When your husband comes into the house with a giant colander full of green beans from the garden, it’s time to think of ways to eat them up – fast. That’s because as soon as the harvest is eaten up, there will be more to pick! This year, I grew a variety named Contender and the bush bean plants are very productive. My husband loves to monitor the progress in the garden beds located outside of our bedroom. This morning, he pronounced it was time for the first harvest!
He ticked off salads and other dishes to prepare with our beany bounty. But my mind gravitated towards a big flavored stir-fry. Paging through To Asia with Love by Hetty McKinnon, I came across a simple recipe for stir-fried green beans with homemade black bean sauce.
I know Hetty through social media, her books, and recipes at the New York Times. She offers fresh, unfussy takes on Asian cooking. Chinese-Australian by birth and now living in Brooklyn, her recipes combine many cultures (check out the butter miso Vegemite noodles on page 91!).
Her ideas are very accessible but she’s always nudging cooks to do a little more. For example, in To Asia with Love, the introduction to the green beans with homemade black bean sauce says you can use store-bought black bean sauce sold at many market. HOWEVER, going to a Chinese or Pan-Asian market for fermented black beans and spending about 5 minutes to craft your own will yield loads of better, brigter flavor.
Why not? I had a jar of fermented black beans in my fridge! Let’s do it.
Chinese Fermented Black Beans
If you’re unfamiliar with fermented black beans, know that they aren’t made from the kind of black beans that we typically simmer up for dishes like Moros y Cristianos (Cuban white rice and black beans) or for making Asian-style sweet soups. Chinese fermented black beans are produced from soybeans. They look ancient and have a potent flavor and chewy texture that reminds me of salt cured black olives.
In Mandarin Chinese, they are called douchi. I purchase the seasoning at Chinese markets, though you may find douchi at pan-Asian or international markets that cater to Asian shoppers. My go-to brand is Yang Jiang, which comes in a paper canister.
Pearl River Bridge also makes a good brand, and if you want a smaller quantity, look for plastic bags of the beans at the market. Regardless, after opening the package, transfer the fermented black beans to a container and refrigerate them indefinitely.
Rinsing black beans is called for when there are a lot involved (such as this sauce) or when you want a delicate flavor (such as for steamed fish). It depends on the application and a good recipe will tell you want to do.
Homemade Black Bean Sauce
With fermented black beans on hand, Hetty’s homemade black bean sauce comes together within minutes by combining the mashed beans with garlic, chile flakes, soy sauce, sugar, Shaoxing rice wine and oil. Making about 1/2 cup, a single batch is plenty for this stir-fry and other recipes. I imagine the sauce keeps for months in the fridge.
What’s interesting about Hetty’s homemade black bean sauce is the way it clings to ingredients to deliver pungent, umami flavors. That said, it does not overwhelm as it brings earthy depth. It was super interesting and I made the beans twice to witness the cooking process.
The end result was that the green beans were satisfying with a bowl of rice. Of course you may add more to the meal but if you just had the stir-fried green beans, cubed tofu and rice, you’ve got a light summer meal.
The long and short of green bean prep
Green beans are a funny vegetable to prep, especially when they’re homegrown and come in different sizes. Given that, I sort green beans and cut them according to size. For this recipe, plump long green beans were cut into 3 pieces whereas slender short green beans were halved. I cut at a diagonal for a handsome look.
The reason is simply about cooking time. When I boil or steam green beans, the plump ones are cooked first and the slender ones added a minute afterwards.
If green beans are unavailable or if you don’t care for them, Hetty suggests summer squash, which there’s plenty of during the summer. I’d use about 2 tablespoons of water (instead of 1/3 cup) to facilitate their cooking since zucchini and its kin have plenty of moisture.
My husband and I eat a lot of vegetables so I increased the quantities slightly from Hetty’s original recipe in To Asia with Love. I also added a little ginger and whisper of sesame oil. Hetty’s homemade black beans sauce is great to keep on hand so I hope you make some to play with. It’s recipes and books like Hetty’s that help people to put more Asian flavors on their table.
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More fermented black bean recipes!
- Stir-fried Pork with Black Beans and Green Beans
- Stir-fried Chicken with Black Bean Sauce