Here is a paragraph I wrote while very annoyed that I couldn’t finish cooking:
I am sitting here unable to finish (or start, actually) making my Sichuan dry-fried green beans because my shrimps have not finished rehydrating. I did not know they needed to rehydrate until I had finished chopping everything else, and now they are sitting in a pool of water glumly. It might take twenty minutes. I am hungry. This is not something that happens every day. (The shrimp, not my being hungry. That happens multiple times a day.)
Now here is the rest of the post.
This all took place in that yada-yada’d area of the first Sichuan post.
I began by preparing my string beans—stacking them on one end, slicing off the ends, and doing the same to the other end, then cutting them in half. I hadn’t been terribly excited about this recipe, but I wanted a vegetable side dish that went with the dan dan noodles. Then, once I opened the bag of green beans, I suddenly remembered how much I love them raw. I ate a few; I love the crunch, the watery sweetness? That they taste green and of dirt. I have half a pound left and I hope they don’t go bad.
Then I sliced my mini-shiitakes, first pulling the stems out (not sure if that’s necessary, but they always seem slightly gross). I should have washed them or wiped them with a wet paper towel, but I didn’t do either. There’s a lot of controversy. Then I read the recipe again and realized I had to rehydrate my shrimp. So I sat around for a while.
Then—still during the rehydrating—I heated the oil in my larger pasta pot and, once a string bean I added began to sizzle, added about half the string beans. They sizzled away for about four minutes, after which time I thought they were shriveled enough to be considered done.
I drained them in my colander on the suggestion of Use Real Butter. By then I figured the shrimp bits were hydrated enough, so I chopped them into smaller bits (they were still rather tough, but I have no idea what they’re supposed to end up like, texturally) and diced more preserved mustard greens.
I poured most of the oil down the drain—DO NOT TELL MY MANAGEMENT COMPANY—leaving about a tablespoon; or I was supposed to leave a tablespoon, and in fact do not know how much I left. I turned the heat back on and added my shiitake slices.
I bought the shiitakes when I was planning to use the Appetite for China recipe, but then I discovered the Use Real Butter recipe with the shrimp bits, and since I was curious about them, I went with that one. But then I had these shiitakes so I figured I’d include them anyway. They immediately soaked up all the oil, as these things do. I added the shrimp and mustard greens, and then the string beans, water, soy sauce, and sugar. (I had been intending to use some of the water from the shrimp-rehydrification project, but everything smelled a little scary by this point, so I just used plain water.)
Then I noticed there was nothing spicy whatsoever in here. I looked back to the Appetite for China recipe and saw that she had used red chiles; then I saw that she had used chili bean sauce, and then remembered I had bought that already because it was on my shopping list from when I thought I was using her recipe. Wow, that was by far the longest and most pointless story I have ever told on this blog. Sorry. Anyway, I added a large spoonful of chili bean sauce. I stirred. I turned off the heat. I put it in a bowl.
This dish was magical. It’s not even so much that it’s tasty—which it definitely, definitely, definitely is—but that it has turned into something so much incredibly more than green beans and mushrooms. I don’t know how it became so intensely, fantastically flavorful. Your tongue feels full with it. You can think about it; there are things in here to think about.
It’s also extremely salty. (Not very spicy, though!)
Anyway: yum. I think I’m also just so surprised. It tastes like a main course, a meat dish. (Not that vegetables can’t be main courses; mine usually are. But this just tastes more substantial, BIGGER. It has a meaty texture, I suppose. Anyway, whatever. It’s good.)
1 lb string beans
1 c vegetable oil
~5 oz mini shiitake mushrooms
2 tbsp dried shrimp
4 tbsp Sichuan preserved vegetable (mustard greens)
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp water
1 tsp sugar
1 1/2 – 2 tbsp chili bean sauce
1 1/2 tbsp chopped scallions (whoops, I think I put in two entire scallions, actually)
Put your dried shrimp into a bowl of cold water, at least to cover. Leave there for about twenty minutes.
Trim the ends off the string beans and cut in half (or something; the pieces should be about two inches long). Heat the cup of oil in a medium pot on medium-high heat. It is hot enough when a string bean placed in the oil starts to sizzle. Fry (in two batches is probably best); after about four minutes or when the skins are beginning to frizzle, remove them, using a spider or slotted spoon. (Just wrote slutted.) Drain in a colander or on a paper towel–lined plate (which would probably make them wilt).
Slice your mushrooms and dice your Sichuan vegetable. If your shrimps are rehydrated, dice those as well. If not, wait around more.
Get rid of the oil in the pot, leaving about one tablespoon. (At this point Use Real Butter adds pork; I omitted that because I don’t like pork and because I had enough meat in the rest of the meal.) Add the mushrooms; cook until they have given up their water and shrunk. Add the preserved vegetable and shrimp; cook, stirring occasionally, for a bit. (Like 30 seconds.) Add the string beans, soy sauce, water, sugar, and bean sauce. Cook until the liquid has reduced away.
Put in a bowl and sprinkle scallions on top. (I am actually glad I used more than you were supposed to; I think it would have felt too … well, meaty again, I guess. Or whatever quality oil imparts to food. I don’t know.)
Here’s a picture. You can probably guess what I was trying to do. This was as good as it got. And yes, there is, in fact, a reason I had to crop my head out.