When Rushina of ‘A Perfect Bite’ announced the event ‘Terra Madre’, the world slow food day in India, I knew I HAD to participate in it. Slow food is a subject close to my heart and of great interest. I firmly believe that good food is something that one enjoys cooking slowly, with the freshest seasonal local produce, with lots of love. To me food is a lot more than ‘just grabbing a quick bite’. Sure, we all have days when we can’t spend hours in the kitchen or when we simply can’t make something the way our mothers made it. With fast passed life we are all pressed for time. Most of the time we all want food that is fuss free, fast and easy to make. But I think it’s important to slow down, take a break and cook and enjoy a meal with your family, friends and loved ones to simply appreciate life.
Terra Madre is a global slow food event to celebrate good clean and fair food. Launched by Slow Food in 2004, this global project unites food communities from 160 countries who share a vision for food production rooted in local economies and with respect for the environment, traditional knowledge, biological diversity and taste. Slow Food is an international movement founded by Carlo Petrini in 1986. Promoted as an alternative to fast food, it strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourages farming of plants, seeds and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem. It was the first established part of the broader Slow movement. Head over here to read more!
When I sat back to think about what to cook for this special day many recipes came to my mind. One of them was a clear winner. To me it represented slow food, something that is local, seasonal, regional and traditional. A recipe which most Bangaloreans remember from their childhood, a recipe which is time-consuming, slow in the actual sense yet so loved by everyone that to this day every household prepares this at least once when it’s in season. Hitikbele or hitikavare saaru is the special curry which according to me was the perfect dish for this event.
Avarekai is commonly known as the hyacinth bean, Indian bean in English. It’s right now just creeping into markets slowly and will be fully in season by month end. Though it’s available throughout the year, ‘it never tastes the same, rest of the year’ as said by my mother-in-law. Every self respected Bangalorean/Mysorean loves these beans. They are a variety of broad beans, where the outer skin the not consumed, only the inside seeds are cooked. They have a slight bitter taste and a strange slightly pungent(?) or oily smell. But when cooked right these little green pods are simply delicious.
Every year when the avarekai is in season it’s eaten every other day in at least one of the meals. It makes it’s appearance in akki rotti (rice flat bread) or idli (steamed rice dumpling) for breakfast and in playa (stir-fries) and saaru (curry) for lunches and dinners. You will see all the women gather outside their houses sitting and shell them opening the bean pods one by one with their hands to collect the seeds from inside, with a big pile of the outer skin next to them. It’s an art to even shell these pods! By the time I finish my first pod, my mother-in-law is in her fifth! She says that experts can do it 2 at a time, with one in each hand! As this is not time consuming enough, it’s taken to another level by peeling the skin of each and every one of these seeds to make it even more special! Hitikbele/hitikavare literally means ‘squeezed beans’. Beans are soaked in water overnight and then de-husked or de-skinned one by one by hand. These beans are slippery and slightly oily naturally so it’s not an easy task to de-skin them. It’s tricky and takes a lot of practice.
When I initially came to Bangalore, I couldn’t believe people could actually sit and peel each and every bean but I only had to actually taste the curry to realize that all the work is worth it! One can cook them whole with the skin on but Without the skin these beans cook in minutes and melt in your mouth. They are creamy and give the curry a very unique taste. People usually throw the skin and the peel on to the roads as it’s believed that cows on the streets eating it will make your curry at home tastier.
This popular curry like all Indian curries has several variations. I am sharing the recipe that I learnt from various people here in Bangalore. It is basically several spices ground with coconut and then simmered with beans. Traditionally it’s always made tick and spicy. Sometimes potato and/or eggplant is added to the curry but it’s completely optional. My version uses only fresh green chilies for spice and with green chilies and cilantro this curry has a beautiful green colour.
If you live in a part of the world where these hitikavare is not available, make this curry with any beans that’s locally available. potato, eggplant, fresh peas and cauliflower are some vegetables which taste great in this spicy coocnut based curry.
It took me almost two days from buying the whole pods, shelling them and then peeling them one by one the next morning to just get my core ingredient ready. These days it’s sold shelled and even peeled in the market but I enjoyed the whole process especially with my daughter’s keen interest in opening them out and peeling the beans! While I was sitting and peeling these beans one by one, I was thinking that all the time, care, affection it’s cooked with is what makes this curry special. And of course my whole family enjoyed the curry which I served with ragi mudde/finger millet balls for lunch today.
This is how I celebrated Terra Madre! How about you?
- 2 cups Hitikavare
- 2 medium potatoes cubed
- 1 onion
- 2 tbsp oil
For the masala/spice paste
- 2 tbsp oil
- 1 small onion
- 4-6 cloves of garlic
- 1 inch ginger
- 8-10 fresh green chilies
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
- 2 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp turmeric
- A small bunch of fresh cilantro
- 1 ½ cups of fresh coconut
- 2 inches cinnamon
- 4-5 cloves
- 2 cardamom
Clean the hitikavare beans and drain them well. Place them in a think bottomed vessel with a tbsp of oil and fry them for a few minutes. Once done keep them aside. This will get rid of them raw smell of the beans and give the curry a different flavour.
Boil the potato cubes with a pinch of salt till almost cooked. Drain and keep aside.
For the masala or spice mixture –
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a pan and add diced onion, green chilies, garlic and ginger. Fry till the onions are slightly transparent and charred. Keep it aside to cool.
Heat another tbsp of oil and fry cumin and coriander seeds.
Combine all of the above with the rest for the masala ingredients and grind it into a thick smooth paste adding water.
Heat oil in the same in a think bottomed vessel and add thinly sliced onion. Fry till golden brown in low flame. Add the masala paste and continue to cook till the oil separates.
Add the fried hitikavare beans and potato and simmer till the beans are soft and cooked.
Serve hot with ragi mudde/finger millet balls or plain rice.