Sunday, February 1, 2009

Val Beans (Mochai) Dolichos lablab & Cabbage Thoran With Val

Linola gave me a bag of "Indian beans" saying that she did not care for them. Being the frugal person that I am, I could not bring myself to chuck it and forget about it. The package had the name "Surati Val".

I have cooked and eaten many a bean from the familiar Toor, Urid, Chana, Mung, etc to exotic ones such as Peruvian or Scarlet runner beans. So trying another bean did not daunt me in the least. I soaked them overnight first. Then I cooked them with the idea of adding them to cabbage curry; took one little nibble - WOW! did they taste horrible! As I was headed to the compost bin thinking that Linola was right after all about these beans, a brilliant idea - in retrospect of course :) - flashed through my mind to remove the skins.

So, instead of tossing the whole mess, I gave them another chance. I just simply but firmly squeezed the beans one by one between thumb and forefinger and the skins came off pretty easily. I realized that these were in fact none other than the 'Mochai' beans used in South Indian cooking. Removing the skins transformed the pretty horrible tasting things into delicate taste sensations! They even looked better! The rest is history.... it was a wonderful curry and we ate every last speck of it.

Dolichos lablab (botanical name), has many common names including Hyacinth beans, Val (Hindi), and Avarakai - Mochai when dry - and  (Tamil). They are cultivated in many areas of the world not only as a food source for humans or as fodder for animals but also for the fragrant flowers (reason for the name hyacinth bean) and the vigorous vines. There as two varieties - purple and white. I saw them growing in Thomas Jefferson's garden in Monticello and have wanted to grow them in my garden ever since!

Some sources cite that the dry seeds are poisonous when eaten raw; these beans have been eaten for a long time in many cuisines of Asia and Africa and as far as I know no one eats them raw intentionally. According to many sources the young leaves are edible raw, but the mature leaves, pods, and tubers should be cooked first.

The Dolichos pods are similar in appearance to pea-pods and are called Avarakai in Tamil. As far as I know only the pods and dried beans are eaten in India. The young pods (avarakai) are cooked like green beans; the seeds/beans (Mochai or Val) are soaked and skinned before incorporating into recipes. I have eaten them steamed, stir-fried, or boiled in various recipes.

Sprouted Peeled Val and skins
Here is the recipe for Cabbage Thoran with dry Mochai/Val Beans. Enjoy!


1 small green Cabbage
1 cup Dry Mochai/Val beans
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1 green chili
1/4 cup freshly grated coconut
1 tsp Cumin seeds
1 dry Red Chili
1 tsp salt or to taste


1 or 2 Tbsp Canola Oil
1 Dry Red chili
1/2 tsp brown Mustard Seeds
1 Tbsp Chana Dal
1 Tbsp Urad Dal
1 pinch Asafoetida (optional)
1 sprig fresh Curry Leaves


Sort the beans and discard stones, discolored beans or other debris. Wash well and soak for several hours or overnight in abundant fresh water to cover. Drain (set aside for a day or two to sprout if you wish) and simply squeeze the soaked beans to remove skins. Discard the skins. Cook the beans in a little fresh water until tender but not mushy. Drain the cooking water and set aside until needed.

Finely shred or chop the cabbage.

Break the red chili into two pieces and shake out and discard the seeds to reduce its spiciness.

Coarsely crush the cumin seeds and red chili in a mortar with the pestle then add coconut and crush to mix well. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a large skillet or kadai (Indian wok) and add the whole red chili, mustard seeds and urad dal. Cover and cook until mustard seeds slow down popping and the dals are pinkish.

Quickly add the asafoetida if using and the curry leaves. Be cautious when adding curry leaves -they tend to sputter and spatter; so cover the pan quickly. Stir for a few seconds until curry leaves are softened slightly.

Stir in the shredded or chopped cabbage, turmeric, and the salt. Cook stirring frequently until the cabbage softens - about 7 to 10 minutes.

Stir in the cooked beans and the coconut mixture and cook for a few more minutes - until heated through.

Serve hot with rice or chapati and any dal or Sambar/Rasam for a simply delicious meal. Enjoy!!


Onji Anjal, please! said...

Going by the picture I'm guessing these are "avarekallu". Thats what they're called in Karnataka. And yes, they are YUM! I absolutely love them! You should try cooking it potatoes, in a simple onion and tomato based gravy. its phenomenal :)

Geetha said...

Natasha, thank you for your comments. I will try them with potatoes as you suggested - sounds yummy :).

Anonymous said...

Mochai with pooshnika sambhar/puli kuzhambu is a tradition for Pongal celebration. Try that Geetha :-) I will try your recipe as well.

Geetha said...

Thank you Anon for your suggestion; will try that. Cooked mochai/val is also added to any poricha kuzhambus (,Pitlas, kootus, and porials. Mochai is especially delicious in tamarind based curries. Friends who hail from Gujrat area serve val with Kadhi.

Anonymous said...

Avarekkalu is added to sambaar also. It tastes great even in Upuma.

Geetha said...

Thank you Anon, Mochai (avarekalu) is a delicious addition to all types of dishes. Happy cooking!