Indian Mung Bean Stirfry

This vegan-friendly recipe can be made in about 30 minutes at a laughably cheap cost of 75-80c a serving, and it packs a full and balanced punch of nutrients, fiber, protein and antioxidants.

It also represents yet another foray here at Casual Kitchen into Indian cuisine, which, the more I think about it, might just be the very apogee of all foods. The breadth of Indian cuisine is staggering, and its countless combinations of spices and ingredients yield an endless supply of possible flavors and textures.

When I hear someone say "I don't like Indian food" I can't help but look upon him or her pityingly, and wonder at the stunning ignorance of someone who could make such a sweeping generalization. It's like saying "I don't like candy" or "I don't like ice cream" when, quite obviously, there is a type of candy and a flavor of ice cream out there for everyone. It's just the same with Indian food, and the more we here at Casual Kitchen learn and practice this cuisine, the more we are in sheer awe of its infinite range.

Before we get started with the recipe, let me say a few quick words about the star ingredient: mung beans. You can get them at any health food store or at any Indian food market, and they are surprisingly inexpensive (we paid just $1.59 for a pound of "organic" mung beans at a specialty foods store, which means I probably could have found them elsewhere for less).

Mung beans are found in Indian cuisine, but they're also commonly found, interestingly, in raw cuisine. In fact, the stash of mung beans we had in our pantry dated back to my 100% raw foods trial, and since that was over a year ago, I had some concerns as to whether these guys would actually sprout after all this time.

Not to worry. I did the usual drill: soaked them overnight and then let them sit out on the counter under wet paper towels for a day or two. Within a day, they had tripled in size and were sprouting like mad. It is simply amazing how a seemingly inert and lifeless (and cheap!) legume can spring to life so easily and offer such rich nutritional value.
Indian Mung Bean Stirfry
(Loosely inspired by the Ahaar Blog)

Preliminary: To sprout mung beans, rinse 1 cup of dried beans well, and then soak in 2-3 cups of water for 8-12 hours (the mung beans will be edible after an overnight soaking, and they'll expand to about triple their original size). Next, drain and rinse the beans, and let them stand for another 1-2 days under wet paper towels. The mung beans will quickly sprout and, more importantly, they'll have even more flavor. After 1-2 days, the beans should have sprouts of anywhere from half an inch to 1.5 inches in length.

3-4 Tablespoons olive oil
2 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped
2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
2 medium onions, chopped coarsely
2 medium tomatoes (or 3-4 plum tomatoes), chopped

3 cups sprouted mung beans (3/4 to 1 cup dried, see above)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
3/4 cup water (add more or less, depending on your preference)

1) Heat oil in a large nonstick pan. Add the cumin seeds and the chopped jalapenos and temper them (see note 2 below) on medium heat for 3-4 minutes.

2) Add the onions and grated ginger and saute for 4-5 minutes on medium-high heat, until the onions are soft but not browned. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 4-5 minutes more, until the tomatoes are softened.

3) Add the mung beans, ground cumin, turmeric and water and simmer for 10 minutes or so on medium/medium-high heat, stirring regularly, until the mung beans are done to your liking (we prefer them crunchy, but not too crunchy). Serve immediately with rice.

Serves 4-5.

Recipe notes:
1) I shouldn't have to remind you to be careful what parts of your body you touch after handling jalapeno peppers. This is a lesson you only need to learn once, trust me.

2) What does it mean to "temper" the cumin seeds and chopped jalapenos? In Indian cuisine, tempering simply means to heat a combination of spices, usually in oil, as the first step of a recipe.

3) If you're curious about what in the world made me to do a 100% raw food diet experiment, check out the main archive page of my raw food trial. Read it both for humor value and for some surprising insights on both weight loss and managing food cravings.

4) A few more words on mung beans. First, what do they actually taste like? They have a rich, nutty flavor that's subtle, not overpowering, and slightly reminiscent of the bean sprouts you'd find at a standard restaurant salad bar. However, they have what I'd call an "adult" flavor, and I'd bet that most kids won't like this dish all that much.

5) Let's quantify the laughable cheapness of this meal, shall we?

Mung beans 60c
Jalapenos 32c
Onions 70c
Ginger 10c
Tomatoes $1.05
Spices 25c
Rice 10c
Total: $3.12

Assuming 4 servings, this works out to 78c/serving. If that's not laughably cheap I do not know what is. And people still try to convince me that healthy food has to be expensive!

Related Posts:
Vegan Potato Peanut Curry
Spicy Sauteed Beets
11 Really Easy Rice Side Dishes
Why Salt Sucks
Don't Pay Up For That Cookbook! How to Spend Next to Nothing on a Great Recipe Collection

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Sally said...

I just posted at another forum about how I could never understand why my kids were such picky eaters growing up, since neither their dad or I are picky. And then there's Indian food.

I'm not going to say I dislike it, but it's not near the top of the list of my favorite ethnic cuisines. I can take it or leave it and I usually leave it.

I think part of the reason I'm not fond of it is premixed curry powder or garam masala. This recipe might have some potential. However, don't wait for a great recipe review from me!

JL goes Vegan said...

This looks delicious! I'm adding to my recipe list!

Scott said...

Curious to know how this would be without the jalapenos. I love love love the spicy food, but my wife is just the opposite: even black pepper is too spicy for her. Would it be too bland without them? Anything else that could be substituted in that would provide more flavor without the heat?

Also, for what it's worth, most people who say "I don't like Indian food" really mean "I don't like the smell of curry," the big mistake being thinking that all Indian food contains curry. As this recipe shows, that's clearly not the case!

Diane said...

Yeah! I love Indian food and cook it almost every day. I do make a dish like this every few weeks or so.

One small note about tempering. Usually the spices are done first and then "wet" ingredients like onions/chiles added a few seconds later after the spices toast or are popped. If you put them in together, the wet ingredients cool the hot oil and you end up sauteing the spices instead of making a tarka. It all happens quickly though - a matter of a few seconds for the spices to toast, with the wet ingredients at the ready to add so the spices don't burn.

figleaf said...

To the extent "Indian food" is thought to mean "seasoned with store curry powder" then yeah, I can totally understand why it puts people off. That stuff is wretched! (I'm not sure which ingredient in "curry powder" is to blame -- it's neither tumeric nor cumin since on their own both are delicious.)

Otherwise yes! Most Indian food is good and a lot of it is heavenly. It's also mostly laughably cheap.

Incidentally, I'm not sure how everyone feels about Cooks Illustrated but maybe 10 years ago they sort of went out of character and did a very nice sort of meta analysis of the steps involved in making a classic, generic curry that included reducing onions (a staple rather than a seasoning in a lot of Indian food) and tempering spices in oil.

If you can find it it's a pretty brilliant, insightful piece. It's been the foundation of a lot of my cooking since -- not only Indian dishes but American chili, Italian pasta sauces, quite a few Thai and Chinese dishes, and all kinds of stews.

(Hmm... I'm probably overstating this a little but looking back I think I can say it was right around the time I digested that article that my cooking began to surpass the quality of dishes I can get in most restaurants.)

I don't usually have the patience to grow my own sprouts but I look forward to trying this dish. Thanks, Daniel,


Diane said...

@figleaf: It sounds like CI was describing a northern curry. Nothing wrong with that, but much of the rest of India doesn't rely on caramelized onions as a base for curries in any way. This type of cooking is rarely used in the south or east (except for maybe biriyanis which are a legacy of the Mughal north).

And indeed much of the traditional cuisine of the south and west avoids onions and garlic completely as it is considered inappropriately "heating" to the emotions and senses. Traditional Tam-Bram cuisine, or Jain cuisine avoids the alliums completely.

Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) said...

For all of the questions about jalapenos - yes, you can leave out the hotness. Since I have a 3 and a 5 year old, I leave out or reduce the chilis now when I cook. And yes, my 3 year old LOVES Indian food.

I've been cooking Indian for nearly 20 years now (long story short, Pakistani boyfriend in my 20s, South Indian husband in my 30s :-) and am completely fascinated with this mung bean recipe. I've never,ever seen a "sprouting" done with this type of dhal. Interesting! Normally, mung beans are toasted, then slow cooked in water. I wonder how letting it sprout changes the texture and taste. Huh.

It always saddens me when folks say they don't care for Indian food and then use butter chicken in the same sentence. One of my greatest joys is inviting folks over for dinner and making anything BUT a creamy curry full of sauce. South Indian food is so alive with clean tastes and rich, crisp textures. I love your comparison of saying "I don't like ice cream" and will be using that phrase from here on out!

figleaf said...

@Diane: Yes, definitely! One of the cool things about India (and a point Daniel mentions early on) is that it's awesomely diverse. So yeah, the base recipe for curry I mentioned represents just one corner of all the possibilities.


Diane said...

@Cagey: Sprouted mung bean dishes (and other sprouted dal) like this are quite common in Maharashtra (where a dish called "amti" is a specialty), and also in some areas of the south like Andhra Pradesh. I don't think it's as much a thing in the rest of the country.

Melissa said...

One of the best things about Indian and Thai both: can be very healthy and still FUUUUULL of flavor. Not that other cuisines are entirely incapable, but I always feel with Thai and Indian, you kind of get that guarantee. Looks beautiful Dan.

Daniel said...

Great to see so much feedback so quickly on this post. Thanks everyone! It sounds like one takeaway is I should be publishing more recipes like this. :)

Cagey and Scott, agreed, feel free to cut back or cut out the jalapenos, although they actually don't add that much heat even as the recipe is written.

And Diane, figleaf and Cagey, thanks for the conversation and extra context. I love it when my readers teach me things!


chacha1 said...

Nice XCU of the sprouts there.

I used to say I didn't like Indian food, but that was based on a couple of bad restaurant experiences. Sometimes you choose the one entree that's got ingredients that put you off, and it colors your whole picture of the cuisine. I have since learned that I like a lot of Indian food as long as it is served with something other than lentils.

Also, I have since corrected my ignorance of how to combine spices that I like and leave out the ones I don't care for. Very important to know that cumin, coriander, and curry = good, caraway = ick (for me).

edj3 said...

Has it really been a year since you did your raw food trial? Geeze where has the time gone.

Joanne said...

My mother is always saying that she "doesn't like Indian food" when what she really means is that she doesn't like the smell of curry powder. Crazy woman. Love this stirfry! Indian flavors are a favorite of mine, as you know!

Janet C said...

Daniel: This is a variation of one of my favorite dishes! For a bit of a Gujarati(Janet and Jerry style) spin on it, try leaving out the tomatoes, and adding a pinch of sugar, chopped cilantro, and squeeze a lime over it all just before serving. We sometimes let the mung sprout for two or three days....delicious!

edj3 said...

Made it this week, and got four good-sized servings from it. I didn't grow my own mung bean sprouts because I'm confident my cats would have eaten them (and barfed them back up) long before I could have used them. Even so, the dish is indeed laughably cheap to make.

I'll probably throw some other vegetables in there next time, I kept wanting more texture to chew. Otherwise, I love it as is and yes, I did use the two jalapenos.

Daniel said...

Janet, happy to hear... that implies that it's even more authentic than I thought!

Kx3, thanks so much for the feedback. I'm always grateful to hear when a reader has a good experience with one of my recipes!


Elpi said...

Mung Bean is one of my fave vegetable, though. :-)