Guvar nu Shaak | Gujarati-Style Guar Beans
Bitterness is one of the flavors that gets talked about least in our discussions of food in general, and possibly even less so with our discussions of Indian food—and maybe least of all with Gujarati food. Clichés around cuisines often exert greater weight than the realities behind them. So, in the common view of people only exposed to Indian restaurant menus, all Indian food is over-spiced, creamy, heavy, and greasy. And Gujarati food, is apparently always overly sweetened.
While it’s not untrue that there are many Gujarati dishes that use sweetness where other Indian cuisines would not, this ignores the fact that this marvelously varied cuisine from the west of India indulges equally in the bitter side of the spectrum. Fenugreek greens, both fresh and dried, make regular appearances, as does bitter gourd or karela.
Another vegetable that Gujarati cooks do wonderful things with is guvar, the flat beans that go, alternately, in English as either cluster beans or guar beans. Outside of India they’re mostly known for their more industrial uses: guar gum, extracted from their seeds, is a commonly used gelling agent in processed foods, and derivatives of guar gum are even used in the hydraulic fracking of shale oil.
But one of its most basic and wonderful uses remains as this humble vegetable dish, where the beans are cooked together with pan-fried potatoes and seasoned with just a hint of heat from green chilli peppers and the curious, mentholated earthiness of carom seeds. Ideal for a simple lunch or dinner with chapattis and dhal.
GUVAR NU SHAAK
Serves 3–4 as a side dish
1 large russet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 lb guvar/ guar beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths on the bias
1 tsp ajwain/carom seeds
1 tsp finely minced green chilli
1 tsp finely minced garlic
¼ tsp hing
1 tablespoon powdered jaggery
½ bunch dill, stripped of any thick stems and finely chopped
Ghee for cooking
Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Cook the guar beans for just 3–4 minutes, or until tender, then refresh under cold running water to stop them from overcooking. Set aside to drain while you proceed with the recipe.
In a wide pan, heat 2 tablespoons of ghee till shimmering. Cook over medium heat for 5–6 minutes, stirring only occasionally, till the potato is browned on all sides. Remove the potato from the pan and set aside with the guvar.
Add a tablespoon more of ghee to the pan and, when hot, add the ajwain seeds and cook till aromatic.
Add the minced garlic and cook, stirring, often, till fragrant and a very light golden brown. Add the green chili and hing and stir briefly to combine.
Tip the guvar, the potatoes, and a teaspoon of salt and the jaggery to the pan and stir to combine. If the pan looks dry, add up to two tablespoons of water to it as well.
Cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes, until the guvar is tender.
Add the finely chopped dill to the beans while they’re still hot. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. h