This time exactly one year ago, I was experiencing a life-changing “vacation.” My husband, Darrick, has a deep love of India and a close connection to a school for Buddhist nuns way in the Himalayan Mountains.
Knowing that this place and these people have a piece of Darrick’s heart, I realized that meeting them and walking up the mountains to where they live was crucial to understanding my husband.
So I strapped on my pack and hiked up 4,000 stairs.
The travel was impossibly hard. I nearly cried five times and finally shed tears as the sun was setting over a mountain. There were 3,300 stairs still above us and two days of hard transit behind us.
My head was full of doubt about my ability to offer anything to these women when I could barely make it up the stairs.
But I did make it to the top.
And when I arrived, I was greeted by a group of warm, deeply faithful, loving women who taught me—among other things—how to make delicious Indian food.
The kitchen was modest and every single meal was made from scratch, three times a day.
I spent my days teaching art classes and learning to cook with nuns.
We had Chapati with every meal. The dough was made simply—without use of a Kitchen Aid or any other kind of modern convenience—the way it has been done for years and years. We sat on folded rugs on the kitchen floor, rolling, slapping, and cooking the unleavened bread.
All the while, I knew my “help” was slowing them down, but they patiently reassured me.
When the bread was done, we started on the main dishes. They always began the same—with oil, spices, onions, ginger, and garlic.
Tomatoes were used to deglaze the caramelized masala spices off the pan, and we added cabbage or green beans or potatoes or lentils, and sautéed them until they were tender and wonderfully flavored.
I have never eaten so well in my whole life. And so when I was challenged with creating a 10-ingredient meal that celebrated a vacation, I knew I wanted to make Indian food.
Here are my 10 ingredients:
5. cumin seeds
6. garam masala
7. Subji masala
8. green beans
9. naan (store-bought)
10. chai mix (store bought)
vegetable oil, salt + pepper ("free" ingredients)
I went to the Farmers’ Market for my produce so that each ingredient would be as fresh and flavorful as possible. The nuns grew much of their food; when I was with them, we walked to their gardens in the morning to pick vegetables for the day.
Of course I brought home tons of spices from our trip, but you could find them at a local international grocery or online.
The most important ingredient in the Subji masala recipe is the mango powder. It gives the dish a delish zesty flavor.
It seems like a lot of oil at first, but just trust me, it makes the dish creamy and rich.
You'll want to use a heavy-bottomed pot so that the dish keeps an even heat.
The water helps simmer the greens and cuts out the step of blanching them. It will feel very soupy, but the liquid cooks off.
Because I was running out of the ingredients I brought home from India, and because I wanted to keep it easy, I used store-bought naan and chai. If you can’t find naan, pitas work.
And in another post one day I will make true chai. But for this get together, the sweet powdery mix was ready in minutes and still very tasty.
I love eating the green beans with the naan but it would also be delicious over rice!
While traveling, Darrick and I saw many, many posters for a movie called Qaidi Band. We intended to watch it in the theater while we were there, but never made it, so I rented it on Amazon and had friends over for dinner and a movie.
It was a wonderful, fun, and casual way to share parts of our trip.
Simple and deeply flavorful, this recipe has all the comforts of going home. I eat it and allow the food to transport me across oceans and up mountains to a tiny kitchen filled with love.
Sautéed Masala Green Beans
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 2 medium onions, julienned
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1½ tablespoons garam masala
- 1½ tablespoons Subji masala
- 6 medium tomatoes, diced
- 3 tablespoons chopped ginger
- 8 garlic cloves, chopped
- 3 pounds green beans, trimmed + cut into 1-inch pieces
- 8 pieces naan bread
- In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add the vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions and sauté until nearly tender—about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the cumin seeds and watch for them to simmer and burst to release the flavor.
- Add the garam masala and the Subji masala, stirring to coat. The spices will begin to stick to the bottom of the pan, but do not worry. Cook, stirring constantly for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, ginger, and garlic, stirring to dissolve the spices off the bottom of the pan. Once the pan has been deglazed by the tomatoes, add the green beans and 1 cup of water. Cover the vegetables halfway and bring the mixture to a simmer. Continue to cook, stirring every couple of minutes, until the beans are tender and the liquid has cooled off—about 15 to 20 minutes (they will look slightly saucy because of the oil). Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed (many times the spice blends include salt and pepper, so you may not need to do this).
- Heat the naan in a dry cast iron skillet, cooking on both sides until they are golden and just slightly crisp.
- Enjoy immediately!