Szechuan-style Green Beans

Green beans is one of these ingredients that has always stumped me. Whenever we get a big bag of them in our CSA box, I inevitably throw them in the fridge, ignore them for as long as possible, and then wind up just blanching them and eating them in giant dinner-size salads. Which, admittedly, is not such a bad thing every once in a while, but even I can’t bring myself to eat giant dinner-size salads more than once or twice a week.

It seems, then, that I need an alternative green bean strategy. For a while, I attempted the ‘French tactic’ – by purposely calling them ‘haricot vert’, I thought it would make them sound much more exotic and delectable. But sadly, I found that while I did enjoy saying the phrase (especially many times in a row), I still had no good ideas on what to do with this giant pile of now-fancy ‘haricot vert’.

So when we recently got another big bag of green beans (ahem, ‘haricot vert’), I opted for a ‘Chinese tactic’. I had eaten a Szechuan-style dish featuring slightly charred green beans in this deliciously salty/sweet/tangy sauce a long time ago and I decided to try to recreate this dish. After some research, I learned that the biggest trick is to ‘dry-fry’ the green beans until they get slightly soft and blistery – this actually takes longer than you would think for a vegetable that usually only takes a few minutes to blanch. But while you wait, you can mix up a sauce and chop up big piles of garlic, green onions, and ginger. Then you just throw everything together and the solution to the Green Bean Dilemma will be literally at your fingertips.

I will never dread the arrival of green beans again.

This dish would work perfectly as a side dish. But if you’re lazy like me, you may also find that with a big bowl of steamed rice, this by itself makes for a pretty decent dinner too.

peanut or vegetable oil
a big bunch of green beans (about 2 lbs)
a 2- to 3-inch knob of ginger
3-5 cloves of garlic (adjust to your personal like/dislike of garlic)
3-4 scallions
hoisin sauce
rice vinegar
soy sauce
sesame oil
chile oil (or sambal oelek, which is what we had at home), if you like spicy

Heat oil in a wok or skillet over medium-high heat until shimmery. Add green beans and leave alone for a few minutes, so that they get a chance to get soft and slightly blistery. Toss green beans after a few minutes and again, leave them to cook. Keep doing this until the green beans get soft (not mushy) and parts of them are lightly charred. This should take about 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of your pan and how many green beans you have in there.

While the green beans are cooking, peel the ginger (easiest with a spoon!). Mince ginger, garlic, and scallion and set aside.

Mix the sauce: Start with a big dollop (~3 tbsp) of hoisin sauce. Now add in a small splash of vinegar, a small splash of soy sauce, a pinch of sugar, and a tiny drizzle of sesame oil. Taste a tiny bit of the sauce and adjust with small amounts of any of the components – the sauce will be pretty salty, which is fine because you’re adding this to a big batch of green beans. But you also want to be able to taste the acidity of the vinegar and some sweetness (both from the sugar and the hoisin sauce). When the sauce taste good, add chile oil (or sambal oelek) to the spicy level you like.

Once the green beans are charred, throw in the minced ginger, garlic, and scallion and stir fry quickly. Add the sauce and toss everything until combined.

Serve with white rice or as a side dish.