Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sichuan Green Beans

Sichuan Green Beans 1

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 2

Sichuan Green Beans

You'll need:
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:
Apple Crumble Pie
Ca Ri Ga (Vietnamese Curry Chicken) Pot Pie 
Chai Black Tea
Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry/Plum/Hoisin Sauce
Mashed Okinawan Purple Sweet Potatoes
Peking Duck-Style Roast Turkey with Flour Wrappers, Scallions, Cucumbers and Cranberry/Plum/Hoisin Sauce
Pumpkin Pie with Chai Spices
Sichuan Green Beans
Taro Dinner Rolls

And the leftover turkey recipes:
Shichimenchou (Japanese Turkey Bone) Ramen
Turkey and Cranberry Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Turkey Vegetable Soup

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.


  1. happy new year to you too W.C. I love the little anecdote you have along with your recipe. Food always tastes better when it brings back a good memory.
    Thanks for all your lovely recipes and keep up the good work.
    Lots of love from England.

  2. So, can I call you evil cousin from now on? hahahaha....
    I thought I liked Sichuan Green Beans, but it must have been something else I ate. There is a place in Vancouver that have crunchy green beans in some sort of souce, like oyster sauce I guess but very spicy. But there were no meat in it.
    Anyways, Happy 2009 to you and your family!

  3. ok, what a great story! i love cousins, but you are evil. to De-Cousin a cousin is just... E.V.I.L! :)

    have you ever had scrambled eggs with green beans? easy peasy green beans dish that my cousin buu makes for me whenever i visit. the combo is odd but so comforting.

  4. What a heartwarming story! Nothing beats having family around and the holidays are wonderful for that reason.

    Happy New Year!

    Here, they write the dish up as Green Beans with Minced Pork and Olives. I don't think they're the "Western" black olives though. Haven't been able to figure out what kind of olives they are: but thanks for the tip that preserved turnips work just as well.

  5. Happy New Year!!!! Have a blessed 2009!!

  6. Do you stir fry this dish only in sesame oil?

  7. This is the recipe that I've been anxiously awaiting. Sounds like that pickled turnip is the secret ingredient. Can't wait to make this.

  8. What a great story! Your recipe photo on the top has lots of meat and turnips. Those are great with rice! So flavorful and so yummy :). I had this dish not a few days ago, and your photo of it looks very similar to my photo but your green beans look much fresh and crisp!

    Hope you are having a happy new year right now.

  9. A dish with no gravy but still good with steamed rice!

  10. Nice story. I would definitely need these Sichuan green beans to keep me warm in the Bay Area! Ahh, so spoiled in LA. :P

  11. awww, i love my family and miss them dearly when they (or I) leave. I always tear up when my sister leaves for LA at the end of her visits.

    Hey hey! Green beans! I want to make this if we still have any beans left. Happy 2009!

  12. What a tasty way to enjoy green beans!

  13. Sichuan green beans is one of my favorite dish and I don't usually like spicy stuff. Thanks for the recipe!

    BTW, you bleached your hair? Does that meant you used to be a blonde?? hahahaha. Put up the hair pic! You don't have to show your face, but we need to see the hair!

    Nice story by the way!

  14. what a touching story!! cousin q's older brother actually wrapped a present for you??? i can't imagine him wrapping anything. he's never wrapped anything he's given to me! not that i'm complaining or anything...

  15. Ahhhh I love the love hate relationships of those who grow up with you. I love the story behind the food too, and what at a touching story you have here.

  16. Kattebelletje,
    Oh yes, I can see how adding dried shrimp and bean paste will up the umami flavor.

    Happy New Year to you. My favorite foods are always those with pleasant memories.

    Haha. I'm sure plenty of my other cousins already call me evil. :P There's lots of variations of this dish, spicy and non.

    I only managed to pull the de-cousin trick once or twice. He caught on and realized I would never actually de-cousin him. ;) I've never tried scrambled eggs with green beans but love the thought.

    Olives. That might explain the black flecks I saw in the version at Chung King. But yeah, they definitely didn't taste like Western olives. I'll have to go on a hunt at the grocery store.

    Happy New Year to you too!

    Yup, only a few drizzles of sesame oil. I didn't dry-fry them.

    I love pickled turnips.

    Yes, all this flavor is great with plain old jasmine rice.

    No gravy but lots of flavor!

    I felt so spoiled after I moved down here. Lots of family and good food around.

    Aww, why'd you have to move so far away?


    Pepsi Monster,
    Haha. I didn't turn out blonde, just added brown streaks. Most of my hair was still black.

    No. The present was from his mom. His dad handed it over after he got into the car, so that's why he was running back up the driveway to drop it off. I don't think he's ever wrapped anything he's given to me either! :P

    Thanks. I don't think my family has ever had a love-hate relationship, but growing up, it was definitely love-annoyance. :)


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