This spicy Sri Lankan green bean stir fry (Sri Lankan Bonchi Baduma; බෝන්චි බැදුම) is one of our favorite ways to cook (and eat) green beans. So easy, it’ll soon be your favorite way to enjoy green beans too!
This umami rich Sri Lankan style green bean stir fry is easy and packed with flavor!
I loved eating green beans as a kid, and that’s mostly because of the way in which it was cooked. I’ve known a lot of picky eaters who made exceptions for this flavor-packed green bean stir fry.
Is this a green bean curry?
Yes, but also different from a traditional green bean curry.
Unlike most curries which usually have some type of gravy/sauce, this is a dry preparation with no gravy.
Stir fries are prominent in Sri Lankan cooking now, largely due to influence from Chinese cuisine. This spicy curried green bean stir fry is cooked much like a traditional stir fry, using high heat and fairly quick cooking techniques (but using a non stick pan), but also using traditional Sri Lankan flavors and spices.
Ingredients needed to make curried green bean stir fry
For this recipe I use fresh green beans. Using fresh green beans allows me to either cook the beans a little less and keep them crunchy, or char them a little and soften them.
But you can use frozen beans too for convenience. The result will be softer beans, because it’ll be harder to char them or to keep them crispy. But it’ll still taste just as flavorful.
Garlic and ginger
Essential ingredients in Sri Lankan curries. For this green bean stir fry, you can use one or the other, or both. I either mince them, or keep them as big chunks, because my husband loves to eat caramelized pieces of garlic, and I love caramelized pieces of ginger. Win win.
You can use yellow onion, sweet onion, or red onion for this recipe. Because of the cooking method, the onions will end up being caramelized. So make sure not to cut the onion too small.
Curry leaves yield a distinct flavor. An earthy, herby flavor with a little spice. You can use fresh curry leaves, or dried curry leaves.
If you don’t have this ingredient, you can use bay leaves or pandan leaves instead. But do NOT use any other substitute (such as lime leaves or basil).
I use, not surprisingly, Sri Lankan curry powder for this recipe. I always have a big batch of homemade curry powder at any given time because it’s the one spice blend that I’d never want to run out of.
You can use Madras curry powder, or a store-bought curry powder instead too. If you’re using store-bought, just check the ingredients to make sure it’s NOT just a blend of turmeric, salt, garlic and ginger powder. Most supermarket “curry powders” in North America are just mislabeled turmeric powder. A good curry powder must have a good blend of spices such as coriander, cumin, cardamom, and cloves, at the very least.
Chili powder and turmeric
This adds the spice and the color. Adjust the chili powder/flakes to your taste and tolerance level. This recipe has a medium level of spice (we prefer it spicier than this). The turmeric adds color as well as a nice earthy flavor. So don’t skip it.
Another crucial ingredient for this Sri Lankan green bean stir fry.
I still use coconut milk even though this recipe has no gravy/sauce. At high heat the coconut milk cooks and evaporates, leaving a thick concentrated coconut flavor. This delicious “paste” coats the beans, giving each bean a really creamy and flavorful taste.
Maldive fish crumbles
This is a very unique ingredient. It is used in Maldivian, Sri Lankan and South Indian cuisine. It is also the special, secret ingredient that adds a unique umami flavor to this dish.
This is the equivalent of shrimp paste or fish sauce in East Asian cuisine. It’s cured and dried tuna fish, and is similar to Katsuobushi in Japanese cuisine.
The gutted and cleaned fish is smoked/cooked and then sun dried until dark in color, and is very hard and brittle. In Sri Lanka, Maldive fish is sold as whole pieces (small fillet sized), or in large crumbles.
Adding these crumbles to this green bean stir fry yields a lovely umami flavor throughout the dish.
While I LOVE the flavor that it imparts to the dish, I prefer not to chew on big pieces of it. The solution is to grind the pieces into a powder. But my husband loves bite-sized pieces, so I keep some whole, but crush the rest into a powder.
What if I can’t find Maldive fish?
If you don’t cook Sri Lankan or South Asian dishes frequently, it’s very possible that you may not find this ingredient necessary. No problem!
You can substitute it with a tablespoon of fish sauce (but decrease the salt that you add to compensate). This is not traditional, but still gives a nice umami flavor.
What if I want to keep this vegan?
You can skip Maldive fish and fish sauce entirely. Instead, use some mushroom powder (powdered dried shiitake mushrooms), or finely chop some reconstituted dried shiitake mushrooms instead.
Tips for making Sri Lankan green bean stir fry
Use a large non stick frying pan. I use a 12 inch non stick frying pan so that I have a large cooking surface. A wok is even better.
You will also need to cook on a high heat. You don’t want the green beans to lose too much of that beautiful color, so you want it to cook quickly.
If you’re using fresh beans, make sure they are cut into equal sized pieces. I like to cut them at an angle, about 3 inches in length.
The size of the beans will determine the cook time too. While I have provided basic cook times in the recipe, remember to adjust the time depending on the beans you are using, the pan you’re using, and the heat of your stove.
Have ALL the ingredients measured, prepped, and ready to be added. Ingredients don’t need to be measured precisely. I usually don’t measure at all, and just add approximate amounts.
Also make sure to add chili to your taste. A little sweetness (from honey or sugar) will balance the flavors and spices.
If you don’t have crushed chili flakes, you can use cayenne powder instead. Do NOT add Mexican chili powder. It won’t have the same taste.
Cooking the green bean stir fry
Heat a non stick pan on high heat, and place 2 tbsp of coconut oil (or vegetable oil).
Place sliced onion in the same pan, and allow the pan to heat up along with the oil and onions. When the pan is hot, add the curry leaves, green chili, and garlic (and ginger).
When the onions have softened, add the spices. This includes turmeric, chili, curry powder, and the Maldive fish as well.
Saute for a few minutes, making sure the pan is still very hot. If it seems dry, you can add a little bit more oil.
Add the beans to the hot pan, along with some salt.
Stir fry the beans to coat with the spices just for a few minutes, then add the coconut milk. The coconut milk should immediately bubble because the pan is very hot.
Stir fry the beans until the coconut milk has evaporated. The fry should be dry. Season with more salt if needed.
If you want the beans to be softer, cook even further to get the desired softness.
If you DO want some gravy/sauce, you can add a little extra coconut milk + water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Season to your taste.
How to serve this Sri Lankan green bean stir fry
This stir fry is packed with flavor! The evaporated coconut milk mixes with the spices and lightly coats each piece of green bean. The green beans are perfectly spiced, and has just a little crunch (al-dente baby!). It’s one of our favorite ways to eat green beans.
This can be eaten with rice as a side dish.
Or even on its own as a light meal.
It’s perfect as an addition to your meal planning as well. It freezes and reheats well.
You can pair the green bean stir fry with other curries for a balanced meal.
Sri Lankan Green Bean Stir Fry
- 2 tbsp coconut oil any cooking oil can be used
- ½ of a large onion sliced lengthwise into ½ cm slices
- 8 - 10 curry leaves
- 2 serrano peppers cut lengthwise (remove seeds if you don’t want the heat from the chili peppers)
- 3 garlic cloves roughly chopped
- 1 inch ginger cut into strips or roughly chopped
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tbsp Maldive fish see recipe notes for substitutes
- 1 tsp sugar white or brown or even honey can be used
- ½ tsp Sri Lankan curry powder
- 1 tbsp chili flakes (crushed red pepper) adjust to your taste and tolerance level
- 12 oz fresh green beans (about 350 - 400 g), sliced into 2 - 3 inch pieces
- ¾ tsp sea salt
- ½ cup full fat coconut milk or cream
- More salt to taste
- Extra water and/or coconut milk if needed
- Heat a large 12 inch nonstick skillet over medium high to high heat. The pan needs to be hot.
- As the pan is heating, add the oil and onions. Saute the onions while the oil heats up.
- When the onions are starting to soften, add the garlic, ginger, curry leaves, and green chili peppers.
- Saute for a couple of minutes to soften the garlic.
- Add the turmeric, Maldive fish, sugar, curry powder, and chili flakes/crushed red pepper.
- Stir fry with the onions for 2 - 5 minutes. Make sure the pan returns to a high heat before adding the beans.
- Add the beans and salt. Stir fry over high heat for 2 - 3 minutes until the beans turn a bright green color and are coated with the spices.
- Pour in the coconut milk, and lower the heat to medium high. Keep stir frying, until the coconut milk has completely evaporated.
- The beans should still be bright green, and al dente in texture. If you want the beans to be softer, add more coconut milk or water, and cook further to soften the beans.
- Taste and season with more salt if needed.
- Serve with warm basmati rice.
Tips & Tricks
- Fish sauce - Add ½ tbsp fish sauce, plus a little salt in place of the Maldive fish and salt. Add the fish sauce when you're adding the salt. Add more salt at the end if you need more seasoning.
- Mushroom powder - You can purchase shiitake mushroom powder at some grocery stores or online. Use 1 tbsp of mushroom powder in place of the Maldive fish. Add it at the same time you would add Maldive fish in the recipe.
- Fresh mushrooms - Add about 100 g of sliced or chopped mushrooms along with the onions and let it stir fry.