Just over six years ago our son Shane travelled to Beijing for what was intended to be a brief visit to a friend who was studying Mandarin there. Thus began a personal voyage of discovery which led to him settling in the city, starting a business called Enter the Panda Ltd. and finding the love of his life Shan to whom he is now engaged. But that is his story.
We visited him in 2008 prior to the Beijing Olympics when he was still a student and got our first experience of Shanghai and Beijing, taking in all the usual tourist sites, including the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall. That was a typical tourist experience giving us a sense of the “otherness” of the place and some day I will attempt to recall those first impressions, formed while Shane was barely finding his feet in the city.
This summer we travelled back with a different purpose – to spend some time with Shane and Shan in Beijing and to travel into the far northwest to Xinjiang province to the city of Urumqi to meet Shan’s family – an important part of the ritual of “betrothal” in China. We were also to be joined in Beijing near the end of our holiday by our daughter Claire and her Welsh husband Mike who live in Sydney Australia, so the trip provided a rare chance for a reunion with our far-flung offspring and their other halves. Continue reading Upper East Beijing and Yuxiang Kitchen, Lido Square
Now I should have warned you all that, much as I love food, I don’t pretend to be a sophisticated cook and results can be little hit and miss. All the same my first attempt at Shan’s fried green beans ended up tasting very good. I just need to get a bit better at judging the temperature of the oil in the wok so the peppers don’t burn.
I lined up my sichuan peppers, garlic and that dried leafy vegetable “men gan cai” beforehand
I actually added a small handful of the “mei gan cai” with the garlic and chilli but Shan tells me I would have been better to wash the dry leaves a bit, squeeze the water out and fry them with the minced pork.
I blanched the beans for one minute before adding them to the wok.
And the end result looked like this:
I served them with Torta Di Patate – a sour cream potato bake with aubergines and taleggio from a recipe by Gino d’Acampo and the unusual combination of Chinese and Italian recipes made for a lovely, filling Monday night supper. If you’d like to try a hand at this dish yourself, have a look at Shan’s Fried Green Beans Recipe. Please leave a comment too, I’d love to hear how you got on! But before you do so take a look at what I learned about a better way to cook these beans inside the Kitchen of the China Sichuan
Fried green beans was one of our favourite side dishes in Beijing. It is a staple in Chinese homestyle cooking but, done well, it’s delicious. There were a few ingredients I needed to go looking for in order to try out this recipe back here in Ireland.
Sichuan peppers were easy – Shan had brought a supply with her when she visited us at Christmas. The distinctive numbing sensation on the tongue and lips is not easily mistaken for anything else.
This is what they look like:
The dry leafy vegetable that she didn’t think I could find in Ireland was trickier to identify So I asked Shan to text me the pin yin and Chinese Characters for the vegetable in question. It’s called “mei gan cai” or 梅干菜. I took myself off with that information to the Asia Market in Drury St. Dublin. which is a great source of all manner of spices and sauces as well as offering great value in fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish.
Through a process of elimination using photos exchanged via iMessage,we identified this as the correct product:
I’m still not sure what this is so any suggestions would be welcome. Could it be a type of dried mustard leaf?
A few cloves of garlic again you can put more if you like it garlicy
Wash beans and use your hand to break them into 1 inch long pieces.
Boil water in a small pot if you wish to have a healthier dish.
Chop garlic and dried chilli into fine pieces.
Pork: put oil in wok and throw 1 tsp of Sichuan pepper in it, when it gets hot and you can smell the pepper then you can use a spade to take out the pepper if you don’t want to eat it accidently later. I usually take the wok to the sink and shovel them out and deal with it later. Then put minced pork in, fry till they are cooked, put a pinch of sugar and a small amount of soy sauce. When the meat looks golden brown, take the pork out and wash the wok and dry it.
Beans: put oil in wok, put chopped chilli and garlic in, when the oil gets hot, basically garlic starts to look brown, throw beans in (healthier version would be that beans are already boiled in the pot and drained, typically 1 minute in the boiling water is enough, the colour of green starts to look crispy green), fry the beans till it gets brown and bits of it almost look like it’s burnt then the beans are ready, see picture below.*
Final step: put cooked pork in and then add 2 table spoon of soy sauce, and some salt, fry a minute or two then it’s ready. I usually just put one in my mouth and check the flavour and if it’s cooked.
The picture below shows the finished dish and you will not have the really dark bits if the dry leafy vegetable is missing.
Take a look at my first attempt to cook this delicious recipe.
*Note: I later learned inside the kitchen of the China Sichuan that the easiest way to get the bubbly brown skin on the green beans is to deep-fry them very quickly in oil in the wok. Sichuan fried green beans – vegetarian version
250g – 350g green beans
Dried chilli – 4 to 6 pieces depending how spicy you want it to be (my tastes are getting spicier!)
2 spring onions, white parts only
3 cloves garlic
Piece of ginger, about 3 cms
2 tbs Tianjn preserved vegetable
Wash beans and use your hand to break them into 1 inch long pieces.
Boil water in a small pot and blanch the beans for about a minute. Drain well.
Finely slice the spring onion whites, garlic and ginger.
Heat wok over a high heat, add oil (about 2 tbs), then sizzle the Sichuan pepper and chillies briefly until they begin to darken and release the gorgeous smells.
Add the spring onion, garlic and ginger and stir-fry for a few moments to release their fragrance.
Add the Tianjin preserved vegetable and stir briefly.
Add the blanched beans and stir fry for a minute or two to coat in the spicy oil and brown slightly.
Stir in about a tsp of sesame oil and serve.
Absolutely delicious. I love both versions of this dish. The one with pork makes a simple supper on its own. The vegetarian version is a great side dish for pork or other meats.
If any of the ingredients in this post are unfamiliar check out Chinese Kitchen Essentials elsewhere on this blog.
Two of my great passions in life are travel and food.
I love to visit new places and to get authentic experiences a bit off the beaten track – more as a traveller than a tourist. Italy is my first love but my son Shane married in Beijing to his lovely Chinese wife Shan and my daughter Claire married to her “hot” (her words) Welshman Mike and living in Sydney have got me to places I never expected to visit in my lifetime, let alone return to again and again.
Shananigans was born out of a recent visit to China as I attempted to share a flavour of that roller-coaster experience in tweets and photos. By the end of the trip 140 characters no longer seemed enough to capture the small glimpse I got of that extraordinary country as it assaulted my senses and I came to terms with the way it and its people are set to get tangled up in our lives.
More than anything the visit opened my eyes to the treasures and variety of Chinese regional cuisine. I thought I had some understanding of their food from visiting Chinese restaurants here in Ireland and trying to cook it over the years but I really had no idea how rich and varied it could be and how healthy and fresh-tasting. During our 3 weeks in China I set my daughter-in-law to be Shan the challenge of finding us a different regional cuisine each night we were in Beijing. While we were in her hometown of Urumqi in Xinjiang province we got a real sense of their provincial cuisine. I handed over complete control to her allowing her to choose the number and types of dishes using her own instincts for what constituted a balanced meal. As a result every meal was a surprise and every meal worked.
By the end of the holiday I had completely rebalanced my diet – with far more and a wider variety of fresh vegetables and fruit, relatively smaller quantities of meat, fish and tofu, modest amounts of rice or noodles and virtually no processed sweets or desserts. The holiday seemed to involve almost non-stop eating in large quantities and yet I lost weight and came back feeling healthier and fitter than I had for some time.
Since I arrived back I’ve been missing the food – the spiciness, the colour, the range of different dishes in a meal, the sociability of communal eating, the chopsticks…. And so the Shananigans will continue. For starters I’ve asked Shan to teach me long-distance how to cook the Chinese way – a kind of on-line tutorial using iPhone and iPad to help source ingredients and re-create, in an authentic way, some of the dishes I enjoyed so much using the best Irish ingredients I can find. My plan is to intersperse the Chinese the blogs about food and cooking with other tales and photos of travel in China, Italy and beyond.
I hope you will join me on my journey, no doubt with many mishaps along the way and with a glorious sense that I’ve no idea where this journey will take me. So here goes with a very simple start…. Fried Green Beans