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Recipe #42: Beet Thoren (Keralan Beet Stir Fry with Coconut)

Posted Jan 25 2009 12:00am

I was watching a show the other day called " Food Wise ," which had been automatically recorded as a "TiVo suggestion." (So thank you, TiVo. :) ) This particular episode, called "Wisdom from the East," (which upon further inspection, looks like it had an original broadcast date of sometime around January 24-February 4, 2006!), was hosted by chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author, Jesse Cool , and showcased chefs Maya Kaimal and Su-Mei Yu . Both of these featured chefs had written award-winning cookbooks, on Indian and Thai food respectively, and I ended up scribbling down their recipes as I was watching. Thank goodness for TiVo's pause button; otherwise, I'd never have been able to jot it all down in time! Of course, I later found the recipes online, but it's nice to have the additional insights that can only come from the chefs discussing the preparation of their recipes in real-time. :) I've edited the below recipe to include some of these insights, combining the online recipe & my own notes and observations from the cooking show. Enjoy!

Beet Thoren (Beet Stir Fry with Coconut)

(Source: Savoring the Spice Coast of India: Fresh Flavors From Kerala - by Maya Kaimal)

Thoren, as this dish is called in Kerala, is made of finely chopped vegetables stir-fried with grated coconut and spices. The ingredients are added to the pan in rapid succession, so have everything prepped and measured before you begin.

4 fresh, large beets (about 2 lbs.), boiled, peeled and coarsely grated
2 garlic cloves, peeled & crushed (NOTE: Crush garlic cloves with side of knife.)
1 fresh serrano (green) or Thai chili, split/cut in half lengthwise
1 cup finely dried, grated, unsweetened coconut (NOTE: For ease/expediency, use packaged powdered coconut sold in ethnic grocery stores.)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
1/3 c. water
2 Tbsp. olive oil (NOTE: The original recipe calls for vegetable oil, but I prefer to use olive oil for since it's healthier.)
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 whole dried red chilies
10-12 fresh curry leaves (NOTE: If you can't find curry leaves, substitute w/2 bay leaves.)
1 Tbsp uncooked long-grain rice


1. Wash and trim the beets. Cook the unpeeled beets in boiling, salted water until tender. Drain and let them cool. Peel the beets and grate them using using a food processor fitted with the coarse shredding disk, or on the coarse side of a box grater. Set aside. (NOTE: While the online recipe doesn't mention cooking the beets first before peeling them, I seem to recall that, on the TV show, they boiled the beets before peeling & grating them. At any rate, it's much easier to peel & grate boiled beets versus raw ones!)

2. In a small bowl, combine the coconut, garlic, serrano chili, salt, cumin, cayenne and turmeric with the water to make a thick paste. Set aside.

3. In a large wok, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds, dried red chilies, and curry leaves, and cover. When the mustard seeds begin to pop, add the rice and stir until the rice just turns opaque, about 5 seconds. (This is a technique commonly referred to as "dry roasting the spices.") Add the grated beets and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until barely softened. Reduce the heat to medium, add the coconut mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beets are tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and check the salt. Serve at once.

(Recipe may also be prepared in advance and reheated.)

Prep time: 35 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Chef's Notes: Beets: For obvious reasons, I recommend wearing surgical/latex gloves when working with beets. :) They can be rather messy to work with, & let's face it, it's nice to not have to repeatedly explain to people, for the next several days, why your hands have been stained a lovely reddish-purple color. :)

Also, if you happen to buy beets with the stems intact & in good condition, you can reserve the stems for later use. There are many tasty dishes that can be made with "beet greens," as the beet stems are commonly called. Towards this end, I might post a "beet greens" recipe at some later point. :)

Curry leaves: Curry leaves are very pungent, and have a fleeting "citrus" flavor. They can usually be found in Asian/Indian grocery stores.

A word on piquancy: When cutting the chili, slit it so that the seeds are partially exposed. Since the heat comes from the seeds & surrounding juice, you can control the amount of heat of the dish by adjusting the amount of seeds left in the chili. :) Leave them in or remove them; it's your choice. I'd also recommend keeping the gloves on when you're working with the chilies. :)

Serving suggestions:
This dish goes nicely with the following accompaniments: daal (beans, peas, or legumes), curried shrimp with cracked pepper (i.e., Kerala is a coastal locale; seafood is very abundant there), rice or chapati ( roti ), and raita (a yoghurt-based Indian condiment/sauce).

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