Last week as I walked down the vegetable aisle in the market, I saw a multitude of colors staring back at me. All different shapes and sizes that I have never dared cook with. I like to play it safe with vegetables – specially when I’m cooking Indian food. Spinach, Cauliflower,Beans, Okra, Potatoes, Brocolli and Carrots I can deal with but I rarely venture out of these favorites. And so I stood there, waiting for inspiration to strike. I watched as people excitedly filled their baskets with bunches of Rhubarb (I have no idea how to cook with that thing as beautiful as they maybe!), and I thought to myself – just pick one thing here you never do. And there I saw them, sitting quietly in the corner were these knobbly looking brownish purple dirt covered beets! I may have exaggerated a wee bit, but I kid you not they looked sad! I quickly added a few into my basket and walked out feeling so proud of myself. I was going to do something amazing with these ugly things. As I walked home I reminisced about this lovely beetroot curry my mom used to make for us as kids…I believe it is a Sri Lankan delicacy her uncle learnt from a friend in Ceylon back in the day – and taught her when she was in college. I smacked my lips at the thought of recreating that curry after all these years. Unfortunately I came home and realized I was out of coconut milk – a key ingredient in that recipe. So I turned to making Thoran instead.
Thoran is a staple vegetarian dish in Malayali cuisine. It can be made with all kinds of vegetables – traditionally bitter gourd, jack-fruit or green beans, or a combination of two or more vegetables like cabbage and carrot (my personal favorite!). Typically this is a dry preparation made by finely chopping the vegetables and tempering with mustard seeds, curry leaves and mild spices, then finally adding fresh grated coconut to the mix. Eat this with fish curry, steamed rice and pappadum and you may be welcomed to the honorary Mallu-club. So it was decided, Beetroot Thoran it shall be.
The sweetness of the beets complement the dry coconut and spices so well I found myself eating the thoran by itself, like a salad the next day. Another thing that caught me off guard was just how beautiful this root is! As I peeled the outer layer my finger tips turned a deep pink and the beet stood flaunting its gorgeous hue. Why had I never cooked with this before? Fun fact: Google tells me beets have now joined the super food clan (I definitely would not have guessed this by how neglected they looked on the shelf, I want to believe I “discovered them”) due to recent studies claiming that beets can improve athletic performance, lower blood pressure and increase blood flow. There you go, now you have another excuse to cook up this beauty!
Recipe for Beetroot Thoran