If you've ever taken the time to read a Chinese takeout menu closely you may have noticed it has the dishes organized by regional cuisine such as Cantonese, Hunan, and Sichuan. Most Chinese restaurants try to have a wide offering of its cuisine to appeal to many different tastes. Those who love spicy food know to choose a dish from the Sichuan page. This cuisine is characterized by an abundance of heat in many forms, including dried chilies, chili sauce, and tongue-tingling Sichuan peppercorns.
Sichuan food will have you sweating, your eyes watering, and your mouth numb. It isn't for everyone but it's worth trying for the adventurous eater. Now and then even I like to subject myself to such spicy torture by suffering through a dish like a trooper. One of my favorite dishes to do just that with is stir-fried green beans because it's quick to make when the craving strikes.
Using a wok is key to getting the green beans perfect. Tossing them in the hot oil as they fry softens them from the outside but keeps them crisp on the inside. The telltale sign it's right is wrinkly skins with black blistering. Dried chilies and black bean-chili sauce bring heat and savory flavor. A topping of ground pork is the final flourish, which adds even more savory flavor. Sichuan peppercorns make the recipe authentic but regular black peppercorns can stand in if you prefer.
Sichuan-Style Green Beans
1 tablespoon black bean-chili sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
sesame oil, for cooking
1 pound green beans, end trimmed
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon grated ginger (about 1-inch piece)
6 to 12 whole dried chilies, caps and seeds removed
1 teaspoon cracked Sichuan peppercorns
4 ounces ground pork
In a small bowl, stir together black bean-chili sauce, soy sauce, rice wine and toasted sesame oil.
Heat 1 inch sesame oil in a wok set over high heat. Add green beans and stir-fry, tossing, until wrinkly and blistered, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove to a colander placed over a plate and let drain.
Pour out oil from wok, leaving only about 1 tablespoon behind. Reduce heat to medium. Add garlic, ginger, dried chilies, and peppercorns. Fry for 30 seconds. Add ground pork and stir-fry until crumbled and no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
Add back green beans to wok and pour over with sauce. Toss to coat and cook until thickened, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a large plate and serve immediately. Yield: 2 servings as a main dish or 4 servings as a side dish.