My first job after I graduated from college was in the San Francisco Bay Area. The pay was awful, the job was miserable, and the commute was hellish. I had a few friends in the area and cousin Q's older brother had just started college so I had, at least, one family member nearby.
Each week, I picked him up from school and either took him out to eat or took him back to my place and cooked. While I cooked, he hooked up my VCR, assembled a bookcase, put together my canopy bed, and any other odd chores. At the very least, whenever I filled up my gas tank, he cleaned my windshield.
Once, I even made him help me bleach streaks in my hair. Not with a brush, but with that teeny-tiny crochet hook through a plastic net. He freaked out, worried that he'd poke my head, but he still did it. Ah, I love my cousin.
When we were little (I'm talking single digit age), whenever our ba noi (Vietnamese paternal grandmother) assigned me chores, I'd threaten to "de-cousin" him if he wouldn't help me. That only worked a few times though. I was evil, he said recently. Because that set a precedent for other cousins to threaten to "de-cousin" him too, and he was so afraid none of us would play with him that he did whatever we asked.
My culinary repertoire was pretty limited back then. Once, he remarked that my pork dishes tasted like my chicken dishes. Was that a complaint? No, no, he quickly reassured me. Probably worried that I'd stop feeding him. They didn't taste baaad, just that they both tasted the same.
One of the dishes that I used to cook was ground beef with green string beans. I'm sure I must have seasoned them, but it's been so long that I really don't remember. Come to think of it, the last time I can remember cooking this dish was my winter up north.
The dorms had closed for the break and cousin Q's older brother spent the night at my apartment. My youngest uncle was going to pick him up from my place the next day. After they left, I promptly burst into tears. I had only been at my job for a few months so I didn't have any vacation days yet. And the thought of not having my cousin around made me feel incredibly lonely. I was still standing at the window when my cousin started running up the driveway again. I quickly wiped my eyes and splashed water on my face, but couldn't disguise the redness. "Merry Christmas," he said as he thrust a gaily wrapped package at me.
Later, in the car, he told his dad that I had been crying. His dad told my dad. And shortly after Christmas, my mom, brother, and lil' sis drove down from Oregon and stayed until the New Year. My mom brought down a gigantic cooler filled with fish sauce, dried noodles, and various other food stuffs.
For that week, I didn't feel lonely at all. My mom even cooked with the ground beef and green beans that I always seemed to have in the fridge.
I moved to SoCal the following year, and with my grandma and aunties around, never really cooked this dish again. I think this version is much improved upon the original. I was trying to recreate the green beans I ate at Chung King Restaurant in San Gabriel. I can't exactly figure out the black pickled vegetable they use, but pickled turnips worked for me. It really gives the dish a unique texture and taste. If you can't find them where you are, it's OK to omit them.
I added Sichuan peppercorns to the version I made for Thanksgiving dinner, but most of my family didn't care for the numbing sensation. Actually, the version at Chung King is one of the few non-spicy dishes on the menu.
Sichuan Green Beans
About 1 1/2 lbs green beans, de-stringed
1/4 lb ground beef or pork
2 tblsp pickled turnips, minced
2 shallots, minced or 3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp oyster sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
Optional: 1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns, and/or as many dried chilies as you wish.
Add 2 tsp soy sauce, 2 tsp oyster sauce, and 1/2 tsp sugar to ground beef. Set aside. The pickled turnips are pretty salty so if you're not adding them, you might want to increase the soy or oyster sauces by a tsp or so.
In a wok or pan on high heat, drizzle a bit of sesame oil and saute the minced shallots and pickled turnips until just softened. Add the ground beef and green beans and saute until the meat is cooked and the beans have softened to your liking. The high heat helps to give a bit of char and wrinkle the green beans, although shallow-frying them ie. dry-frying will achieve that effect best. If you plan to dry-fry the green beans, use regular oil instead of the sesame oil. I try to minimize the oil and find that by the time the beef is cooked, the green beans are crisp-tender, the way I like them.
Serve with rice.
My "Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner with an Asian Fusion Twist" recipes:
Peking Duck-Style Roast Turkey with Flour Wrappers, Scallions, Cucumbers and Cranberry/Plum/Hoisin Sauce
Mashed Okinawan Purple Sweet Potatoes
Sichuan Green Beans
Ca Ri Ga (Vietnamese Curry Chicken) Pot Pie
Taro Dinner Rolls
Pumpkin Pie with Chai Spices
Chai Black Tea
Apple Crumble Pie
Who else made Sichuan green beans?
Diana of Appetite for China dry-fried the green beans.
Happy New Year everyone! Whether you celebrate at home or out, with family or friends, best wishes for a fabulous year ahead.
1 year ago today, I ate what? 2007 eating out round-up.
2 years ago today, my unsophisticated wine palate and travel memories of Sirens Valley wine caves in Hungary.