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.

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Is it weird that I’ve never gotten a flu shot?

I’ve lived 30 years of my life with the explicit mission of getting poked by as little number of needles as possible and it’s done me pretty well so far. But last week, I started to wonder if I need to reconsider my stated mission. Not that I’ve kept track, but looking back, I think I have gotten the flu every time I start to see flyers about getting your flu shots. Hmm…

When I was little, every time I would get sick, my parents would make me eat giant bowls of really bland noodles in a clear soup with a few chunks of fish floating around – what I dubbed ‘sicky noodles’. Even now, when I see ‘fish soup with noodles’ on any menu, I associate it with sickliness and avoid it at all cost. (“Why not order something with taste instead??”)

Unsurprisingly, being sick makes me not want to cook. Well, not much anyway. While I still can’t bring myself to cook ‘sicky noodles’, I have started to believe in the power of jook (or congee, or rice porridge, whatever you want to call it). Jook is probably on the comfort food list of every Cantonese person — even my sister who hated jook when she was young now craves it every so often.

So last Thursday, since I was just laying on the couch feeling miserable, I decided I might as well be useful and babysit a big cauldron of jook I can have for dinner. Jook is easy but takes quite a bit of time – when you’re down with the flu, though, time is something you’ve got plenty of.

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Would you eat a fish that’s blue?

The other day when I was at the Asian market, I randomly decided to be a good Chinese girl and attempt to steam a fish at home, Cantonese-style. If you’ve ever eaten with my family (or any Cantonese family), you already know that steamed fishes are one of these standard dishes that everyone born in Hong Kong is pretty much required to love. (If you don’t like steamed fish, you bring shame to the family!!) You start eating steamed fishes with the adults pretty much the same time you start to eat rice (instead of mushy rice porridge). By the time you’re entering elementary school, you’re already picking through tiny fish bones like an expert and you’ve already figured out which parts of the fish you like the best. For the record, my favorite parts are the collar area, the skin, and the air sac (yes, you can eat it). To this day, every time my parents visit, they insist on taking my sister and I to a nearby Cantonese restaurant to eat steamed fishes because they know we don’t make it at home. Well…I’m about to prove them wrong!

The art of selecting the right fish to steam has always been a mystery to me. So, standing in the midst of all the options at the seafood section of Sunset Super, I decided to call my dad. He recommended anything in the ‘cod’ family that ‘looked fresh’. Avoid ‘carp’, although it wasn’t clear to me why except my dad made a gross noise when I told him they had carp there too. How can a fish ‘look fresh’? From what I could gather, it means the skin is still shiny, the eyes are still clear not cloudy, and it general ‘looks good.’

Once I got off the phone, the fishmonger started trying to sell various fishes to me, including this blue fish. By ‘blue fish,’ I do not mean a fish with a blue price tag or even blue skin – the flesh of this fish was actually tinted electric blue! When I asked the guy why it was blue, all he would say was ‘It’s good for you! It’s like vegetables! The more colors, the better!’

Hmm. Interesting.

Rounding up all the science I’ve learned in grad school, I quickly decided that 1) fishes are, in fact, not like vegetables and 2) blue fishes are too sketchy even for me. And I eat the air sacs!

In the end, I took home a cute little 1.5 lb black cod with clear eyes. Sorry to steam you, little cod! But you certainly were quite delicious! (For those with issues with eating things that’re looking back at them, you can also steam fish steaks or fillets).

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