Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Szechuan String Beans

Everybody should have problems like this: I have too much garlic. There’s a bag of fresh string beans in the refrigerator, too. At this time of year, there are string beans everywhere: at farmers markets. In CSA boxes. Spilling out of gardens like a green and yellow tide. But don’t be upset. There’s a solution, and it is Szechuan string beans.

In her Still Life with Menu Cookbook, Mollie Katzen describes her frustration at trying to cook this recipe in a house full of taste-testers. “It’s difficult to accumulate a dinner-sized amount of something when it disappears faster than you can make it,” she writes.

It’s true that if you cook this dish as part of a meal, it will likely have been nibbled away by the time you set the table. The trick, in my opinion, is to make it on a day when you are home alone. Or if you have just fallen in love in the last few minutes, and the object of your affection comes to your house while you are fixing this, then perhaps you will be swept away on a wave of romance and share your string beans with your visitor. The following week, though, things will be back to regular. You’ll be snacking on more than your share by the time your sweetheart rings the doorbell.

I have altered this recipe a tiny bit to include fresh chiles instead of Katzen’s crushed red pepper. The key points are for the wok to be hot and the beans to be dry. It seems like a lot of garlic here, but don’t be scared. High heat knocks the fight out of garlic and leaves it tasting sweet rather than pungent.

Szechuan String Beans

2-3 T sesame oil
2 lb string beans, cleaned
8 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Thai chile, minced
Oh, use more garlic and chile if you like. It’s fun.
½ teaspoon salt

Heat a wok over medium-high heat. Add the oil. Wait for the oil just to begin smoking, and then throw in the beans. Turn the heat to high and stir-fry—that means constant tossing! Keep this up for five minutes or more, until the beans are seared and blistered.

Add the garlic, salt, and chile. Toss, toss, toss some more! Stay at it for another 2 or 3 minutes until the garlic is cooked. Be sure to toss madly so that the garlic doesn’t burn.

Put the beans in your serving dish. You could serve them hot with rice as a main course. You could serve them warm or at room temperature, too, if any are left by the time they cool down.