Down to Earth Cluster Beans

So he's back! Sans curtains, of course. There was no way that was happening. And I knew that when I asked but the sheer thrill of asking for them was too much to pass up on. The insane request was met with the longest and most expensive silence that made the trans-Atlantic lines sizzle. That sudden unexplained static you heard? Yup! Now you know what that was.

As I sit back and analyze the whole situation, I wonder: what happened to me? There are very few things I really want and even fewer that I really need. In fact, the pictures I post on my blog are a silent testimony to the old and tired stuff that I have. So I was rather amazed at myself when I came up with this long shopping list.

I rationalized parts of it by saying the books are really for Medha - and they are. But they are also for me. I haven't read anything half decent for years. By the end of the day, my eyes are just too tired to read small print. Audio books have helped to a certain extent but I need to get back to reading because I miss it so much. I was always found with my nose buried in a book. Then Life happened, stresses increased. I stopped reading. It's not even like I watch TV. I don't. I feel isolated and pushed into a corner, even though I read the news voraciously. I have tried to get back to reading without much success. I saw a lifeline in Medha: Easy to read books. Large print. A "together" activity. Win-win all around.

But, what about the rest of the list? Try as I could, I could not understand this need to have. Where was I going to keep all that stuff? Oh my! I desperately need to detoxify! A few years ago if anyone had told me that I would covet stackable katoris made of stainless steel, I would have laughed my head off. Of course, it is nice to ponder over all these things once you have the stuff you wanted! More than slightly upside down, dare I say. I need to get back down to earth. What better way than food. And food for the soul.

Chitkyachi bhaji

Chitkya, guar, guvar are cluster beans that are firmly ensconced in traditional Maharashtrian cooking. In our home, they were always on the menu whenever there was an auspicious occasion. My mother made these in three different ways: with bhopla, with kale vatane or by itself. The recipe remained pretty much the same. I particularly loved the version with kale vatane. It made the veggie dish even more earthy for me.

The cluster beans I got at the Indian grocery store weren't anything to shout about but, on the other hand, getting fresh produce in the kind of winter we've been experiencing is something to shout about.

Kale vatane are dried black peas that I have not seen in any regional cooking apart from Maharashtrian and Goan cuisine. (If you are familiar with this legume in other cuisines, please let me know!) One kala vatana, many kale vatane. My mother used to special order these from an old doddering fellow, who also brought us the best turmeric powder, red chilli powder, tamarind and other spices sourced from Sawantwadi to Nagpur in Maharashtra. I remember a time when we didn't see him for months and the story was that he had passed away. We mourned his loss and our loss till one day the doorbell rang and there he was, like an apparition, at the door. He had been very ill and it took him months to recover and get back to his business. We urged him to retire but he said he wasn't doing it for the money anymore. He missed the joy he brought to so many homes when they saw him with his heavy bags, filled with spices and hard-to-find grains.

What is great about these dried black peas is that they hold their own - in flavor, texture and shape - when paired with cluster beans. Good quality kale vatane were hard to find in Bombay, and they are just not available here in the US. So when I quizzed some of my more learned friends over at Another Subcontinent, I was told to try French Green Lentils or Puy Lentils. I had never heard of these nor cooked with them but I found them easily at the local Wild Oats. (Thank you, Lee!)

Puy lentils are like a chubbier green version of masoor (red lentils) and, like kale vatane but unlike masoor, they hold their shape. They also have a taste, again very different from masoor, that made them a great substitute for kale vatane. These green lentils are also used in salads. I was really quite thrilled with how delicious my chitkyachi bhaji was with these lentils.

  • 3 cups of chopped guvar
  • 1/4 cup French green lentils
  • 1/4 tsp mustard seeds
  • pinch hing
  • 1 tbsp of jaggery, shredded
  • 1/2 tsp red chilli powder (more if you want to up the heat)
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 3 tbsp oil for the phodni
  • 1/4 cup water
  • salt to taste

  1. Cook the 1/4 cup puy lentils, preferably in a pressure cooker. One whistle and it's ready. I let it go to 2 whistles by mistake and some of the lentils sort of got mushy. Most of them were still OK, as you can see in the pictures. If they are not cooked in a pressure cooker, it could take up to 45 minutes on the stove for the lentils to cook.
  2. Heat the oil in a kadhai or wok.
  3. Add mustard seeds and when they start popping, add hing. Add turmeric powder, red chilli powder to the oil.
  4. Then increase the heat to medium-high and add the chopped guvar and stir so that the phodni coats the vegetable completely. The beans must be topped and tailed before being chopped. 1/2inch to 3/4inch is a good length to chop these into.
  5. Add the jaggery, salt and toss.
  6. Add water, lower the heat to medium-low, cover and cook till the guvar is almost done. About 10-15 minutes.
  7. Drain the cooked puy lentils and add them to the kadhai. Add salt, mix well and cook until the beans are completely cooked. And there you have your earthy chitkyachi bhaji.
  8. Serve hot with rotis and pickle.

Cluster beans in India are smaller and less plump than the variety we get here. I also found that I did not need to string the beans. I wonder if these beans have been developed to be string-free like French beans or if the species we get in the US are naturally string-free.

Once this was sitting pretty in my belly, I was back to pondering what happened to me and where I will keep the stuff that he did deign to bring back with him...


Anjali Koli said...

Nice read Manisha. So your triangle is complete again:). Right now my Dad too is craving for Kale vatane and hunt is on here. I will be posting a gavar recipe soon.

About the stackable vati many of us do the turn around and now I know it is a peer thing after all.

Anonymous said...

Hmm...I haven't heard of kale vatane...must explore this mystery.

I find the textural aspect of Maharashtrian food so different from Kashmiri. There is this combination of veges with lentils that are still firm - cabbage with chana dal, eggplant with chole, and now gvar with kale vatane! There are some unique como sin Kashmiri cuisine too, but it is pretty much everything cooked till soft! Other than the meat, of course!

My MIL wd always complain that the gvar in Delhi was not quite up to the mark, and I have rarely cooked it. This season, I spotted a good-looking batch and finally got to cook with them.

Chrome is trendy (and tradition)!

sra said...

Nice post, Manisha! And nice pix too. All of us wrestle with this possession thing on and off - don't worry too much about it! Right now, I'm in the 'discard' phase with regard to the house but keep looking for things like plates and bowls and dishes for the blog!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful write up!!! You have a way with words :)

Ashwini said...

Manisha it feels as if you have a list of my favorite veggies and are posting them!
I tried and *loved* the nutty green beans. And what can I say about gavar? My dad and I are the only ones in the family who actually like this earthy vege. And my mum makes it exactly like how you described in your post - bhopla (which I didnt like too much), kale vatane (oohhh yummy) or by itself.
And the similarities dont end there. When I read about Sawantwadi my heart just skipped a beat!!! My mother is from near the area so anyone in the family who ventured in the general direction would HAVE TO get back prized ingredients for the rest of the gang - badage (cow peas), kale vatane, malwani masala, belgaum masoor, kokum, vatambe... on and on....
Besides this we also had a man come to our home..I think it was for goda masala which my mother refused to buy from anywhere else.
This is so wonderfully weird...and your post just made me so so sentimental. There's got to be a connection somewhere :-)

Anonymous said...

Wow, that loks fantastic. I need to try indian cooking it all looks sooo good!!

You should come and check out my blog. It’s It’s a blog where I get bloggers to submit their recipes and at the end of the year a cookbook will be available called “Divine Dish - Swapping Recipes with the Blogosphere”
Tell all your friends - the more the merrier :)

Inji Pennu said...

Manisha, I have linked your post for a post of
. Since it is not a food post, hope it is okay for you. Just let me know if you want me to remove it. Just confirming.

Anonymous said...

Manisha, last time we went to India I bought a clay pot to cook fish. Satish kept complaining the whole time that it would break before we got home and on and on...It didn't break and now we are enjoying much more tastier fish curries. He told me yesterday that we should get a bigger pot next time we go. Guess who was laughing this time:)
I also wanted to get some stainless steel coffee glass and even the man at the store told me that it was out of style.

Unknown said...

Guvar was always there growing up. When my mom made it I always complained "aaj parat guvar". Now I get excited about getting fresh guvar and everytime we go to the Indian store its on our list. I make it amti style daane laoon....never made it with kale vatane, but will try it soon......

Mom used to make kale vatane amti and khandeshi khichadi with it. Both are absolutely delicious. I have seen the kale vatane in the Indian grocery stores in NJ.

There's no end to things I want to do and eat !!!!! It's all good (within reason)

Mandira said...

Manisha - great post. I have to go and find kale vatane to try it this week. Hope you and your family are doing OK!


Jai Jai Maharashtra Maaza !!

kale vatanechi usal ani Vade, few lemon drops and chopped onion. Control yourself HKG.

Do you want us to send Kale Vatane from India.

Anonymous said...

Anjali, hope you find good quality kale vatane. Kalya vatanyachi amti is also very delicious. The lust for stackable vatis arose when we had a cook together and I needed vatis for the various 'liquid' items on the menu. My friends brought rice bowls and ramekins but they were bigger than regular vatis and took up a lot of space on the table and made things a little difficult. Of course, no-one complained because we were having a really good time.

Anita, maybe I am kind of right and that kale vatane are used mainly in Konkan and coastal cuisine. I haven't been able to find anything on them as yet viz. scientific name of species, where they are grown etc, but the search continues. As for Kashmiri cuisine, I am still waiting for that meatball recipe. ;-)

Coffee, thanks!

Ashwini, time to do the Bollywood thing: tumhare sine par voh kaisa nishaan hain? :-D

Seriously though, I think that most of us with roots in the Konkan coast will have many similarities in cuisine, our way of life, our language, etc. But it would be fun to do the six degrees of separation thing and find out more! BTW, I am so glad you liked the nutty beans! It's a no-pain and quick recipe.

Suzanne, welcome! Do try my recipes as well as recipes of my fellow Indian food bloggers. It will open up a new frontier as far as flavors and textures are concerned. Best wishes with your blog!

Inji link love is always welcome! And especially if it spreads awareness about copyrights and plagiarism.

Gini, how they change their tujne, these men! I must ask for a clay pot the next time! But the next time I want to get it myself in my own 100lbs of luggage, and maybe, Medha's too!

Vrushali, you will find yourself doing that about several other veggies and dishes, too. Not only do our taste buds mature as we grow older, it's also the memories that help with the turnaround. You must tell me where in NJ and which grocery store you found them in. My sister and I were talking about it the other day and she hasn't seen them either.

Mandira, good luck and I hope grocery stores in Buffalo carry kale vatane. If not, use puy lentils.

HKG, now that is something that might work with these green lentils I used. For the usal, should I make it like the regular matkichi usal? I want to try it out soon! It looks like I might get my hands on kale vatane if Vrushali sends me the coordinates of the grocery store, otherwise you never know...I might send you request for them if I can't control the cravings :-D

Abhi said...

The best part I enjoy about eating in steel vatis is to read the etchings on it. Generally, they have a date and the name of the person. The couple of vatis that we have, are dated, 1953 and 1960. I assume they were given for my brother's "barse" and his "munj". However, I am unable to place the people whose names are on it.
I am glad that my mother dumped them on us (alongwith other things steel) when we moved to the West.

Mrs. K said...

Curtains? That is in my list too! And clay pots? Of course!

I haven't cooked with cluster beans much, but your recipe sounds great.
As always, enjoyed reading your write-up.

Anonymous said...

I love cluster beans....posted a recipe ahile back...yours look great....have to try it...

Nabeela said...

Hi Manisha! Hows it going in Colorado? Still being snowed in?
I missed reading up on all my favorite food blogs while I was in India...but most of all I missed my tiny apartment and its comforts!!(Now who would have imagined that??!!)
Anyways, I just wanted to mention I posted a haleem recipe in my comments section in answer to your request. I haven't tried cooking from that recipe yet...but maybe I will, very soon.
I don't know if you're familiar with Hyderabadi haleem...but its decidedly different from other North Indian haleem recipes. It uses broken wheat instead of lentils...and a lot of spices are different too...
Anyways, enough about the hows the cooking going? :)

Unknown said...

I found the kale vatane at the subzi mandi in this was a good 6 months or so ago....on our grocery shopping trip to NJ....I live in Boston and whenever we go visiting family in NJ we make sure we stock up on groceries.......hope this helps...

Bong Mom said...

Hi Manisha
Your writings are always so beautiful and warm, lends an extra spice to that sabzi :)
Thanks for the info on the "kale vaatane" too

Unknown said...

Very nice read Manisha...I eagerly await your posts - the thing about the old spice seller is touching!

Haven't heard of Kale Vatane...but my feelings echo yours, when we are cooking the world in our kitchens, our heart feels good where there are good ol' tastes from our grandmom's kitchens in our food - food that takes us close to our roots often warms our soul more than any other!

Anonymous said...

Hi Manisha,

What a lovely post, thanks for sharing that. I am sure at one time or another we could all relate. Cluster beans with lentils looks great in any dishes you might have! :)

Unknown said...

Hey Manisha
Interesting blog. Love this gavar recipe. I like it but not my kid's favourite so I make it very rarely at home. Now i think I should try this recipe of yours.Lemme tell u how successful it is at my home.
BTW chk this out:

Anonymous said...

Kalle Vatane are my dad's favourite and my mon used to make an usal with goda masala..YUMM !!
She would also us the water that the vatane were cooked in as Saar, temer it with Garlic and red chillies and was the best drink to have during winter

How I miss them !!Have not seen them anywhere here in Canada either...

Anonymous said...

Abhi, you made me look, too! My vatis were the plain ones and do not stack. They keep toppling over - sometimes in the middle of the night in the cabinet and I wonder if there are mice in the house!

RP, thanks! Cluster beans have a slight bitter taste, that's why we add jaggery (or sugar, if you don't have jaggery).

Dilipbhai, I am sure your guvar recipe will bring back memories, too. A large part of my family is Gujarati.

Nabeela, home is where your heart is and it's OK for it be "your own home", as you found out! I've been wanting to make your haleem ever since you posted it but every weekend brings new challenges. The snow really wore us down. You know me, I will make it and report back!

Vrushali, hope all is well with you! Parsipanny, NJ. That's good to know!

Sandeepa, thank you so much! I'm sorry I missed these last comments on this post. Life was very hectic and busy in Feb.

Nandita, you bet! And this feeling increases as you (well, I) grow older. There are things that I never paid attention to, that are coming back to me now.

Linda, thanks! The lentils just need to be the sort that hold their shape, form and flavor when paired with cluster beans.

Chetna, welcome! Kalya vatanyachi amti is the first thing I am going to make once I get my stock. Yes!! My friend Lee was in Texas and went to a huge Indian store called Taj Imports and actually remembered that I was looking for kale vatane. She called me to confirm that she had it right and she bought a packet for me!! Imagine that! I would love to share that with you, if you're interested. Let me know!