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Long green beans and eggplant 四季豆炒茄子

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This delicious flavor combination is popular all over China, especially in the summer months. The two main ingredients, long green beans 四季豆 and eggplant 茄子, are both thought to help the body deal with hot weather. I was reminded of how good it tastes this weekend as a guest at a business lunch in a “home style” 家常菜 restaurant known for its Yunnan take on such well-known dishes. Today I decided to make it at home while the mental image was still fresh in mind.

 

Here's the restaurant version. I didn't think to snap a picture until it was nearly gone. Hence the half-empty plate. 

 

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     (Please click the photos to enlarge them.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yunnan food is not quite as fiery hot as that of Sichuan and Hunan, but it is definitely no shrinking violet when it comes to using a bold palette of spices. This dish is a good example of how Yunnan cuisine constructs a distinctive regional flavor.

 

These beans 四季豆 are as long as my forearm. My neighborhood outdoor farmers market has several related varieties, all inexpensive and fresh. I picked a nice-looking bundle, paid 3 Yuan, and then moved on to find some eggplant. At this time of year lots of small eggplant are being harvested, some no longer than my outstretched hand, from wrist to fingertips. I bought 2 that were a little larger than that. Paid 2 Yuan for them.

 

1526200440_pix1.thumb.jpg.55e240ab5a5aaa06c841fe4e087b201b.jpg     1848137819_pix2.thumb.jpg.dd5fa1f8156132ae9e6d1cf3075badff.jpg

 

 

Bought a red bell pepper 红甜椒 for 1.50 and a couple of moderately-large spring onions 大葱 for one more Yuan. Ingredient total at this point was under 8 Yuan. Factor in some garlic and ginger plus bottled sauces, and you are looking at a lavish total investment of around 10 Yuan.

 

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Washed 洗净 and cut the vegetables 切段, making the sections of green bean and eggplant approximately the same length. The pieces of eggplant were strips, about the size of a finger 切条状。Finely chop a little garlic and ginger, smash and slice the spring onion, sliver half the red bell pepper, and set out a tablespoon of doubanjiang 豆瓣酱。This is a spicy fermented bean and chili sauce that originated in Pixian County, Sichuan. 郫县, not far from Chengdu 成都。

 

 

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Not shown is one small rice bowl containing a mixture of my liquid ingredients, prepared so that they can be added quickly without having to measure when the pan is hot and food is cooking fast. (1 tablespoon of soy sauce 酱油, 1 tablespoon of dark aged vinegar 老陈醋, 1 tablespoon of cooking wine 料酒, and 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce 蚝油。)

 

A second small rice bowl contains a half teaspoon of corn starch 玉米淀粉 mixed with about two tablespoons of water, to be added at the end as a binder and thickening agent 勾芡。

  

Preheat the wok over high flame; when it’s hot, add a couple tablespoons of cooking oil, 2 or 3 depending on the volume of the eggplant. I think rapeseed oil 菜籽油 works best for this since it isn’t overly delicate, stands up well to high heat and adds a little flavor of its own. Add the eggplant, stirring constantly until it becomes tender and starts to take on a golden color. Remove it to a pan and set it aside.

 

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If your wok is well seasoned, it won’t need washing at this point. You can just wipe it out with a paper kitchen towel and add another tablespoon or so of oil. Continuing to use high flame, add the cut green beans and stir fry them for two or three minutes, until they become slightly tender and start to look “crinkly” and develop speckling with dark in color. You don’t want them to actually scorch, but a little color is desirable.

 

Below right, you can see the "breath of the wok" (wok hei or 锅气/镬气) as the beans near the end of their cooking time. It's closer to smoke than it is to steam. When you shake the pan, sometimes small tongues of flame jump into it. Adds depth to the flavor. Scoop them out into a pan. Set them aside.

 

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Wipe the wok and add a little more oil. (It won’t need much; a teaspoon or two.) Put in the ginger 姜末, followed by the minced garlic 蒜泥, thinly sliced red bell pepper 红甜椒丝 , chopped spring onions 葱花, 4 or 5 dried red chili peppers 干辣椒, and the doubanjiang 豆瓣酱。Stir fry these together until they are well mixed and you can smell the aroma. Add back the beans and the eggplant. Combine them well with the spices.

 

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Now add the bowl of wet seasonings, a pinch of salt 食用盐, a pinch of sugar 白砂糖, a pinch of MSG 味精。If it looks too dry, add a splash of boiling hot water (not cold water; you don't want to slow down the cooking process.) Cover and cook on low heat for two minutes. Remove the lid and mix in the corn starch slurry 水淀粉。

 

 

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After it comes to the boil again, it’s ready to serve. Plate it up! Goes real well with steamed rice and part of a small roast chicken. 

 

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At the restaurant it was just one component of a big lunch spread at a round table that had a dozen other dishes: chicken, pork, beef and fish. Vegetables that were steamed, boiled and fried. A couple types of soup. We rotated the center of the table slowly and had our fill of a fine assortment of Yunnan specialties. Can’t do all that at home of course, but still wanted to reproduce one small piece of it today and show you how. 

 

Here's the recipe all in one place if you would care to give it a try: (Please click "reveal hidden contents.")

 

Spoiler

Ingredients:

  • Long green beans 四季豆 -- about 300 grams – stem end removed, cut in pieces 3 or 4 inches long.
  • Slim Asian eggplants 茄子— about the same amount by volume as the beans – cut into finger-sized strips. (Leave the skin on.)
  • Cooking oil with a high smoke point -- recommend rape seed oil for this dish 菜籽油。
  • Dry seasonings --
  • Small thumb of garlic, minced. 老姜
  • Large clove or two of garlic, minced. I prefer the kind that is all one single clove, not segmented into petals. 独蒜
  • One large spring onion 大葱 – smashed flat with the side of knife 菜刀 and cut fine. Only use the white part.
  • Half a red bell pepper 红甜椒 – Seeded and thinly sliced.
  • Dried red chili peppers 干辣椒 – 4 to 6 depending on how hot you like your food.
  • Doubanjiang – 豆瓣酱 – 1 tablespoon -- a spicy sauce made from fermented beans.
  • Coarse cooking salt 食用盐 – ¼ teaspoon or less (a pinch.) Don’t need much because several of the other ingredients contain salt. Beware of using Chinese table salt. It’s very fine and you can easily over-salt things.
  • Granulated sugar – 白砂糖 -- ¼ teaspoon or less (a pinch.)
  • MSG 味精 or chicken essence 鸡精 – ¼ teaspoon or less (a pinch.)
  • Liquid seasonings – 1 tablespoon each of soy sauce 生抽,aged rice wine vinegar 老陈醋,yellow cooking wine 料酒,and oyster sauce 耗油。Mix these into a small bowl so they are ready to use fast when needed.
  • Corn starch 玉米淀粉 ½ teaspoon, mixed with about 2 tablespoons of cold water – 水淀粉。Used as a binder and thickening agent. 勾芡  

 

Method:

  • Over high flame, quickly stir fry the eggplant in a couple tablespoons of rapeseed oil. Cook it mostly but not completely done. 
  • Remove them to a bowl and wipe out the wok. Heat another tablespoon of oil.
  • Continuing to use high flame, stir fry the green beans until they begin to get soft and begin to develop spots of deep golden color.
  • Remove them to a bowl and wipe out the wok. Heat another tablespoon of oil.
  • Stir fry the aromatics (ginger, garlic, dried red peppers, doubanjiang, red bell pepper slices until they are mixed well and beginning to release their aroma.
  • Return the eggplant and green beans to the wok. Stir to mix with the aromatics. Add the wet seasonings plus a tablespoon or two of hot water (if it looks dry.)
  • Cover and cook about 2 minutes.
  • Remove the lid and stir in the corn starch solution.
  • Ready to serve after it returns to a boil.

 

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somethingfunny

Looks delicious.  

 

Do you not find the aubergine absorbs all the oil quite quickly and then more needs to be added for it to continue stir-frying properly?

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DavyJonesLocker

Looks great, i often do something similar. I notice a lot of recipes call for a lot more sugar which I personally don't like and only use a pinch like you suggested 

 

5 hours ago, abcdefg said:

MSG 味精 or chicken essence 鸡精 – ¼ teaspoon or less (a pinch.)

 

 I am never sure about adding MSG, its traditionally pretty controversial in the UK but when I read later medical opinions on it , there might be some unfair scare mongering about it. 

 

I am always too liberal with the  豆瓣酱。 Some brands are quite spicy so adding chilli to it would  not be for the faint hearted . 

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abcdefg
14 hours ago, somethingfunny said:

Do you not find the aubergine absorbs all the oil quite quickly and then more needs to be added for it to continue stir-frying properly?

 

You're right, that can be a problem. Sometimes I use one or another hack to reduce oil absorption, such as salting the aubergine beforehand and letting it stand a while to give up some of its water. But this time I didn't. Just used a very hot, well-seasoned wok, and kept the eggplant moving the whole time it was cooking. Never let it sit still and adhere to the wok, not even for a second.

 

Also, I didn't add any seasonings to the eggplant. (Garlic can make it tend to stick.) Fried it all alone. Another factor that probably helped was that my wok was not too full; I didn't crowd the pan. I shake it back and forth with my left hand on the handle while I stir and flip the eggplant with the wok tool 锅铲 in my right hand. It's a vigorous operation. 

 

10 hours ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

I am never sure about adding MSG, its traditionally pretty controversial in the UK but when I read later medical opinions on it , there might be some unfair scare mongering about it. 

 

Yes indeed, MSG is controversial In the US too. In some quarters it is denounced with religious zeal as being terrible, deadly stuff, brought across the ocean by "evil Chinamen" to wreak havoc on the health and welfare of unsuspecting Anglos. I've looked at the scientific evidence and think it is pretty sketchy. I tend to often use MSG, although in very small amounts, to round out the flavor of a cooked dish by augmenting the "umami" note. 

 

When I was in medical practice, I did occasionally see patients who had genuine adverse reactions to MSG, characterized by facial flushing and a headache, sometimes nausea and/or diarrhea. They were often people who had preexisting vasospastic issues, such as migraine headaches. Or they had a long history of multi-food intolerance, some of which were true allergies and others of which were rather vague, ill-defined reactions. 

 

But I do use it when I cook Chinese food, albeit with a light hand. I limit it the same way I try to limit salt, refined sugar and oil just as general health measures. If one were on a low-sodium diet, then of course he should omit it entirely as it is a non-essential source of dietary sodium. 

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Bibu
11 hours ago, somethingfunny said:

Do you not find the aubergine absorbs all the oil quite quickly

yes, so add more oil beforehand. That is the ordinary approach. Be Careful, the oil would be released out when eggplant nearing finished.

 

@abcdefg ever tried 地三鲜?

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Bibu
2 hours ago, abcdefg said:

brought across the ocean by evil Chinamen to wreak havoc on the health and welfare of unsuspecting Anglos.

 

Funny story, never heard of. Precisely,  MSG is invented by German and promoted as MSG by Japanese.

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abcdefg
4 hours ago, Bibu said:

Funny story, never heard of. Precisely,  MSG is invented by German and promoted as MSG by Japanese.

 

I was being facetious, I was joking -- did not mean it to be taken seriously. Sometimes people in the west even talk about "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome." They have given that name to a constellation of symptoms that they attribute to ingesting MSG as part of a Chinese meal. Some people are very emotional about the issue, going on and on about how dangerous it is. Personally, I think those fears are exaggerated. 

 

4 hours ago, Bibu said:

ever tried 地三鲜?

 

Yes, I like that very much! Here's an article about it from last year. 

 

https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57487-the-three-fresh-treasures-地三鲜-aubergine-potatoes-and-green-bell-pepper/?tab=comments#comment-445847 

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Bibu
24 minutes ago, abcdefg said:

I was being facetious, I was joking

 

It was a funny story indeed, but not good in public. with friends, yes. My 1 cent...

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DavyJonesLocker

a lot of the condemnation of chinese and MSG comes from the fact that Chinese food is still seen as low grade cheap ass food. There still is a strong mindset amongst the public in the UK not to to pay much for "chinese food" . It is such a shame actually . Although it is getting better in the UK ..... slowly . Some of the big chain restaurants stores are setting up in UK

 

Mind you I have been to some the michelin star chinese restaurants (almost all HK originated, guangdong style dishes)  and they are way way over priced. The 烤鸭 called Peking Duck is usually around 1000 - 3000 kuai (yes!) and arguably not much better than like 大董 here in Beijing. Also the environment is nothing special 

 

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abcdefg
17 minutes ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

The 烤鸭 called Peking Duck is usually around 1000 - 3000 kuai (yes!)

 

Ouch! I can buy a whole roast duck in the wet market here for 26 Yuan, freshly made and totally delicious. (These are Yunnan's famous 宜良烤鸭)。

 

Had a fancy roast duck meal at 大董 in Beijing near Wangfujing last year. Took my ladyfriend there as a tourist treat. It cost about ¥700. She was not impressed.  Kept shaking her head and saying 太浪费! 太浪费! Explained that would feed her whole extended family, back in the village, for over a month.  

 

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DavyJonesLocker
4 minutes ago, abcdefg said:

Had a fancy roast duck meal at 大董 in Beijing near Wangfujing last year. Took my ladyfriend there as a tourist treat. It cost about ¥700. She was not impressed.  Kept shaking her head and saying 太浪费! 太浪费! Explained that would feed her whole extended family, back in the village, for over a month.  

 

 

the duck is actually very good though (260 last time i went for a full duck) but when you start adding other many other dishes it gets pricey.

Many of my friends think its too pricey but you are getting better food, environment, service, and paying for the name etc. Need to compare like with like and with most posh places, the prices start increasing exponentially I suspect most of their customers are people entertaining clients as i see a lot of people in suits. (The bill is of no concern when the company is paying  :D  ) I go there for a birthday, special occasion etc

 

Mind you,  700kuai for 2 is about 80 GBP.  In london that you get you a bog standard high street meal and a bottle of house wine. 

 

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Bibu
11 hours ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

260 last time i went for a full duc

up to 260 now, wow....several years not been there... in the years of 团烤, it is some 30-50 kuai...

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