Archive for March 18, 2007

Nupur’s A-Z of Indian Vegetables ~ H is for Hyacinth Beans

nope, that isn’t the h veggie!
coquito nuts — about the size of a marble — aren’t they cute!

this is it!
hyacinth beans (val dal) with shallots and coquito nuts

ISG, you got it right! 😉

“H” is for hmm…

By now I have my resources bookmarked and cookbook references at the ready for Saturday’s fun, but this week I had all but given up on a good “H” veggie.

Horseradish? Hmm… that’d be a new twist indeed — horseradish pachadi — talk about burning hot!

I learned that Halim is gardencress in Hindi — gardencress? Maybe that’s watercress… hmm. Peppery, tangy, good in salads — but last night in the snow? Not exactly what I had in mind.

I did scout out one other “H” — and that was Hara pyaz, which Asha cooked to perfection and you can find at Aroma. Hmm… what a great idea! Of course, I promptly forgot about that one as soon as I hit the grocery store today.

What to do!? Hmm…

As often happens, while I was busily searching near and far for something unusual and exotic, the perfect food was awaiting me in my own cupboard. If only I would remember to stop and look around sometimes…

hyacinth beans (val dal, lablab, etc) — rinsed
pale hyacinth beans (val dal) don’t look like much — here they have been rinsed and are releasing their fresh fragrance

Hyacinth beans are also known as val dal, and under that name they may be purchased in Indian groceries, whole or split. Field beans, avarekai, and lablab are among their other names, and believe me it took many Hours researching just to find that out! You can read this interesting story about these beans.

Call them what you will — buttery, delicate hyacinth beans are a favorite of mine. Give them a pass under cool running water, and while you stir them up with your fingers, let their fresh springtime scent wash over you to chase away the dull winter blues.

I usually cook this dal simply with a little salt, turmeric, and asafoetida, then mix with a veggie for an easy supper. When purchased split, it doesn’t require overnight soaking; actually it can be cooked without any soaking at all. I still prefer to soak for a short time.

As for other recipes, well… long ago, busy Vaishali of Happy Burp cooked them up with snake gourd to a tasty end, and our lovely hostess Nupur recently made vaalache bhirde which I am dying to try (now do you think I could find the *whole* val dal when I am wanting them? No way!) Other than those, and Asha’s yummy-looking field beans masala, I haven’t found many recipes out there, so improv was the order of the day.

springtime colors on a snowy day

So finally I settled on the “H” I wanted — all I needed was some little thing to go into it.

This afternoon when the snow had been cleared, I ran out to pick up a few things. I came across some beautiful shallots and something that looked like nutmeg which I had never seen before. At least it looked like nutmeg at first glance — upon closer inspection I learned they were coquito nuts, and they look and taste remarkably similar to coconuts, especially inside. These little brown babies are already shelled, so you can crunch into one just as it is. It tastes something like a cross between coconut and brazil nut — not too sweet.

Coquitos are the product of a palm tree native to Chile, and that palm must live fifty (count’em, 50!) years before it begins to bear fruit. You can read about that, and everything else you ever wanted to know about edible palms and their use at this fascinating site.

And with apologies for rambling post, here is my “H” recipe. If you remember nothing else, remember the freshly cracked pepper. It makes the whole dish!


Hyacinth Beans (Val Dal) with Shallots and Coquito Nuts

1/2 c hyacinth beans (val dal — I used split val)
1 1/2 c water
pinch salt

1 TB ghee
1 tsp mustard
1 green chile, slit
few curry leaves
1/2 c shallots minced (or enough baby red onions to make about 1/2 cup, say 10-12)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin-coriander powder
pinch asafoetida
2 TB coquito nuts, chopped fine

salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste


Rinse and pick over the hyacinth beans. Soak them 1 hr for split, longer for whole. When ready to cook, rinse well and add them to a small saucepan with about 1 1/2c water and a pinch each of turmeric and salt. Cook over medium heat, about 30-40 minutes, till most of the water is absorbed and beans are tender. Drain, rinse, and let them stand in the strainer.

Heat the ghee on medium-high, and splutter the mustard. Add the curry leaves and shallots and saute 5 min, till the shallots are wilted. Add the coquito nuts, turmeric, cumin-coriander powder, and asafoetida. Stir well and cook 5 minutes more — add a TB of water if it looks like it might burn. Now stir in the cooked val dal and add TB or 2 of water to thin. Cover and warm the dal without mashing.

This is a thick dal, one to be eaten on its own or alongside rice. Serve hot with fresh steamed green veggies. If you like your dal spicy-hot, be generous with the freshly cracked pepper — it brings out the taste like no green or red chile can.

Enjoy the delicate springtime taste of hyacinth beans, and thank you once more, Nupur, for inviting me 🙂

simple supper of hyacinth beans dal, steamed rice and steamed asparagus with salt and freshly cracked pepper


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