April 17, 2013

Szechuan Green Beans

This is another one of those restaurant dishes that is so good, and so simple, but seems to be something that I don't make at home nearly often enough. It doesn't take long, but it is very hands-on for the ten minutes of cook time, so plan to have any other dishes that you might also be making be able to withstand a little neglect at this point.

This basic version is vegetarian (vegan, actually, if you substitute the sugar with agave syrup), but you could also easily add in a variety of meaty items: finely diced char siu (Chinese BBQ-style pork) and/or tiny dried shrimp are classic choices, as is a little bit of fresh ground pork that is browned in the first stage of cooking, before the beans go in (be careful not to add too much - any meat in this dish should primarily be an accent, not a focus). For a more protein-rich vegetarian version, go with very small cubes of tofu (or seitan) briefly fried until golden in the oil (and removed to a plate) before the beans go in. Combine again during the seasoning stage at the end.

Szechuan Green Beans

Serves 4
Total Prep & Cooking Time: 20 minutes

16 oz green beans, trimmed and left whole
2 tablespoons soy sauce (low sodium)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon golden sugar
1 tablespoon sambal oelek
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 - 2 green onions, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly

Combine the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and sambal oelek in a small bowl and set aside.

Wash and trim the beans, and dry thoroughly (so there is no residual water to spit at you while you are cooking).

Because this dish cools quickly once cooked, it's a good idea to warm a serving dish just before you begin cooking. Although, the beans are perfectly delicious at room temperature -- still there's something to be said for hot out of the pan.

Heat a large iron or steel skillet over high heat until water dances when flicked on it. Put the overhead fan on high.

Add the peanut oil to the skillet, and tilt the pan until it coats the bottom and part of the sides of the skillet. Add the trimmed green beans. Cook, stirring frequently, until the beans are tender, about 8 - 10 minutes. Test one, to be sure. Don't be afraid of the beans blistering and partially blackening -- this is part of the characteristic flavour, and the most delicious ones have some of the black bits. If your beans are really staying tough, add a tablespoon of water to the pan and let the steam help you out (be careful it doesn't cause a splash of hot oil onto you)

Add the garlic and stir through. Give it a moment or two for the garlic slivers to become golden. Add the green onion and the spicy soy mixture. Cook for another 30 seconds, stirring constantly, (or use two spatulas to toss like a salad until the beans are evenly coated with seasoning) and scrape the whole mass of beans into your serving dish.

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