The little green bean under discussion here is referred to as both mung and moong, but for some reason the former nomenclature is the more oft-used. We'll opt for the latter, however, as it suggests celestial outpourings of sparkling light, rather than the former, which rhymes unfortunately with a word denoting nature’s own fertilizer product. Some things are truly lost in translation.
Our own experience with the moong is legendary. It hails from a time when Ms. Tomato attended week-long yoga retreats in the high desert of New Mexico. Days began at 4:30am with a lot of huffing and puffing and ham-string stretching. The reward was a spicy, watery soup for breakfast and further bouts of huffing and puffing, followed by a dinner of moong & rice porridge with spicy onion chutney, slopped out of large plastic buckets. The combination apparently made a “whole protein” while not taxing the system, and at the same time had a cleansing effect on the internal organs. Plus, it’s darn cheap when feeding a throng of 1,000 hungry, sweaty campers.
Naturally, after those events were over, we claimed complete and utter disinterest at ever gazing at the moong again. Yet a few short weeks later an unexpected craving for them arose.
It seems there's something comforting, clean, and strangely appetizing about these beans bubbling away, wafting fragrant spice throughout the home. And a side-benefit is their complementary nature to one of our absolute favorite things – salty, sour, fiery condiments.
The moong is widely admired by students of ayurvedic medicine, as it balances all three “doshas” (biological humors based on the five elements) and is easily digested. As with many pulses, it sustains with iron, magnesium, potassium and other necessary nutrients. And, unlike other dried beans, it cooks to a soft consistency in about an hour without pre-soaking.
We'd give you the moong if we could, but most health food stores as well as Chinese and Indian grocers carry it, so it's likely you'll find it on your own. In New York’s Chinatown, we buy a full pound for Ninety Five Cents. This is remarkable, since it will expand to a stew large enough to feed a dozen people. Pair it up with saffron rice, provide a few colorful chutneys and bracing pickles and you have a very exciting meal, one that has been served to many a guest at the Tomato Estate, receiving rave reviews every time.
Aside from the accompaniments below, we recommend buying a few bottles of pre-made Indian pickle of your choice. They are usually very good, easy on the wallet, and would take considerable effort to make from scratch. Serve with warm whole wheat tortillas, or fried poppadum. Also a terrific condiment for this meal…really cold beer.
2 tbsp olive oil or ghee
2 jalapenos, minced
1-inch knob ginger, peeled and minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots, chopped fine
1 medium yellow onion, chopped fine
salt to taste
2 –3 Tbsp good, fresh curry powder
1 pound dry moong beans
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons chopped dry cilantro or dill
Pick over the dry beans and discard any that don’t look nice. Rinse well in cold water. In a large soup pot, add the olive oil or ghee, and sautee the jalapenos, ginger, garlic, carrots and onion over medium heat with a pinch of salt until they begin to soften, about 5-7 minutes. Add the curry powder, stir well to combine, and cook, stirring constantly, for another 2 minutes.
Add the beans and 2 quarts fresh water. Do not add more salt yet as this slows the cooking process. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to low-medium and cover. Cook until they are very soft, stirring regularly from the bottom, and adding more fresh water if necessary. They will cook in about an hour. Add the tomato paste and salt and cook another 15 minutes. Adjust seasonings. The mixture should be somewhat soupy as the beans continue to absorb water as they cool. Can be made the day before and reheated with a little water in the bottom of a clean pot. Serve in a beautiful deep dish, sprinkled with the fresh herbs.
1 bunch cilantro, washed and dried
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 tsp salt
Place the ingredients in a food processor or blender and puree. Adjust seasonings if necessary. Can be made the day before and stored in the refrigerator.
16 oz yogurt, preferably thick Greek-style
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped fine
1 tsp rosewater, or more to taste
salt and pepper to taste
Mix ingredients together in a bowl. Should be made on the same day as serving but refrigerated until ready to use.
3 small red onions, sliced in 1/4 inch rings
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup fresh water
1 teaspoon seasalt
3 whole cloves
1 3” cinnamon stick
Put all ingredients except for onions in a pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Add the onions and immediately remove the pot from the heat. Pour mixture into a glass or ceramic bowl and allow it to cool at room temperature for about an hour before serving. Can be made the day before and stored in the refrigerator.