Szechuan Green Beans
I just returned home from a long weekend in Houston, and while you may think my trips down to Texas are all about barbecue—smoked beef was definitely on the agenda—it's actually veered more towards Asian cuisine. One thing I do miss after leaving New York is the ample amount of truly excellent Asian options, so that tends to top my list of must-eats whenever I'm in an region that excels in that area, Houston being one of the them. This lack of everyday availability of items I truly love has driven a bigger desire to learn how to cook my favorite dishes at home, and Szechuan green beans is no-brainer place to start—it's one of the items my wife and I also always order.
Now we do have choices for Szechuan green beans here in Durham, but none that I've sampled to date have packed the spicy punch or crisp bean that I'm used to. Similarly, my previous at-home attempts have fallen a bit flat either in flavor or texture, so I was looking to step up my game here a bit.
First, I pulled from my most trusted recipe source—Serious Eats. Just looking at the original recipe, I knew I was headed on the right path with a mixture of both tongue tingling Szechuan peppercorns and hot arbol chiles.
This heat is built upon with garlic, ginger, and green onions, which are sautéed until fragrant. The recipe also called for Szechuan preserved mustard stems, which was something I was not able to get a hold of for this attempt, so used a little bit of mustard powder—yeah, I know it's not nearly the same thing, but I've used mustard powder in my Szechuan green beans before to good results, so figured it couldn't hurt here.
Flavor is only half the battle with Szechuan green beans though—just as appealing is that blistered, slightly crunchy exterior. I assume to achieve this correctly, a blazing hot wok is pretty essential. With my indoor range maxing out before the ideal temperature, I thought the grill might be the next best option, since I can get that sucker upwards to 700 °F with a large, freshly lit fire.
Unfortunately I didn't get everything I hoped for—the green beans did cook quickly with some nice charring, but they lacked that blistered appearance I was really after.
Still, it was a better effort than normal, and once I tossed those crisp-tender beans with the seasoning mixture, plus a little sesame oil and sugar, the aroma that wafted out made my mouth water.
The final dish had a great balanced heat that tasted pretty spot on. It was layered with the mouth numbing Szechuan peppercorns, sharp bites of ginger and garlic, and straight up spiciness of the arbol chiles. Those were some of the hallmarks of Szechuan flavor I was looking for, and exactly what seems to be missing when I try to get Szechuan green beans around here—you get some spice, but never to the level or complexity I'm used to from my experience in New York. So a little more work is required on my part to bring my Szechuan green beans to my ideal, but I learned that you can utilize your grill to get way better than average results.
Szechuan Green Beans
- Yield 4 servings
- Prep 15 Minutes
- Cook 5 Minutes
- Total 20 Minutes
- 1 teaspoon whole Szechuan peppercorns, divided
- 2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil, divided
- 6 whole dried small hot chilies (such as arbol)
- 4 teaspoons of finely minced garlic (about 4 medium cloves)
- 3 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
- 1 pound green beans, trimmed
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black or white pepper
- Place 1/2 teaspoon of Szechuan peppercorns in a mortar and pestle and work into a rough powder. Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable or canola oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat until shimmering. Add in remaining 1/2 teaspoon of Szechuan peppercorns and chilies and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add in garlic, scallions, ginger, and mustard powder and cook, stirring, until aromatic, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over entire surface of coal grate. Set cooking grate and grill basket in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. In a large bowl, toss green beans with remaining 1 tablespoon of vegetable or canola oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer green beans to grill basket and cook, stirring occasionally, until beans are blistered and lightly charred about 5 minutes.
- Transfer greens beans back to large bowl. Add in Szechuan peppercorn mixture, crushed Szechuan peppercorns, sesame oil, and sugar. Toss to coat beans thoroughly in the mixture and season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to serving dish and serve immediately.
Adapted from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt
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Kim Where are some places you like to eat when you're in Houston? I'm always looking for new places to try.
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