January 18, 2011

Spicy Green Beans!

For a really long time - let's call it forty years, give or take - I didn't eat green beans. The green beans of my youth came from a can, were a drab olive colour, and had a thoroughly objectionable texture. I still recall the revulsion excited by the sensation of the outer layer of the bean sliding off the 'meat' of the bean as my tongue pushed it against my teeth. *shudder* Blagh! Ick. I remember at least two occasions on which I sat at the dinner table until bedtime, sobbing and struggling to swallow my beans. It was my experience with green beans that made me determined never to have that kind of food battle with my own children, should I have any. (And I don't, so that's a non-issue entirely.)

So. I didn't eat green beans for a long time. And then, about a year ago, I discovered the delicious delicious wonder that is Spicy Green Beans. Or Szechwan Green Beans. When they're on the menu in a restaurant - and you don't have to be in a Szechwan restaurant to get them, these days - I order them.

And tonight, I made them. For dinner. With chicken, for some protein. Google found me this recipe, which I will reprint here so you can read it and look at the lovely lovely photo and be jealous of my yummy dinner.

Spicy Green Beans & Chicken
Szechuan Green Beans

These beans are "dry-fried," a Szechuan cooking technique that makes them extra tender. The recipe calls for Chinese longbeans, but you can use haricots verts, green beans or runner beans. The recipe normally calls for chili peppers, but I've used chili paste - feel free to substitute dried red chilis if desired. Serves 4.

Prep Time: 10 minutes, Cook Time: 10 minutes, Total Time: 20 minutes.


  • 1 pound Chinese longbeans (also called yardlong beans or just longbeans)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, chopped
  • 2 scallions (spring onions, green onions), white parts only
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili paste
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • Pepper to taste, optional
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil for stir-frying, or as needed


Wash the longbeans, drain thoroughly, and trim the tops and bottoms.
Cut the longbeans on the diagonal into slices approximately 2 inches long.
Chop the garlic, ginger and white part of the scallions.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add the longbeans and stir-fry until they start to shrivel or "pucker" and turn brown (5 - 7 minutes). Remove the long beans and drain in a colander or on paper towels.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in the wok on high heat. Add the garlic, ginger and scallions. Stir-fry for a few seconds, then add the chili paste and stir-fry for a few more seconds until aromatic. Add the longbeans and the remaining ingredients. Mix together and serve.
Serving suggestion: Szechuan Green Beans would make an excellent side dish to accompany Mapo Tofu.

January 2, 2011

Gratin Potatoes

I was asked to bring scalloped potatoes to a group dinner on New Year's Eve. Well, I claimed that I knew how to make them (because, really, how hard can it be?), and didn't mention that I had hated scalloped potatoes (scalloped potatoes and ham, as my mother made them) growing up. Because I hated ham, growing up, too. But I like it now. So why not give scalloped potatoes a shot?

A search of "scalloped potatoes" on Rouxbe.com (I'm a registered student) came up with this recipe for "gratin potatoes". Gratin is French for "with cheese", as you may know, and "cheese" means "love".

Gratin Potatoes
  • 4 medium-to-large potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon softened butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 cups whipping cream (can substitute heavy cream)
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated powdered parmesan
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. 
  2. To begin square off the bottom of each potato so that it sits firmly on the cutting board. Cut each potato into 1/4" slices, still keeping the potato together. Discard the end pieces.
  3. Place the sliced potatoes into a square pan that has been smeared with butter and minced garlic. Then gently press on the potatoes until the potatoes are at a 45 degree angle. 
  4. In a medium sized mixing bowl whisk the parmesan, salt and pepper into the cream. (You want it to be almost too salty, so taste the mixture. The potatoes will soak up most of the saltiness.) Then pour the cream mixture over the potatoes. They should be almost completely covered. 
  5. Sprinkle the potatoes with a little more parmesan, cover with aluminium foil and bake for approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the potatoes are tender when poked with a knife.
  6. To finish the potatoes remove the foil, turn the heat up to 375ºF and continue to bake for 10 to 15 minutes until the top is golden brown. 
  7. Remove the potatoes from the oven and allow them to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before you serve them. This will give them time to thicken and soak up any extra cream.
  • Choose potatoes that are more or less the same size, so you don't have to peel and cut so many.
  • Use fresh parmesan rather than the stuff that comes in a shaker can. Grate it first, then pulverize it in a food processor or grinder to get the proper texture and quantity.
I wish I'd take pictures, but I didn't have a camera with me at all on New Year's. Let's just say they turned out very well, and were a massive hit.

And I think I know why I hated my mom's scalloped potatoes. She always cut them super-thin, with the potato peeler. Which limits their ability to soak up liquid and get soft and potatoey. Scalloped potato slices need to have some substance to them, so they can absorb liquid and flavour. Yes.