I'm not sure which aspect of this week's meal I like better: the filling, healthful crunch of vegetables with Indian spice or the story of the woman behind it.
When Bal Arneson came to Vancouver, B.C., from southern India about 16 years ago, she spoke almost no English and had little money. Her arranged marriage quickly dissolved into divorce, and she was pregnant. But she knew how to cook quickly and cheaply, because that's what girls in her small village of Tibbi were trained to do. So she went back to school and started teaching cooking classes eight years ago.
Today, the 35-year-old still lives in Vancouver and teaches folks how to cook. She has a master's degree in education and designs programs for students with learning disabilities. She has remarried, has two children and has written a cookbook -- her first -- that has become a national bestseller in Canada. It's lovely (of course, she did the styling for it) and features accessible ingredients; "it's full of what we ate in my village," she says. Many of her cooking-class students became recipe testers for the book.
Arneson looks and sounds like the next food television "it" girl. (Are you listening, Food Network? Martha?) In fact, she's hosting a weekly show on the country's Global BC TV called "Friday Cook With Bal Arneson." Its focus is not just Indian but "healthy, quick and aromatic," she says, like the papaya chicken she recently made on camera in nine minutes. Arneson even offers wine pairing suggestions.
For this dish, she recommends a nice, cold Riesling. If you'd like to pump up the protein, add 12 ounces of cooked, diced chicken breast when the tomato goes in, making sure the meat is heated through before serving. Serve with rice or noodles.
Arneson's Web site is www.spicegoddess.com.
- 2-inch piece ginger root
- 1 large onion
- 1 pound green beans
- 1 pound Chinese or napa cabbage
- 1 medium plum tomato
- 1 small green chili pepper (serrano or bird's-eye)
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
- 1 tablespoon store-bought or homemade garam masala (see NOTE)
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon flaxseed, for garnish (optional)
Peel, then finely grate the ginger to yield 2 tablespoons. Cut the onion into small dice (about 1 1/2 cups). Trim the beans and cut into 1/2-inch or 1-inch pieces (3 1/2 to 4 cups). Core, then cut the cabbage into 2-inch chunks. Cut the tomato into 1/2-inch or 1-inch chunks (1/2 to 3/4 cup). Stem, seed and mince the chili pepper; use as much as you would like.
Combine the oil, ginger and onion in a wok or large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; cook for about 6 minutes, stirring often, then add the tomato, chili pepper (to taste), garam masala and salt. Stir-fry for 3 minutes until the vegetables are evenly colored and just beginning to soften, then add the green beans and reduce the heat to medium. Stir-fry for 4 minutes or until the beans are just tender.
Add the cabbage and stir-fry for 2 minutes, then turn off the heat and cover. Let sit for 2 or 3 minutes.
Divide among individual plates; sprinkle a little flaxseed over each portion, if desired. Serve warm.
NOTE: To make your own garam masala, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Combine 1/2 cup coriander seeds, 1/2 cup cumin seeds, 1/4 cup dried curry leaves (available at Indian markets; if you can't find them, throw fresh or frozen curry leaves into the stir-fry instead), 1/4 cup whole black peppercorns, 3 whole cloves, 2 black cardamom pods, two 3-inch-long cinnamon sticks and 2 bay leaves on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, then let cool. Transfer to a designated spice grinder and process to a fine powder. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
Adapted from Arneson's "Everyday Indian" (Whitecap, 2009).
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
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