Indian-Style Green Beans and Potatoes

For years I've been all geared up about pressure cooking, so when I finally got to teach a Modern Pressure Cooking Workshop this past weekend, I was over the moon. Pressure cooking is a hard sell for places that host classes. It's just not sexy. Pressure cookers strike home cooks as risky and prone to explosions. But pressure cooking is IS sexy, and it's also very safe, and that we had a sold-out group this past Sunday only proves how groovy the folks are up in the Randolph/Tucker county area of West Virginia. It's about 3,000 feet up there, to be exact, so we needed a few extra moments of cooking time for a number of the dishes. (Note to chef-educators: when something does not turn out exactly as planned, blame the altitude!)

Here's one thing we made in the class, a summer staples I cook again and again: green beans and potatoes. Pull out your pressure cookers and snap to it.

Indian-Style Green Beans and Potatoes

Serves 6-8 as a side dish

Is there any other veggie pairing as homey and adaptable as green beans and potatoes? Here, we’re adding turmeric and a few spices with ginger and garlic for an Indian feel, a riff on a recipe created by my friend Sara Alway in her adorable little book on companion planting, Soil Mates. But you could tinker with the aromatics and seasonings and take it in dozens of different flavor directions.

The doneness is the trick here. Some green beans are old and tough; some are young and tender. Some potatoes cook up in 4 minutes; others take longer. Also, I love it when my green beans get on the mushy side and the potatoes begin to fall apart. I’m guessing you don’t (if you do, awesome!) Use these cooking times as a guideline, checking after 4 minutes and cooking longer as needed.

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons whole black mustard seed, optional
  • 1 onion, diced or sliced
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¾ cup vegetable stock, water, or whey
  • 2 pounds small redskin potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1-2 pounds green beans, snapped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, optional
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice for serving
  1. Heat the cooker over medium-high heat. Add the oil. When it shimmers, add the mustard seed and cook until the seeds pop.
  2. Immediately add the diced onion and cook until the onions begin to brown, about 5-10 minutes. You may need to lower the heat to keep the onion from burning. Add the ginger, garlic, turmeric, and coriander and cook for an additional minute.
  3. Stir in the water, stock, or whey, then add the potatoes and green beans. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the works. Lock on the lid, bring the cooker to pressure, and cook on the highest setting for 4 minutes (really I always need to go longer, more like 8 minutes, but start with 4). Release the pressure and take a peek in the cooker, poking a potato and green bean. If they are not yet tender, continue to cook in increments of 2-4 minutes.
  4. When the vegetables are cooked to your desired doneness, stir in the butter, if using. Taste for seasoning and add more salt. Unless you used whey, which is already tart, squeeze as much lemon juice over the vegetables as you like and serve.

Rosemary and Garlic Variation: Substitute olive oil for the canola oil, and omit the spices and ginger. Add a dried bay leaf and a sprig of fresh rosemary when you add the liquid and the vegetables.

Basil and Tomato Variation: Substitute olive oil for the canola oil, and omit the spices and ginger. Decrease the cooking liquid to ½ cup and add a few chopped fresh tomatoes instead. After it’s all cooked, throw in a nice handful of chopped fresh basil and maybe a little fresh oregano.

Down Home Version: Omit the canola oil, spices, and ginger. Render a few slices of bacon and cook the onion in that. Sprinkle a tablespoon or so of apple cider vinegar over the cooked vegetables before serving. I especially like this preparation when the veggies are a little more cooked and the beans are army green.

*Sara also shared her own pressure cooker, a funky but not scary Hawkins, with me; it's what you see in the photo. Hawkins is a big brand in India, I guess, because the pamphlet that came with the cooker has a bunch of neato regional Indian recipes. Sara, if you want your cooker back, let me know! It's not hard to use at all. Perhaps it's time for me to host a an underground Modern Pressure Cooking Workshop in my own kitchen!  

New Post on Good.Food.Stories.

I have a post about the very accessible art of homemade ice cream on the fabulous website Good.Food.Stories. Every word is true. I really did drop out of the homemade ice cream scene for, like, four years. All because of frozen breast milk. Just read it, and enjoy my recipe for vegan basil-mint ice cream. It's killer.

And as a teaser, enjoy this hypnotic video of the basil-mint ice cream as it's churning. 

Dr. Chicken's PCT Cookies

It’s raining in Ohio right now, but it’s probably not raining where my big brother is. That would be somewhere between Kennedy Meadows and Tuolumne Meadows in California’s High Sierra. He’s thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Every now and then as I go about my daily routines—walking the dog through the cemetery, driving to pick Frances up from preschool, washing dirty pots and pans—I think to myself, “What’s Mark up to at this moment?”

Only he’s not Mark on the trail; he’s Dr. Chicken, or D.C. This trail name of his has a legitimate origin, though I forget exactly what it is. I imagine Dr. Chicken scrambling up a jagged path of scree, taking in noble, wild scenery that most of us only see on wall calendars. Or I imagine him emerging from his ultra-light tent at 4am to get a head start on the day. But usually I picture him eating. Thru-hikers blast through calories and need plenty of fuel.

A few weeks ago, my mother and I put together the food resupply box he’d requested us to have ready . “I’ll need 5-6 days of food” he’d texted me. “Best send by May 17.” Yes, he has a cell phone, and it has come in handy, even though I know Dr. Chicken’s impetus in taking to the PCT was, in part, to escape the frippery of technology and constant communication.

Thanks in part to Cheryl Strayed’s mega-successful book Wild, the PCT is hopping this season. The film adaptation comes out in December, and PCT traffic will probably increase after that. Which is not bad, but the character of a thing changes as more and more people show up. That’s just the way it works.

My brother, D.C., is changing, too. A nonconformist and borderline ascetic, he’s felt trapped in his past few jobs coordinating trail maintenance workers in the backcountry of Alaska and Washington. As the old song goes, he was born the next of kin to the wayward wind. He yearns to wander. All those footsteps on dry desert earth and rocky soil are leading him to some kind of resolution.

I wanted to meet up with D.C. on the Oregon leg of the PCT for a few days, but it’s just not going to happen. I have a kid and a husband and work to do; I long ago squandered all of my wayward-wind days. The best I could do was bake cookies. I packed them up in Ziplock bags and tucked them into the box Mom and I jammed with way too much food, despite his texted assurances not to go too crazy.

I love telling people what my brother’s up to. He’s doing the thing a lot of us wish we could do. I doubt he wakes us up thinking what his sister and little niece are up to, but you never know. He’s out there hiking this thing for himself, but he doesn’t know he’s hiking it for me, too.

Dr. Chicken’s PCT Cookies

Makes 3-1/2 dozen large or 5 dozen small cookies

Plenty of hearty rolled oats, big chunks of roasted almonds, and a generous volume of dark chocolate chips make these modified cowboy cookies hit all of the right textures. I like them for a mid-morning snack. Hopefully Dr. Chicken did, too. To get the most coconut flavor, use extra-virgin coconut oil. It’s not cheap, but its tropical aroma alone is just divine. Some brands of coconut oil are flavor-neutral. Use those and your cookies will still taste pretty great.

  • 1 cup extra-virgin coconut oil, solid
  • 2 cups rolled oats or quick oats
  • 2 cups all-purpose or white whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon table salt
  • 2 tablespoons finely ground flaxseed or chia seeds
  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup) applesauce, preferably unsweetened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup brown sugar, light or dark
  • 12 ounces (2 cups) chocolate chips (check to see if they are vegan, if that’s a concern)
  • 2 cups whole almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 1-3 tablespoons water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Position baking racks in the top and bottom third of the oven.

If it’s warm and your coconut oil is quite liquidy, pour one cup into a glass measuring cup and chill in the refrigerator for an hours or so, until it’s firmer.

Place one cup of the oats in a food processor or blender and pulse on and off until the oats are in smaller pieces, but not too powdery. Put all 2 cups of the oats in a large bowl. Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and stir to combine.

Stir the ground flax or chia seeds together with the applesauce and vanilla in a small bowl, and set aside to thicken.

Meanwhile, put the coconut oil in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat until it’s relatively smooth. Add the brown sugar and beat on high speed, scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula from time to time, until the mixture is lighter in texture and has a somewhat pearly look (about 3 minutes). Add the applesauce mixture and beat another minute.

Scrape down the bowl once more, than add the oat-flour mixture. Beat until combined (this dough will be a bit crumbly, but if it looks particularly dry, add one or two tablespoons of water.) Add the chocolate chips and almonds and beat just until they are distributed nicely through the dough.

Scoop out balls of dough that are about 1-1/2 inches in diameter for large cookies, 1 inch for smaller cookies. Place the dough balls on an ungreased, unlined baking sheet, 12 to a sheet. Flatten each dough ball with your palm a little (these cookies will not spread much during baking). Bake about 8-10 minutes, rotating the sheet from top to bottom and back to front halfway through baking. Let the cookies sit on the baking sheet 5 minutes before transferring them with a thin metal spatula to a cooling rack. Cookies will keep, tightly covered, for about a week. I think. They’re usually gone by day 5 or earlier.

Ramp Champ

Champ is an Irish dish of creamy mashed potatoes and scallions. Colcannon is an Irish dish of mashed potatoes and cabbage or kale. What follows features ramps in the scallion role, with cabbage invited along, too—I like how the sweetness of the cooked cabbage sidles up next to the mellowed-out cooked ramps. We don’t call this Ramp Colcannon because Ramp Champ is obviously the better name (it's also our pub trivia team’s default moniker). A little grating of lemon zest is nice, as is fresh dill, but don’t go too crazy, like I did, or they will overpower the ramps. Yes, correct, overpower the ramps. For a vegan version, use tons of olive oil and either non-dairy milk or a generous splash of reserved potato-cooking water.

You may serve ramp champ as-is, or with a fried egg on top. The night that we dug up these ramps, we griddled fatty, flavorful burgers seasoned with minced raw ramps. I think the only way to outdo that combo is to fry an egg and serve all three together: patty, egg, and ramp champ. 

Makes about six servings

  • 1-1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled, cut into 2-inch chunks
  • As many ramps as you like or have—about 30 would be ideal—cleaned, roots trimmed
  • One to four tablespoons butter or extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • ½ medium green cabbage, cut into shreds about a centimeter in diameter
  • 1-2 cups of milk, sour cream, or half-and-half
  • 1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, dill, or parsley, optional
  • ¼ teaspoon finely grated zest, optional
  • Lots of salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the potatoes in a large pot and cover them with cold water. Add lots of salt, cover, and bring them to a boil over high heat. Immediately uncover the pot and lower the heat to a simmer. When a fork easily pierces a potato chunk, drain the potatoes and mash them up (I like them chunky, with an irregular texture). Put the lid on there to keep them warm.

Meanwhile, cut the white root ends of the ramps into segments about a centimeter long. Roughly chop the leaves of the ramps and set them aside.

Melt a tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium heat and add the ramp roots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they are aromatic and softened, about two to three minutes. Then add the chopped leaves and cook, stirring, until they are wilted. Season the ramps with salt and a little freshly ground black pepper. Scrape them into a bowl, wipe out the skillet if necessary, and return it to the heat. Melt another tablespoon of butter, add the cabbage, and cook until it’s soft and sweet, about ten minutes (it’s okay of the cabbage browns a little).

With a big wooden spoon, stir the cooked ramps and cabbage into the mashed potatoes. Add the remaining butter (if you like, and you should; ramp champ is at its best when it’s good and rich) along with the cooked ramps and cabbage and enough milk or half and half to make it smooth but not loose. Season the heck out of your ramp champ with more salt and black pepper. If you’re feeling edgy, add a little chopped fresh herbs or lemon zest, but don’t overdo it, or you’ll negate the ramps, and the ramps are the point.