Friday, December 10, 2010

Holiday Side: Festive Green Beans with a taste of Bengal, a touch of curry

Panch Phoron, is a spice blend, close to my heart.

The sizzle and sputter of the spices in hot oil, the savory-sweet scent released into the air, transports me back to my childhood home in Bangladesh. The name translates to “five spices” in the Bengali language and consists of equal measures of fenugreek (methi), nigella seed (kalo jeera), cumin (jeera), black mustard (shorsha), and fennel (mouri). It is almost exclusively found in the kitchen of cooks with roots in the Bengali culture, usually from Bangladesh, Assam, West Bengal and Orissa. The seeds are left whole so the flavors change from bite to bite, yet all five work together like fingers on a hand.

So for my first Let’s Lunch post, I decided to reach for this old favorite and create a holiday side bursting with color and taste.
My mother uses panch phoron to transform simple dishes of vegetable, lentils or fish to swoon-worthy delicacies. Just a whiff of the earthy fragrance makes my mouth water. So I paired this with green beans, butternut squash and red bell peppers.

The first step is to cook the spice blend in hot oil for a minute or two. The heat should make the spices pop and liberate their essential oils and aroma. This is a process known as “phoron” or “baghar” in Bengali.
The first veggie added in the squash, because it would take the longest to cook. I also tossed in a bit of turmeric, cayenne, and ground cumin – ingredients traditionally found in curries of the Indian-subcontinent. My mother would shake her head here, but hey, I’m a girl who likes to add her own twist.

Part way through the cooking, I add the tomatoes.  I also keep some water at hand and add splashes here and there to prevent sticking.  All these kitchen tips and tricks were learned at my mom’s side. Thanks mom!

When the squash is half-cooked, add in green beans and garlic. Save the bell peppers for the last five minutes. The vegetables should be just done, still bright with color.
Not your traditional green bean casserole, but an exotic alternative. My DH, the Cowboy, has already declared it a winner and requested it for our Christmas Eve dinner.  Maybe it’ll become a new tradition, perfect for our East-West household.

This post has been brought to you thanks to the Lets Lunch bunch, a group of food enthusiasts from all over, who come together to share recipes, stories, friendship and virtual lunch in cyberspace. To give full credit, actually this entire blog came into existence because I wanted to join in the fun and this group was the kick-in-the-rear I needed (I know, waaay late to the party…but here). So thanks #Letslunch pals, this one’s for you.

Check out some of the other Lets Lunch holiday sides:

The Kitchen Trials' Parker House Rolls

Free Range Cookies' Green Bean Casserole 

Cooking in the Fruit Bowl's Kimchi Risotto Bake

The Cowgirl Chef's Mushroom-Leek Quinoa Salad

If you'd like to join Let's Lunch, go to Twitter and post a message with the hashtag #Letslunch

Recipe: Festive Green Beans with a taste of Bengal, a touch of curry
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons panch phoron (you can buy the mix in Indian grocery stores, online, or make your own)
½ a medium onion, sliced lengthwise
1 teaspoon ginger, peeled and slivered
2 cups butternut squash, peeled and diced (I kept them on the small side to cook faster)
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon cayenne powder (or more if you like heat)
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
¾ teaspoon salt
2 to 3 Roma tomatoes, diced (juice and all)
12-ounces green beans, washed and trimmed
3 to 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced (I actually pound mine into an almost-paste)
1 red bell pepper, cleaned and diced into 1-inch pieces
Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat
Add the panch phoron and cook for a minute or two. When it becomes fragrant, add in onion and ginger, cook until onion is soft and translucent.
Add in the butternut squash and the curry spices (turmeric to salt), stir and cook for about a minute or two (this cuts the raw flavor of the spices), add the tomatoes and cook some more. If your spices start sticking to the bottom of the pan, add splashes of water as needed (just enough to keep cooking and prevent burning).
When the butternut is half-done, add the green beans and garlic. Stir gently and cook for three minutes.
Add the bell pepper and cook another five minutes, or until the veggies are just done.


  1. I love this! That looks great and I love the spice mix. A great post -- see you had nothing to be nervous about! -- Mai

  2. Thanks Mai! Even though I was nervous, I had a blast doing it! :)