I’ve been on an Indian food kick lately, as a friend of mine sent me a goody box full of Indian ingredients to experiment with.
I’m new to the cuisine, intimidated by the long list of unfamiliar spices in recipes. How do I pronounce badi elaichi or hara dhaniya without sounding as if I’ve slammed five shots of tequila for breakfast? If I ask for methi seeds at the market, will the shopkeeper flip out and push the police button hidden under the cash register? Surely, very suspicious.
But then I’m reminded by my friends that they feel the same way about common ingredients used in East and Southeast Asian cooking, such as nam pla, dong-gu and naganegi. My advice to friends who yearned to learn was to start with just one dry spice blend, such as five spice powder, and sparingly sprinkle on roasted vegetables. It’s inexpensive, simple and a great way to be introduced to Chinese flavors without having to invest in a cupboard full of one-hit wonders.
It was time to follow my own advice and venture into the world of Indian cooking.
My friend Sowjanya suggested I start with garam masala, a dry-spice mixture very popular in Indian cuisine. It’s a warming, aromatic blend of cardamom, cloves, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and black peppercorns, and it goes well with anything, especially vegetables.
Green beans go from everyday to exotic with just a bit of this magic spice blend. Also try garam masala on roasted cauliflower, grilled fish or add to plain yogurt for a wonderful chicken marinade. But only use a bit at a time, as too much of this highly fragrant spice can be overwhelming. Find garam masala at most grocery stores. You also can buy it online at www.penzeys.com or www.spiceappeal.com.
Green Beans with Garam Masala Butter and Toasted Hazelnuts
For this recipe, you can substitute almonds or even pistachios for the hazelnuts. If the nuts are salted, make sure you cut back on the salt in the dish.
Ingredients:1/4 cup unsalted hazelnuts or almonds
1 pound green beans, trimmed
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon garam masala spice
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt (or 1/2 tsp table salt)
Heat a saute pan, and when hot, add nuts. Toast on medium heat, shaking skillet periodically until nuts are golden brown. Be careful not to burn them. Remove nuts immediately from hot skillet. If using skin-on hazelnuts, rub the nuts between towels to loosen and remove some of the skin. Roughly chop nuts. Set aside.
In the saute pan, boil or steam green beans, covered for 5 minutes, or until tender. Drain and quickly rinse with cool water to stop cooking. Wipe pan dry, and return pan to stove. On medium heat, add butter. After 1 minute, the butter should foam and brown slightly. Add garam masala and fry just a few seconds until fragrant. Add green beans and salt; toss until beans are evenly coated. Taste and season with additional salt or garam masala if needed. Top with toasted hazelnuts.