When writing this column, I often decide to cover a particular topic; then later, I craft the recipe to go with it. Other times, I make a dish and decide afterwards how to present it to my readers. This week, my recipe development and writing processes merged together, thanks to a song lyric that I could not get out of my head. The chorus from a novelty song popular in the 1940s, "It ain't whatcha do, it's the way that ya do it," chided me continuously as I sat in my kitchen.

As the song ran through my head, I started to apply its simple message to developing this week's dish. While my ingredient list carrots, green beans, potatoes, tomatoes and cauliflower seemed as American as apple pie I wanted to put a spin on "the way that ya do it." Nearly immediately, my mind settled on sabzi ranarang, or Indian mixed vegetables.

I first ate a version of this dish at Ajanta, a delightfully casual restaurant in Berkeley, California, where the fresh-from-the-garden ingredients are themselves a rare treat when dining out. The dish starts with frying mustard seeds, adding a handful of Indian spices, then sauting fresh tomatoes until they soften into a sauce.

Additional vegetables are also cooked in the tomato base, deepening the sauce with their own unique flavors. Ultimately, the dish cooks until most of the moisture evaporates and you are left with soft, tender vegetables that are subtly imbued with tomato and spice flavors.

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A note to the home cook: Frying spices, an everyday step in Indian cooking, can often intimidate those with less experience in the kitchen. Do not be surprised when some mustard seeds pop and jump out of the pan. The best varieties to buy are black or brown mustard seeds sold at spice stores or online. When the seeds turn grayish, mix in the ground spices.

Indian Mixed Vegetables

Yield: Makes 8 Servings.

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Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 Tbsp. whole mustard seeds, preferably black or brown
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2-inch fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 Tbsp. ground coriander
  • 2 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 carrot, thinly sliced
  • 4 cups 1-inch cauliflower florets
  • 1/4 lb. fresh green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a deep saucepan over medium-high heat. Add mustard seeds and cook, shaking pan constantly, until they pop, 1 minute. Add garlic and ginger and saut for 1 minute. Mix in onions and saut until golden, 8 minutes. Mix in coriander, paprika, and turmeric.
  2. Add tomatoes, with any juice, and cook until they are soft, 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add potato and carrot, cover, and simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times.
  4. Add cauliflower and green beans, cover partially, and cook 15 minutes, adding a bit of water, if needed, to prevent sticking. Uncover and cook until vegetables are almost dry and quite soft, 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add a pinch of cayenne pepper if desired.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
80 calories
3.5 g total fat
0 g saturated fat
9 g carbohydrate
2 g protein
3 g dietary fiber
95 mg sodium