Twenty Years in the Making

Lilli has taken to carrying her stepstool around the house to help her reach things she isn’t supposed to reach. Of course, she rarely uses it for its intended purpose, which is to reach the sink to wash her hands after she uses the potty. She does, however, use it to reach the stickers that are supposed to be rewards  for when she does use the potty.

bea at 4.5 months

Last night Rich made the unfortunate decision to walk away from the bath he was drawing, and set down the bottle of bubble bath on a shelf. He came back to find her holding the bottle upside down and dumping it into the bath. All of it. She used up the whole bottle, and yes, it was like in cartoons with bubbles floating around the bathroom. She was in heaven, but the joke’s on her because this means no more bubble baths for a while.

The silver lining to the bubble bath debacle was that it reminded me that I’d wanted to share this recipe for green beans I finally nailed down. Of course, right now you’re probably asking yourself what an out-of-control bubble bath has to do with green beans, and I’m getting there.

When I was in high school my mom used to make these wonderful stir fried green beans. They were full of fresh garlic and ginger and tossed with a mixture of soy sauce and honey. The soy’s saltiness was balanced out by the sweet honey glaze. They were great. My best friend, who was originally from Latvia, would come to our house and eat them directly from the serving dish. That was fine by me because I would go to her house and eat insane amounts of beet vinaigrette, Salad Olivier and napoleon cake.

green beans

I called my mom this summer to get the recipe. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. It was 20 years ago.” Undeterred, I set out to recreate the dish. I remember the beans being very limp, crinkly and blistered by the time they were served, so I started by steaming the beans for a few minutes. I used chunks of shallots and fresh ginger and garlic – I actually even took a photo to so you could see for yourself. But I could not figure out the glaze at the end. I consulted Aleza who suggested corn starch. It didn’t sound right, so I called my mother again. “Still with the green beans?”

But then I had a flash to when I would make these in college. It was a vision of me holding the bottle of honey directly above the pan, just like Lilli held the bottle of bubbles over her bath. And it worked! Glaze achieved. When I posted the finish photo to Facebook my best friend chimed in immediately saying she loved those beans when we were teenagers. Success!

Lilli on hayride

A few things: I worked in half pound batches to nail down this recipe. I know it will double and triple just fine. The garlic, ginger and shallot pieces should be much bigger than a mince (see photo); you want to really taste the flavors with each bite. If you’re up for it, make it a tablespoon and a half of each. A little heat would be a nice contrast to the sweet honey. I steamed my green beans in the microwave, but if you feel prefer the stove top, go right ahead. My mom always used a wok, and even though I have one, I rarely, if ever, use it. A large saute pan will do just fine. I am convinced red pepper strips often made their way into this dish, and sometimes walnuts topped it. My mother, again, swears she has no idea what I’m talking about, but feel free to experiment.

Green Beans with Soy-Honey Glaze

½ lb. green beans, cleaned

1 heaping Tablespoon chopped shallots

1 heaping Tablespoon chopped ginger

1 heaping Tablespoon chopped garlic

3 Tablespoons honey, plus about a Tablespoon-and-half more for the pan

3 Tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 Tablespoons canola oil

Directions

Steam the green beans for four minutes.

In a large sauté pan or wok, heat the oils until they shimmer. Once they are shimmering, add the shallots, garlic, and ginger. Stir them for about a minute. Add in the green beans and toss them with the contents of the pan.

In a small bowl, stir together the three tablespoons of soy sauce and three tablespoons of honey. Pour the mixture into the pan and over the green beans. The whole pan should be sizzling. Cook everything down for about 7 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds or so. But please use your best judgement – if it looks like something is going to burn, cut off the heat.

The beans will begin to wrinkle. At this point, grab your bottle of honey and pour about a tablespoon and a half directly into the pan. The heat of the pan will have the honey sizzling. The glaze should form in about a minute.

Serve over rice.

Ummmmami

Not the prettiest of dishes, but I get giddy when I think about how it tastes.

In kindergarten I learned that I had four different taste buds on my tongue, and to prove it, Mrs. S. put salt, sugar and lemon juice on their designated spots on the front and sides. I must have blocked out what we used to taste bitter, and maybe that’s why, on some level, I’ve never gotten used to bitter things like hops and mustard.

That lesson in tastes stuck with me for the next 20 years, and I would dance salty, sweet and sour foods into their “sweet spots” in my mouth. Well, usually. I always did have a little trouble deciding where to roll a Sour Patch Kid. And then, everything changed.  Even though it had been discovered nearly 100 years ago, Umami, roughly translated from the Japanese to mean “meaty” or “savory,” started making headlines about three years ago. Umami occurs naturally in foods like meat, parmesan cheese, soy, red wine, MSG, anchovies and mushrooms. And it is this taste sensation that has me loving this dish.

I make up excuses to cook this stew. We would eat it every week if I didn’t think Rich would mind. The potatoes always get cooked to a perfect velvety texture, and the mushrooms, cooked in the soy and sherry, feel as rich as meat on my tongue. I’ve actually recently read about a new taste, Kokumi,  but I’ll hold onto my umami and savor this dish.

This Chinese vegetable stew is hearty, and I’ll admit, not the prettiest of dishes. The vegetables don’t retain any of their crispness or their color. They turn soft from the slow cooking and get quite dark from the soy sauce. But did I mention how delicious this stew is? Try and keep potatoes on hand at all times, stored in dark cool place, and far away from onions, which will spoil the potatoes more quickly. Although I’ve stuck to button mushrooms for this recipe, dried shiitake mushrooms (which can be found at OSJL for $2 a package) will work great.

Potato Stew from Madhur Jaffrey’s World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking(serves 4-6)

Two notes about this recipe:

  1. Although it calls for carrots, I leave them out because they hurt my tummy. I am sure they taste delicious in this recipe.
  2. I don’t actually have sherry on hand, but have used sherry vinegar and am delighted with the results.

Ingredients

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed

2 quarter-sized slices of fresh ginger, lightly crushed (I use my frozen ginger root, and just take it out of the freezer for about 10 minutes before I cut off the slices)

3/4 pound boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths

Cook's Illustrated Tip: Line up your green beans and you'll only need one cut

2 carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into 1 1/2 inch-long segments

6 ounces mushrooms (if possible, with approximately 1 1/2-inch caps)

1/4 cup Chinese dark soy sauce

2 cups water

4 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons shaohsing wine or dry sherry (or sherry vinegar)

Heat the oil in an 8-inch-wide, heavy-bottomed pot over a medium-high flame. When hot, put in the garlic and ginger. Stir and fry for 15 seconds. Add the potatoes, beans and carrots. Stir and fry for 1 minute. Add the mushrooms. Stir and fry for another minute. Now put in 2 cups water, the soy sauce, sugar and wine. Bring to boil.

Cover, lower heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are just tender. Remove cover and turn heat to high. Boil away most of the liquid.

You should have about 1/8 inch of sauce left at the bottom of the pot. Stir the vegetables gently as you boil the liquid down. Remove the ginger and garlic, if you like.