Palya is a classic South Indian recipe usually composed of a single vegetable chopped into bite-size pieces and sautéed in oil that has been seasoned with black mustard seeds, asafetida, chile, and curry leaves. The dish is then finished with lemon juice, grated coconut, and cilantro. Depending on which state in South India you’re in, this same preparation is referred to by different names, such as thoran or poriyal.
While seasonal produce is preferred, this combination makes even the saddest of vegetables at the back of your fridge sing. Green beans are my favorite choice, but the recipe is extremely flexible and can be applied to beets, cabbage, potatoes, and, as I’ve discovered lately, asparagus.
The unique step in this green beans recipe is chopping them into ¼-inch pieces. It may seem like a mundane, monotonous task, but for me it’s meditative. It also has major payoff—the increased surface area maximizes flavor (at least that’s my theory). I recall my mother sitting behind a heap of these green beans at our kitchen table in the evenings. She would cut the beans up before going to bed and then the next day after work, she would grab them from the fridge and quickly sauté them for our dinner.
The other reason the beans are chopped so small is because they’re easier to eat in the traditional way, which is by hand with roti or with rice. I’ve found, though, that I prefer to cut and cook green beans in this fashion even if I just eat them along with a non-Indian meal, like thrown on top of a taco or folded into an omelette. They’re quite versatile.
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Chitra Agrawal is the author of Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn and the founder of Brooklyn Delhi.