First, this recipe is the first dish I tried at home, and it was a great success. Second, I am a die-hard fan of beets, but not in a million years have I ever thought of them in the context of Indian cuisine. As it turns out, their natural sweetness melds perfectly with the earthy flavors of mustard seeds and curry leaves and stands up to the heat of a few spicy chiles and a good amount of ginger. Third, this recipe doesn't call for too many hard-to-find ingredients. Mustard seeds can be found in most supermarkets, though fresh curry leaves might be a bit more difficult to come by. Try a market that specializes in South Asian or Indian products. Once you locate a purveyor of curry leaves, snatch up as many as you can; they'll keep in the freezer for a long time and will prove indispensable for future endeavors into Indian cooking.
The process of making this curry is typical of many of the vegetable curries in 660 Curries: Toast the spices in a small amount of oil until fragrant, stir-fry the vegetables briefly, add a few more flavoring elements and a bit of liquid, and simmer. It couldn't be more simple, but somehow the progression of steps is a bit different than most Western recipes.
One thing I really love about this recipe is that it's one of the few beet preparations I've seen that harmoniously uses all parts of the beet—the sweet bulb, the crunchy stems, and the pleasantly bitter, toothsome greens.
The finished dish is a perfect shade of deep magenta; pair it with some basmati rice and a bit of raita or yogurt and you're all set. Healthful, satisfying, intensely flavorful, and the presentation is a knockout.
Win '660 Curries'
As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of 660 Curries to give away this week.
- 2 large beets with their green tops (about 1 pound total)
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 teaspoons black or yellow mustard seeds
- 6 to 8 medium-sized to large fresh curry leaves
- 2 fresh Thai, cayenne, or serrano chiles, stems removed, cut in half lengthwise (do not remove the seeds)
- 1 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
- 3 lengthwise slices fresh ginger (each 2 inches long. 1 inch wide, and 1/8 inch thick), cut into matchstick-thin strips (julienne)
Separate the greens from the beet bulbs (you can cut them off or twist, yank, and tear them away-whatever your state of mind). Rinse the greens under cold running water and shake off the excess water. Arrange the greens in a stack on the cutting board and slice the bunch into thin shreds-including the deep red, juicy stalks, Transfer them into a small bowl. Trim off and discard both ends of each beet bulb. Peel them with a vegetable peeler, and rinse then under running water. Cut the bulbs into 1-inch cubes.
Heat the oil in a medium-size saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds, cover the pan, and cook until the seeds have stopped popping (not unlike popcorn), about 30 seconds. Add the beets, curry leaves, and chiles. Stir-fry to coat the red beets with the mustard seeds, 1 to 2 minutes. Then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pan, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beets are braised, 10 to 15 minutes. (The beets will sweat, releasing some liquid, in which they will cook.)
Add the beet greens, salt, ginger, and 1 cup water. Once the blood-red curry comes to a boil, cover the pan and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beets have absorbed most of the liquid and are tender when tested (or more appropriately, tasted), 25 to 30 minutes. Then serve.