My liking for green beans did not come until way later in life when I started getting slightly more health conscious and soon finding myself either consciously or subconsciously getting rid of the forever bad habit of my picky eating. Like plenty other kinds of vegetables - the bean sprouts, okra, brinjal, bitter gourd and the list just goes on, these are some the many many treasures that I have come to appreciate only when I had finally managed to knock some senses into me years ago. And while I have since neither particularly despising them nor especially liking them any more than I should, my first dining experience in a Szechuan restaurant in Chicago by the name of Lao Sze Chuan was what made me actually fell in love with green beans particularly when they are prepared this very way - dry fried with bits of ground meat and came packed and so full with spice and flavor!
Not to be deceived by the tiny pinkish red flower-shaped spice used in the making of this dish, the tongue-numbing Szechuan pepper is definitely one not be to underestimated. Uniquely aromatic, they probably make the very spice that defines the dish, alongside the heap of dried red chilies, garlic, ginger and spring onions that present themselves harmoniously with one another and more importantly with the plate of greens on the whole. Fresh and crunchy green beans retaining their texture even after cooking, having the ground meat and an additional touch of dried shrimps work exceptionally well in enhancing the mouthfeel as you dig into the dish. And with the inclusion of a tinge of the chili bean paste, they simply do their best at contributing wonderfully to the striking flavor Szechuan cooking always has.
While the version that I had had dining out was one made with the Chinese long beans or the yardlong beans, these long beans are one that I do not always manage to get hold of here that easily in the area where we lived. My next best options - the green beans. With the slightest difference in texture (thinner, more compact and slightly crunchier with the long beans), the green beans do make a very good interchangeable alternative to those. The beans, regardless of which is used, are usually dry fried or sometimes deep fried even. For a healthier option, par-boiling and steaming before stir-frying the beans should work just as well. But as far as the concern with frying the beans goes, this is one dish that will worth all the effort and the occasional sinful indulgence for its seriously likeable presentation.
Szechuan Dry Fried Green Beans 四川干煸四季豆
1lb fresh green beans (or long beans), rinsed and ends trimmed then cut into 2" sections and let dry completely
1/4lb ground pork
2 tbsps dried shrimps, rinsed and soaked to soften, roughly chopped
10-12 dried red chilies, soaked to lightly soften then halved and seeds removed
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ginger, finely minced
1/2 tbsp Szechuan peppers, crushed or lightly blended
3 stalks spring onion (just the white parts), chopped
3 tbsps cooking oil
1/2 tbsp hot bean sauce
1/2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
a dash of two white pepper powder
1 tsp light soy sauce
1/4 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp corn starch
1. Have the meat marinated slightly ahead of time and left refrigerated until cooking time. With the seasoning, mix all the ingredients in a small bowl and set aside for later use.
2. With the crushed or blended Szechuan peppers, toast the peppers in a dry, heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium-low heat until fragrant, about 3 to 5 minutes (a tip I adapted from "the Steamy Kitchen by Jaden Hair" cookbook). Set the toasted peppers aside.
3. Heat up the wok with the cooking oil over medium-high heat. When well heated, add in the green beans and let fry. Depending on how much oil you use, the time to getting them done will vary - faster with deep frying, slower in my case. Toss and turn the beans regularly to make sure that they get an even chance to be in contact with the heat underneath. Once they start blistering and browning (about 7 to 9 minutes), remove and transfer the beans to a plate lined with layers of paper towels.
4. With half the oil used for frying retained while the rest discarded, place the wok on high heat. Add in the dried shrimps, garlic, ginger and dried chilies and stir fry until all aromatic and the dried shrimps slightly browned.
5. Pushing everyone to one side of the wok, add in the ground pork. Stir-fry until the meat changes color, breaking them down into smaller pieces as it goes. Mix well with the rest of the contents in the wok. Toss in the Szechuan peppers followed by the spring onions and stir to mix.
6. Return beans to wok and stir in the seasoning. Stir for another minute until well heated through.
7. Remove from heat, transfer to a serving dish and serve hot.