The ‘Everything Red’ Stir-Fry
I rooted through the fridge – in there I found
A beetroot and a red cabbage hanging around
Inspiration struck and a mood board formed
Of ideas on how these veggies could be transformed
Add to the mix an onion and some beans
And you have yourself a beautiful stirfry that gleams.
I have always loved beetroot but I can’t say the same about red cabbage. For one, I only came across a red cabbage later in life, when I moved to Europe. I had no skill set, no experience, no wisdom handed from my mother for dealing with it. Still, I tried my best to befriend it. In return, it turned its purple nose down at me and stubbornly refused to live up to the image of the finished dish I had in my head. It would either taste awful or look unappetising or, when it was in a particularly bad mood, both. Disheartened, I gave up and contented myself with eating stewed red cabbage when I went out for meals.
But then, more recently, something inexplicable happened. I found that I had cracked the code, that I could cook red cabbage without making it cross. And these days, if it’s in season, it’s almost always in my fridge. Now that we’ve finally we have made up, red cabbage and I, we’re getting along famously. The trick, I have discovered, is that red cabbage responds best to braising. Unlike most other varieties of cabbage which taste best when cooked quickly, this sturdy red version is like the beautiful diva who takes her time getting ready and doesn’t mind keeping everyone waiting. She does, however, reward your patience with a beautiful texture.
Once I had understood this regal, beautiful (how stunning is the cross section?) vegetable, a world of possibilities opened up. I have written before of my tendency to combine ingredients of similar colours together, so this stir-fry was just asking to be made.
Red cabbage & beetroot may seem unseasonal in May but the truth is, they are both still very much in season and unlike the heartier, stewed fare of the winter we’ve just left behind, this stir-fry is lighter, fresher and totally suitable to be eaten as a salad or a side dish. The beetroot here replaces the more traditional sugar in lending the slightly sweet element which makes red cabbage taste its best. The braising element comes from adding a bit of water when cooking the vegetables.
1: This stir-fry / braise has south Indian flavours but you could just as well use the same combination of vegetables and make it plain without the spices or use a different combination of spices.
2: You need the aduki beans to be tender but firm enough to lend a nutty texture – tinned ones might be too mushy here. It’s best if you can soak the dried beans the night before but if you are unable to, see the method below for quick-soaking.
3. Some of you might shake your heads that I add salt when cooking the beans. It’s a common myth that salt will hinder the cooking – it does not. In fact, I often even soak my beans in salted water. What DOES inhibit the cooking of beans is actually any acidic medium such as tomatoes.
The 'Everything Red' Stir-Fry
- 100 g dried aduki beans about ½ a cup
- 2 tsp ghee or oil
- 1 tsp black mustard seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp urad dal
- 1 dried red chilli, broken into bits
- 1 fresh red chilli, sliced
- 8 curry leaves, sliced
- 100 g red onions about 1 medium to large, sliced thinly then the slices halved
- 200 g raw beetroot peeled and cut into thick matchsticks
- 200 g red cabbage, shredded
- 1/2 cup shredded coconut, divided
- salt to taste
- lemon juice & finely chopped coriander leaves if required
- If you don't have the beans soaked overnight, then soak them in hot water for as long as possible, at least an hour. Drain, then transfer to a saucepan. Cover with fresh water to come up to about an inch over the beans, add a tsp of salt, then bring to the boil. Lower heat, simmer until the beans are tender but not mushy. This could take anything between 20 - 40 minutes depending on the size and age of the beans. Drain and set aside.
- Combine the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, urad dal, dried red chilli & fresh red chilli in a small bowl. Keep all your ingredients ready near the hob.
- In a frying pan (for which you have a lid) over a medium heat, heat the ghee, then add the mustard seed mixture, when it starts spluttering, add the curry leaves. Fry for a few seconds, then add the onion and fry for about 5 minutes until it softens.
- Now add the beetroot, aduki beans, salt to taste & 1/4 cup water. Stir, cover with the lid and cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the beetroot is almost done, about 6 - 8 minutes. Some of the water would have evaporated by now.
- Uncover, add the red cabbage, stir. Season if necessary. Cover and cook for another 5 minutes until all of the water evaporates and the red cabbage is beautifully tender.
- Stir in ¼ cup of the coconut. Taste and adjust seasoning. If you so prefer, you can add some lemon juice at this stage. This will also brighten the colour of the stir-fry.
- Garnish with the rest of the coconut & coriander leaves, if using.