green beans with onion paste

Green beans with onion paste

There’s a lot more than onion that goes into this Indian recipe for green beans, but this is the name my cookbook gives it. I’ve stuck with it, since there are so many different flavors involved in this dish that it’s hard to pick just one or two to define it. You start with a paste of onion, ginger, garlic, and tomato, add ground coriander and cumin, fry black mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and hot red peppers separately, then add everything together and allow the beans to simmer and soak up the flavors for about half an hour. The final product isn’t distinctly oniony; my onion-hating boyfriend even liked them (though I didn’t tell him their proper name until after he’d had a few bites lest it unfairly prejudice him against them!). 

Indian cooking has always seemed especially complex and mysterious to me; so many different ingredients are combined to produce a colorful variety of dishes that are so much greater than the sum of their parts. I recently bought Madhur Jaffrey’s first cookbook, An Invitation to Indian Cooking, so now this cuisine no longer appears mysterious or especially complicated. The steps of making a paste, frying the paste and various spices, and adding everything together to simmer are repeated in recipe after recipe. I made these beans to go with a relatively simple and quite good entree of chicken cooked in whole spices, of which I didn’t manage to get a good picture. I wanted to make a few adjustments there, however, while I thought the green beans were perfect as is. I won’t be posting the chicken for now, but many more Indian recipes should be showing up on the blog as I work my way through this cookbook.

This recipe is very enjoyable to make. The onion-ginger-garlic-tomato paste is wonderfully fragrant while it is frying. Starting with the paste means that you don’t have to do a painstakingly good job dicing the garlic and onions, which I appreciate since I don’t have a decent knife just yet. These are best served with other Indian dishes, or they could make a light dinner themselves with rice. It’s a much more exciting version of green beans than my usual blanch-and-butter routine.

Green Beans with Onion Paste

A few notes on this recipe: the original instructs you to chop the green beans into 1/8-1/4 inch rounds. That sounded extremely tedious, so I chopped the beans into about 3-4 pieces each to get the size you can see in the picture. If you can’t find spices like the whole black mustard seeds or the dried red peppers in your usual grocery store, you should try to find an Indian/Asian grocer in your area. They’ll have any spices you could need for creating Indian/South Asian food, and the spices are also less expensive than they are in Western groceries. I go to Kalustyan’s in NYC; they ship their spices around the country, so you can order from their online store if you can’t find somewhere local. See the end of the recipe for more info on the dried red peppers. The list of ingredients may seem long, but preparing this is really quite simple. I would recommend measuring out the spices before you begin though; that way everything will be ready to go when you need it.

Serves 4-6


1 1/2 lbs. fresh green beans, washed and ends trimmed
1 medium onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 inch square piece of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 medium canned tomato, coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
10 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil (not extra-virgin)
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1/2 tsp whole black mustard seeds
1 or 2 whole dried red peppers (optional) or 1 hot fresh green chili, sliced in half, or 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro (optional)


Chop the green beans into 3-4 pieces per bean (or you can chop them smaller, according to the original recipe’s instructions; see note above).

Place the onion, garlic, ginger, tomato, and ground turmeric into blender and blend until it is a smooth paste.

Put 6 tablespoons of the oil into a skillet and heat on medium. When the oil is hot, pour in the paste from the blender. Fry the paste for about five minutes, stirring constantly. If the paste starts to stick, add a teaspoon of warm water (I didn’t find this necessary). After the five minutes are up, add the ground coriander and ground cumin; fry for another five minutes, continuing to stir.

In another skillet (large enough to hold the beans later), heat the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil over medium. When the oil is very hot, put in the cumin seeds and mustard seeds. After 10 seconds, add the dried red peppers. Stir once. When the peppers begin to darken and the mustard seeds are popping, add in the green beans (if you are using green chili instead of dried peppers, you should add that at this point). Add in the paste from the other skillet. Mix everything together, and fry the beans over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Turn the heat to low, and add the salt and lemon juice. Cover the beans, and let them cook for about 35 minutes, until they are tender. Stir from time to time. If the beans start to stick to the skillet, add 1 tablespoon of water and stir. (If you are using the ground cayenne instead of the dried peppers, add it 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time).

Before serving, garnish with the cilantro (I’m not a fan of cilantro, so I skipped this step).

Note on peppers:

The kind of dried peppers you are looking for are short and should be very hot. I found some at Kalustyan’s aptly titled “Indian peppers,” and they looked like Madhur Jaffrey’s description, so that’s what I went with. Here’s a picture:

Since I’d never cooked with these before, I decided to start slow and only used half a pepper. That was silly, as the beans were not spicy at all. I’d probably be ok using two. This dish would be fine with no peppers at all, but if you can’t find anything like these and still want some heat, green chilies (jalapeños would be ok here) or cayenne are offered in the recipe as substitutes.

Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s An Invitation to Indian Cooking

4 Comments on “green beans with onion paste”

  1. Looks great. Michelle loves green beans and I love Indian food. We will definitely try this one.

  2. Mark D says:

    These had onions?!

  3. […] but I don’t think I was blown away by them enough to post here. I do recommend the green beans with onion paste that I posted months ago – as with butter chicken, the flavors are way more complicated than […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s