bean town in the English translation from one of its supposed root names, bende kaal ooru, or town/village of boiled beans (although this is likely bunkum).
Everything at the fair was about the avare bean, and nothing was costlier than Rs60. The avarebele was mixed with dosa, idli and bonda batters; worked into curries, ragi and rice rotis; blended with pulaos, upmas, payasams and even—green—honey jalebis. Oh, how could I forget the union of north and south, the avarebele rumali roti, and, of course, that pinnacle of fusion, avarebele manchurian. I daresay no other festival boasts of the wild experimentation of the green bean soirée, although I refused to experiment with the last two. We jostled around the coupon issuers, grabbed our precious tokens and waved them frantically at the chefs until we got, on leaf plates, our avarebele dosa with hithkabele—or beans without skin—saru (curry), avarebele ragi roti and avarebele idlis. We packed avarebele chikki, spiced hithkabele snacks and raw beans and plunged into the midday traffic to make our way back home.
The next day, I cooked the beans and tossed them with some sea salt, hoping to create my own avarebele entrée. The first thing I did was to integrate them with our daily dosa, as you can see in the recipe below. I think the Sri Vasavi Condiments dosa was made from beans with the skin—avarelebe dosa, while mine was hithkabele, without the skin.
I was happy to have finally made the long-pending journey to the mela. The avarebele has been a gap in my acquaintance with state tradition; about 90% of the southern crop comes from Karnataka. I have eaten the basic curry now and then, but I was not acquainted with the bean’s diverse uses. The avarebele is nutritious, packed as it is with vitamins and iron, and it is a particularly important source of protein for vegetarians. In Bengaluru, even those who don’t eat it—even in my home—apparently know of the great, green bean.
After we returned home the day of the fair, I was telling my pork-eating seven-year-old of our trip and how we had eaten all manner of delicious food made with green-and-white beans; you know, I told her, the same beans we sometimes pick up from Cubbon Park when we go cycling. “Oh,” she said, “you mean avarekai.”
Batter to make four ‘dosas’
1 cup of peeled hyacinth beans (‘hithkabele’)
2 tbsp onion, chopped
1/2 green chilli, chopped finely
1 tbsp coriander, chopped finely
1 tbsp tomato, chopped finely
Sea salt to taste
1/2 tsp ‘ghee’
Place the beans in a pressure-cooker steamer with water below. Close and pressure cook till one whistle. Toss the beans with onion, coriander, chillies, tomatoes, salt and mix with the batter. On a medium-hot, non-stick pan, lay out the batter. Spoon ‘ghee’ on and around the ‘dosa’. Cover and cook till brown. Carefully flip the ‘dosa’. Serve hot with green chutney. Option: Grind the batter with the beans, 1/2 tsp red chilli powder and salt. Serve the ‘dosas’ with chutney and ‘sambhar’.
This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures.