What's Cooking at our House: Sichuan Green Beans   (August 10, 2013)

This is a standard dinner dish at our house.

When the garden is producing scarlet runner green beans in quantity, one of our standard dinners is Sichuan style green beans. I am not a chef, nor am I an expert on Sichuan cuisine. That doesn't mean, however, that authentic Sichuan dishes are beyond reach.

When we shared this dish with one of our Chinese friends, I told her we didn't tire of it, and she said she understood why: it's a classic combination of tastes and textures that is especially delicious when the green beans are julienned an hour after they've been plucked from the garden.

This is the dish I would choose to make if some famous TV chef showed up at our door asking for a home-cooked meal because it is very forgiving while delivering first-rate taste and visual appeal.

The flavor foundation of the recipe (which is a cobbled-together concoction of various recipes from cookbooks such as Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking by Fuchia Dunlop) is hot chili bean paste and Sichuan peppercorns, both of which can be purchased at any well-stocked Asian market.

Most Asian-cuisine bean pastes are soy-based, but the hot chili bean paste uses broad (fava) beans.

The third key flavoring is oyster sauce, also readily available at Asian markets (or online if there are no Asian markets in your vicinity).

The starting point: scarlet runner green beans, though any green bean variety will do.

Julienne the green beans (about 1 pound or so) and slice some onion and garlic to taste. (For us, that's about a half cup or so of sliced onions and 3-5 sliced segments of garlic.)

In two tablespoons of healthy oil (we use extra-virgin olive oil, but you can use any good oil) heated in a wok, combine 1 teaspoon each of the Sichuan peppercorns and Sichuan hot chili bean paste. Once this is sizzling (10 seconds or so), add the onions and garlic.

Once this has cooked down a bit, add 2 to 3 ounces of sliced precooked pork, chicken, etc., or vegetarian substitute such as pressed tofu. Meat (or substitute) is a condiment in Chinese cuisine rather than the main ingredient.

Remove this mixture from the wok and cook the green beans separately (you may need to add a teaspoon of oil to the wok). This enables each set of ingredients to be cooked to the right degree without overcooking or undercooking other ingredients. Toss a couple teaspoons of Chinese cooking wine into the green beans to aid the cooking process (water can be used as a substitute).

Once the green beans are tender but still firm (do not overcook), stir in a few teaspoons of oyster sauce and then stir in the onion/garlic ingredients that were cooked first.

The flavorings can be adjusted to taste; if you prefer mild spiciness, use 1/2 teaspoon of the hot bean paste. The key is the combination of hot, sweet, sour and savory and the varying textures of ingredients.

This dish can be prepped and cooked in about a half-hour, so not only is it delicious, it's relatively quick to prepare.

Serve with your favorite kind of rice.

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We are not powerless. Not accepting responsibility and being powerless are two sides of the same coin: once we accept responsibility, we become powerful.

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