I began making this thick Bengali-style vegetable stew when I was in grad school and could afford only $10 a week for groceries. I had two staples during this period of my life – the first was beans and rice, and the second was charchari. On Fridays I would go to Boston’s Haymarket and load up on veggies and come home to make a huge batch of charchari, which would be both lunch and dinner for half the week.
Although there are countless variations on this dish in India, Charchari has come to mean just one thing in our home: green beans, tomatoes, and potatoes. Most recipes call for removing the skin, core, and seeds of the tomato, but I recommend leaving the seeds in because it’s the gel-like substance covering the seeds that has the most flavor. The trick to this dish is getting the tomatoes on the bottom to caramelize and char – not burn – which gives the dish a smoky, sweet, and slightly sour flavor that is addictive!
(I began making this recipe from Yamuna Devi’s wonderful cookbook Lord Krishna’s Cuisine: The Art of Vegetarian Cooking. I’ve modified the recipe over the years, but I must give credit where credit is due.)
4 tomatoes, peeled and diced (use the liquid too)
2 bay leaves
4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 lb. green beans, stems removed and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 heaping tsp. turmeric1 tsp. salt
4 pats of butter (about 1 ½ Tbsp. total)
pepper to taste
2 ½ cups water (or enough to cover half the vegetables in the pot)
- Using a medium-sized pot, place the tomatoes in an even layer on the bottom.
- Add the bay leaves and then make an even layer with the potatoes followed by the green beans.
- Sprinkle on the remaining spices and place 4 pats of butter around the top.
- Pour in enough water to cover half the vegetables.
- Cover the pot and heat over medium high until boiling.
- Uncover the pot and boil for 5 minutes. Do not bring to a rapid boil – this disturbs the layers of veggies and mixes them together (which you want to avoid until the very end). If necessary, lower the heat to keep the water at a low boil.
- After 5 minutes, lower the flame to medium-low and let simmer partially covered until all the liquid has been absorbed or cooked off, about 20-30 minutes.
- Once most of the liquid is gone, raise the heat to high and cook an additional 2-3 minutes until the liquid is gone and you hear a dry-sounding sizzle. Once you can detect a slight charred smell coming from the pan, turn off the flame, cover the pot, and move to a cool burner and let sit for 5-10 minutes. This allows the charred bottom to soften up.
- Finally, fold the charred bottom into the rest of the dish and serve.