Meatless Monday: Chinese Restaurant-Style Green Beans

You know these green beans. They may have changed your tune about eating vegetables. (They did for me.)

(Kim O'Donnel)

Little did I know 25-or-so years ago while dining at a Chinese restaurant in Philadelphia called Tang’s that green beans could be tender and green (not Army brown) and that they could be draped in a sauce other than cream of mushroom soup, a sauce that not only filled the room with a heady perfume but that actually allowed the beans to be beans. Who knew that vegetables could be so delicious and that I’d prefer those beans to my plate of General Tso’s chicken?

Without a doubt, it was an amazing revelation, but one that I always associated with a Chinese restaurant, not my own kitchen. For more than a decade, I let the green beans come to me rather than go to the green beans. Frankly, I was afraid that they’d never measure up to the beans of my dining dreams, that I’d never hit the right notes on the sauce, that it’d be thin and one dimensional, rather than complex and more like a gravy.

Until now.

Because now I’ve got the goods-- a honest-to-goodness recipe for a rockin’ replica of those revelatory green beans, courtesy of Helen Chen, author of the new “Helen’s Asian Kitchen: Easy Chinese Stir-Fries.” Chen should know a thing or two about Chinese home cookin’ -- her mom is the late Joyce Chen, the legendary restaurateur and cooking personality who is credited with popularizing Mandarin Chinese cookery in this country.

Garlicky Green Beans
Adapted from “Helen’s Asian Kitchen: Easy Chinese Stir-Fries” by Helen Chen

1 pound green beans, ends snapped off
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce (sold in jars in Asian groceries) or crushed red pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon Chinese rice wine (sold as Shaoxing wine) or dry sherry
3 tablespoons vegetable oil (KOD: You want neutral-flavored oils with a high smoking point, such as peanut, safflower, grapeseed or Canola)
2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger (about 1-inch hunk)
¼ cup thinly sliced scallions, light parts only
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Snap beans in half. Rinse in cold water and drain thoroughly.

In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, sugar, chili-garlic sauce and wine.

In a wok or stir-fry pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over high heat until oil is hot, but not smoking. Test by dipping the end of a green bean in the oil; it should sizzle. Add green beans and cooking, stirring, for two minutes. Add ½ cup water, stir, and cover the pan. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender-crisp, 6-9 minutes. Transfer green beans to a shallow platter. (KOD: Drain off remaining water).

Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the same pan ad heat over medium-high heat. Add garlic, ginger and scallions, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 15 seconds.

Return green beans to the pan. Re-stir soy sauce mixture, making sure sugar is dissolved, and add to pan. Stir sauced beans constantly for about 60 seconds, or until liquid has nearly evaporated. Drizzle with sesame oil. Serve immediately.

Makes four side-dish servings.

By Kim ODonnel |  April 27, 2009; 7:00 AM ET Meatless Monday
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Kim, thanks for this Chinese Restaurant-Style Green Bean recipe, this will be my dinner this evening, I have been doing the meatless Monday for the past six months, and just added Thursdays. I am happy that Culinate picked your TableTalk blogg up!


Posted by: drbburke | April 27, 2009 1:01 PM

Hello Kim

Question: What exactly is dark soy sauce. I know it doesn't mean Kikkoman. And I reckon it doesn't mean Indonesian-style Kecap Manis. In our supermarkets' Chinese sauces, I can't remember seeing dark Chinese soy sauce which, I'm guessing, is what is called for here. What is an acceptable alternative?

Many thanks, David L

Posted by: davidlewiston | April 27, 2009 5:29 PM

David, the difference here is consistency -- light means thin (your Kikkoman) and dark means thick, usually enhanced with molasses. I wouldn't worry too much if you can't get your hands on dark Chinese soy sauce, as you're reducing the sauce to thicken it up, anyway.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | April 28, 2009 2:26 AM

P.S. Meatless is the theme of this week's chat at Culinate, my new chat home, Thursdays at 1ET:
Stop by and say hello if you can!

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | April 28, 2009 2:28 AM

Dark soy sauce is definitely thicker and more concentrated in flavor. If you can't find it at an Asian store near you, then my suggestion is to increase to about 2.5 to 3 tablespoons of regular soy sauce and then cook a little longer at the end to reduce. If you don't, then the flavor of the final recipe will be a bit weaker. Regular soy sauce has less flavor and salt than the dark soy sauce and that will affect the final result.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | April 28, 2009 4:04 PM

Can you provide the nutrition/calorie information for this dish?

Thank you.

Posted by: alsanders1 | April 28, 2009 6:15 PM

Don't you just LOVE Helen's book? So many great recipes.

Posted by: steamykitchen | April 29, 2009 6:10 PM

Hello Kim: I saw this recipe thanks to Jennifer Huget's Wednesday newsletter and decided to try it today. However, when I opened the package of prepared fresh green beans my husband brought home (he's the family forager), they were, to put it succinctly, inedible.

So I made the recipe with a partial head of green cabbage that was on hand. It was wonderful!

Posted by: ChristineDC | April 29, 2009 8:06 PM

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