Friday, March 5, 2010

Chinese Green Beans

When I travel, I find myself craving vegetables...a lot! In fact, vegetables are the one kind of food that I need more of when I'm eating out at restaurants. I'm always asking about the sides and I sometimes think that they are relegated to a position of less importance in a meal than they should be. I grew up with a Chinese mother, so we had several fresh vegetables each night. And to this day, if I don't have something green on my plate, I feel deprived. Loving vegetables as I do, you might wonder why I am not a vegetarian. Believe me, I tried to be! But, my need for protein and my ongoing blood deficiency have given me a seriously carnivorous streak. I joke a lot about having really sharp canine teeth (which is true) and that's why I am supposed to knaw on bones and I do. But I really prefer eating the Chinese way with a little meat or tofu and a lot of sides. I love my vegetables....

I once went on a trip to New York with another couple and they were serious gourmands. Every night we ended up having a very rich meal with several appetizers, rich sauces, decadent deserts and lots of wine. By the third day, my body was rebelling and when they wanted to go to a famous Deli to have thick and juicy pastrami sandwiches, I talked the waiter into giving me chicken broth and steamed spinach instead. Oh that was such a good meal as there is nothing like chicken soup when you don't feel well, but that's going to be the subject of another blog. The spinach was what I wanted most of all and it made me and my stomach so happy. It was so simple, so healthy and so green! My friends thought I was crazy, but to this day, I have fond memories of that Jewish Deli because they took such good care of me. Isn't nurturing what food is all about?

When I teach at conferences, there are often wonderful banquets. You will find me stocking my plate with lots and lots of vegetables and salads. I must admit that I like simplicity when it comes to vegetables - not too much sauce or seasoning and usually cooked quickly. Although, I am partial to Southern greens and slow cooked Middle Eastern green beans too. Actually I like greens and green beans cooked all kinds of ways. Perhaps this is because my liver needs support. It is clearly not my strongest organ or I would be able to drink alcohol a lot better and eat fatty food a lot more.

In any case, my love affair with vegetables is ongoing and I try to grow as many as I can. I'm not a very good gardener as I don't like to weed and dig. I prefer to pluck and cook. So you can often find me wtih pots of mesclun lettuce, growing cherry tomatoes and herbs and I've discovered that I am quite good at growing peas and beans. I like the fact that they grow on vines so I don't have to bend over very much to pick them. I haven't started planting anything yet this year, but I will and you'll be seeing many more recipes involving these vegetables. But today, I want to share one of my favorite ways of cooking green beans. My son wants this dish often and at every Thanksgiving instead of the usual green bean casserole. I also often serve it for Chinese New Year.  It's very simple, much requested by my friends and very good!

Chinese Green Beans

1 pound green beans, ends snapped off
2 cloves of garlic minced
2 - 3 teaspoons Tamari
1 -2 Tablespoons vegetable oil (I like light Olive Oil)
Good Pinch of Sugar (1/8 tsp)
Good Pinch of Salt (1/8 tsp)
Few drops Toasted Sesame Oil

Heat water in a pot large enough to hold the green beans and heat to boiling. Put in green beans and cook 4 minutes or until barely tender. Drain and rinse with cold water. You could also steam them for 4 - 5 minutes.

Heat a wok or large frying pan and add in the oil. Put in garlic and stir until garlic just begins to brown. Add in green beans (oil should sizzle) and stir for 1 - 2 minutes. Add sugar and salt and stir for another minute. Pour in Tamari. Keep stirring until almost evaporated and drizzle in Sesame Oil and put on a serving plate. Enjoy!

Five Element Analysis

It isn't expected for a side dish to incorporate very many of the Five Elements. In fact, side dishes and vegetables are often used to balance a main course or an entire meal full of other elements. In this dish, the green beans represent the wood element as they are green and grow on vines. The garlic adds the metal element. The Tamari, sesame oil and salt add the water element and the pinch of sugar adds just a bit of earth. The fire element is not represented in this dish except that is stir fried. So, this dish would go well with a more fiery main course like lamb or if you like spicy food, you can add a little chili paste to heat things up. The earth element needs boosting as well so these green beans would also go well with an Earthy meal.

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