Guvar Dhokli. Photographs by Nandita Iyer
Guvar Dhokli. Photographs by Nandita Iyer

How to make the most of humdrum cluster beans

  • Cluster beans, however, find favour in Maharashtrian, Gujarati and most of south Indian cooking
  • In traditional Tamil cooking, there are three noteworthy ways in which they are used

If winter inspires us with an abundance of fresh produce, summer sends us scrambling for ideas on what to cook with whatever is half-decent and fresh. Cluster beans are among vegetables that are in season in the Indian summer. Known as gavar (Hindi, Marathi), guvar (Gujarati), kothavarangai (Tamil), these beans have an odd metallic bitter tinge, and a mushy texture when overcooked that confirms their slot in the unpopular vegetables category for a lot of people.

Cluster beans, however, find favour in Maharashtrian, Gujarati and most of south Indian cooking.

In traditional Tamil cooking, there are three noteworthy ways in which they are used.

For me, the hands-down winner is paruppusili. For this, steamed and chopped beans are combined with a mixture (usili) of dal, which has been ground and sautéed till crisp, lending the dish great texture. The flavour of the usili dominates any mildly unpleasant bitterness from the cluster beans.

The other dish is chopped steamed beans tossed in a simple tempering of mustard seeds and ajwain (carom seeds), with a touch of sugar and coconut. The noteworthiness of this dish is that it is one I will avoid at any cost.

The third way, and one of the best, is to soak the beans in salted sour buttermilk and then sun-dry them until brown and crisp, aka kothavaranga vathal. Given that cluster beans are available pretty much round the year in south India, sun-drying is not for preservation. This process is a way of concentrating the flavour and creating a new texture out of an everyday vegetable. The vathal, when deep-fried, has an intense umami flavour which I challenge any kothavaranga hater to resist. Apart from eating the vathal as is, they can be added to a tamarind-based curry called kuzhambu. Vathal also makes one of the best accompaniments to curd rice, second only to mor milaga (fried buttermilk-soaked sun-dried chillies).

Guvar Dhokli

Serves 2

My version of a Gujarati pasta dish that can be eaten as is, without any accompaniments.

Ingredients

6 tbsp wholewheat flour (or jowar flour)

2 tbsp besan (gram flour)

A pinch of turmeric powder

1/2 tsp sugar

1 tsp groundnut oil

1 bunch coriander leaves, chopped

2 cloves garlic

2-3 green chillies

1/2 tsp salt

For the ‘guvar’

150g tender cluster beans

1 tsp groundnut oil

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

A pinch of asafoetida

1/2 tsp ginger-green chilli paste

A pinch of turmeric powder

1/2 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp salt

Toasted white sesame seeds

Coriander, finely chopped

Method

Dhokli dough: In a small bowl, mix together the flours, turmeric, sugar and oil. In a mortar pestle, make a coarse paste of the coriander, garlic, green chillies and salt. Combine the flours and the paste using a little warm water and form a stiff dough. Cover and keep aside for 10 minutes.

Guvar: Chop off the two ends. As this is the tender variety, there is no need to string them. Cut the beans into 1-inch-long pieces. In a pan, heat oil and fry cumin seeds. Once it splutters, add asafoetida, ginger-green chilli paste, turmeric and chopped beans. Season with salt and sugar and stir on medium flame for 1-2 minutes. Add half a cup of boiling water to the beans in the pan. Cover and allow to simmer for 7-8 minutes until nearly cooked.

Dhokli: Divide the prepared dough into 30 small portions. Flatten out each dhokli to around Kcm thickness. Add 1 cup boiling hot water to the cooked beans in the pan and gently drop all the dhokli into it. Simmer for 8 minutes. Taste a dhokli to check if it’s done. There should be no raw floury taste.

If you want the dish to have more liquid, add a little extra water and simmer for a minute. Divide between two bowls and garnish with some toasted sesame seeds and chopped coriander.

Guvar Alu Sabzi

Serves 2-3

A quick sabzi ideal for summer days when you don’t want to spend too much time cooking

Ingredients

100g cluster beans (1-inch-long pieces)

1 medium-sized potato

2 tsp groundnut oil

1/2 tsp mustard seeds

A pinch of asafoetida

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1-2 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp sugar

Fresh coriander to garnish

For the spice paste

4 cloves garlic

1 tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder

1/4 tsp ajwain

1/2 tsp grated ginger

1 green chilli

3/4 tsp salt

Method

Prepare the spice paste by pounding the ingredients in a mortar and pestle.

Peel and chop the potato into bite-sized pieces. Heat oil in a small pressure cooker. Fry mustard seeds until they splutter. Stir in asafoetida and the prepared spice paste. On a low flame, fry the paste for 30 seconds, adding a splash of water in case it sticks to the bottom of the cooker.

Mix in the prepared cluster beans and potato and sauté for 1-2 minutes along with turmeric, coriander powder and sugar. Add O cup boiling hot water into the cooker, close the lid and allow two-three whistles. Release the pressure immediately, and, with the lid off, keep the cooker on a low flame and simmer to dry out any residual liquid for a dry sabzi. Remove to a serving bowl and garnish with fresh coriander. Serve with rotis or with dal and rice.

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer is the author of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.

@saffrontrail

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