Shortcut Szechuan-style Dry-fried Green Beans: vegan-friendly, popular with teens and adults alike

By Charleen - January 04, 2020

Dry-fried Szechuan green beans has become my go-to vegetable side for dinner parties, potlucks and family gatherings. The flavor and texture of the beans are amazing, and the dish gets even better after resting at room temperature! It is so frequently requested that I developed shortcuts to achieve the same great results, doubling or tripling the recipe as the finished beans have a way of disappearing each time my teenager walks past! 

Szechuan dry-fried green beans - meatless
One of my favorite Szechuan/Sichuan restaurant dishes is dry-fried green beans tossed with a small amount of ground pork in an aromatic, salty-sweet-sour sauce. So I was thrilled when I discovered the recipe for Virginia Yee's dry-fried Sichuan string beans in Grace Young's The Breath of a Wok. One of the key ingredients is Chinese black vinegar, from the province of Chinkiang or Zhenjiang, a dark rice-based vinegar with a slightly fruity, slightly salty aroma. 
Szechuan dry-fried green beans with ground pork
The traditional dish (干煸四季豆) is garnished with a small amount of browned, crispy ground pork, but most vegetarian versions that I found in restaurants were simply deep fried rather than dry-fried, and lacked the complexity of unami flavors and pleasing appearance of browned bits. 

Szechuan dry-fried green beans made with ground beef master meat mix
Around the same time, I was making dan dan noodles a lot, having discovered from reading Fuchsia Dunlop's Land of Plenty another fantastic Chinese condiment called ya cai 芽菜, a type of picked mustard green stemThe best of the best is called Sumiyacai, and became the key ingredient in a highly versatile Szechuan Master Meat Mix that I developed to speed up and simplify meal preparation. 
The secret ingredient to an array of Szechuan style dishes.
I started to make this dish as frequently as I could find good looking fresh green beans. The key to dry stir-frying is to avoid putting too many green beans in the wok or pan at a time. This allows temperatures to elevate into the range for the Maillard reaction. The beans are able to dehydrate, wrinkle and develop that rich browned flavor while remaining green through this process. 
Blistering small batches of green beans in the wok
The blistered, wrinkled beans can be made in advance to this point. When added back to the hot pan, they are poised to imbibe the sweetened broth, black vinegar and sesame oil to complete the dish. 
When tossed in a hot wok, the beans will absorb the broth and flavorings, losing their wrinkles.
I then discovered that suimiyacai on its own is sufficient for a fully satisfying flavor experience with its subtle touches of brown sugar, chili and cinnamon layered on a salty-sour base. I started to use it instead of ground meat for vegetarian versions of mapo tofu and dry-fried green beans because it was a lot easier. No one in the family noticed or cared about the absence of meat, and the green beans still have a habit of disappearing off the plate while I am finishing other dishes for our meal. 
Blistered beans, sugar water (instead of broth) and vegan toppings ready to be combined.
The final evolution of this dish was to develop a method to achieve the same flavor and texture of the beans in a less laborious manner so that the recipe could be more easily scaled up. Sure I stood at the stove babysitting handfuls of green bean blistering in the wok, individually turning and removing the ones that were done for a triple recipe to be brought to a potluck. But when entertaining 10-12 people in my own home, even a double recipe would interfere with the completion of other dishes. 

As I was roasting root vegetables on sheet pans prior to Thanksgiving, I had the idea of blistering the beans in a hot 400°F oven. So I tried that. Unfortunately, it took 25-30 minutes before the beans began to brown. While the flavor was good, the beans were soft and olive green in color.

Last week, I was broiling Chinese barbecue pork (char siu) in preparation for a bun-wrapping party, using the recipe in Grace Young's cookbooks. I thought the heat of the broiler might do a better job at browning the beans, and gave it a try. While the wok-blistered version might still be a tad brighter in color, the hands-off cooking time allowed me to prep and cook other dishes. 
Beans after 11 minutes of broiling retained good color and crispness
Most importantly texture and flavor of the broiled green beans that were finished in the wok were comparable to the traditional cooking method. As always, these delicious, satisfying, unami-laden green beans disappeared rapidly! 
Successful shortcut vegan Szechuan-style green beans!

Love2Chow Shortcut Vegan-friendly Szechuan-style green beans      January 2, 2020
Dry-fried Szechuan style green beans has become my go-to vegetable side for dinner parties, potlucks, and family gatherings large or small. The flavor and texture of the beans are amazing, and the dish gets even better after sitting a bit at room temperature. However, the traditional method of dry-frying handfuls of beans is laborious, especially when tripling the recipe. I also improved the flavors of the ground pork-ginger topping by adding a special type of Szechuan pickled mustard green stems (sumiyacai) with its distinctive salty-sweet-sour highlights.

My kids request this dish so often that I often find myself skipping the meat altogether. The vegan recipe below employs a triumvirate of sumiyacai, minced ginger and minced garlic as a flavorful base.

1-1.5 lbs fresh green beans, with stems snapped off
1 Tbs sugar
¼ cup vegetable stock or water
Vegetable oil
2 Tbs of Yibin Suimiyacai
1 Tbs minced garlic (optional)
1 Tbs minced ginger root
1 Tbs Chinese black vinegar (Chinkiang or Zhenjiang) or balsamic vinegar
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1-2 scallions, chopped

Variations: Instead of the ingredients shown in blue text, use ¼ to ½ cup of Szechuan Master Meat Mix containing ginger and garlicSee Or 2 Tbs minced ginger and 2 oz ground pork as in Grace Young’s blog

1.     Toss green beans with several Tbs of oil and spread to as close as a single layer as possible on a half-sheet pan.
2.     Adjust oven rack to the second highest position, about 6 inches below the broiler element. Broil for 10-12 minutes, stirring the beans every 3 minutes initially, and then every 2.5 min until most beans are wrinkled and brown patches begin to appear.
3.     Remove from oven and set at room temperature. This can be done a few hours in advance.
4.     To finish the dish, dissolve the sugar in the stock or water and set aside.
5.     Heat 1 Tbs vegetable oil in a skillet or wok until you can feel the heat from 3 inches above. Add the suimiyacai, garlic and ginger and stir-fry for ~20 seconds.
6.     Add the sugar mixture and bring to a boil.
7.     Stir in green beans and cook at high heat, tossing frequently, until liquid is mostly absorbed into beans.
8.     Toss in black vinegar and sesame oil and remove immediately from heat. Garnish with scallions.

Please enjoy the recipe and share what you think. Click here for a printer-formatted version.

🍃 Let the green beans air dry for an hour on the sheet pan before tossing them in oil. Or, if you are in a hurry, wrap them briefly in a dry dish towel. Excess moisture will interfere with the browning process.
🍃 Use a pastry brush instead of paper towels to grease the sheet pans. More oil stays on the pan instead of being thrown away with the paper towels.

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