Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Green Beans, a couple of ways.

People who know me well know I'm hardly a vegetarian, but lately I've been taking a hard look at the way I've been eating and I've concluded that in the case of meat, less is more. First; it's expensive, and grad school's not going to pay for itself. Reducing the amount of meat I have to buy is just another way for me to save up. Second; I've been on a bit of a green kick, considering my country is melting at the top. That sort of thing worries me, and the raising of livestock for consumption is a major contributor to greenhouse gases. So I can add meat-reduction to my list of life changes, along with switching to a bicycle; taking public transit; and using reusable containers for my meals. I'm lucky to currently live in a country that makes these lifestyle changes a bit easier.

The New York Times has a great article on ways to help reduce meat consumption. Number four on its list of ways to eat less meat is, "Buy More Vegetables and Learn How To Cook them". One of the things I've enjoyed about learning to cook in Japan is how vegetables are treated as dishes unto themselves, and not merely something to be boiled and added to the plate at the last minute. (Although, to be fair, as I can hear my mother screaming at the computer in Canada, when I was growing up, especially in the summer, there were always at least two or three side salads on the table; and we always had home-made pickles in the winter.)

Last month, I posted on the sorts of side dishes I make weekly. Because we eat bento boxes for lunch, and a fairly light dinner late at night, it really helps for me to have several salads and cold cooked vegetables in the fridge, ready to go with a bit of rice and some sort of soup or light meat dish. Peter and I now routinely split one chicken breast or thigh between us, and I can stretch 250 g of beef or pork into dinner and lunch for two, just by making sure there are lots of different kinds of veggie dishes on the side. Of course, it helps that in Japan, it already comes incredibly thinly sliced. Another trick I use is to use meat as a sort of condiment - like adding a bit of bacon or ground meat as a topping. People who don't like vegetables, in my opinion, just haven't been adding enough fat and carbs to them!

All of this is an incredibly long justification for a couple of recipes that are so delicious, they really need no justification at all. Both of them feature green beans, which I hated for so long, mainly associating them with the frozen stubby cut ones that so many people in Canada grew up on. Fresh green beans are expensive (anywhere) most of the time, but they seem to be coming into season here in Japan, so I'll be snapping them up while I can. If you have fresh green beans, by all means, use them, but I think frozen whole beans will work just as well.

The first recipe, I invented on the fly while living in Hanoi - although I'm sure similar printed ones exist somewhere. Our local street vegetable lady had a pile of fresh snake beans one day, and knowing how Peter loves them, I picked them up. I cut them into short lengths, and dressed them up. Apologies, as I'm not a professional recipe writer, but this is how it goes...

Take a largeish bunch of green beans - enough to feed two people. Blanch them in boiling water, and then shock them in cold water to help the green colour set. Drain, and put them aside to cool. While they're cooling, in a frypan, fry one or two slices of bacon, cut into thin strips. The better quality the bacon, well...the better. If you're going to eat less meat, you had might as well make it good meat. Once it has rendered a bit of fat, add a crushed clove of garlic, and a healthy pinch of salt and fresh-ground pepper. Stir it around a bit, and add good sherry vinegar, dijon mustard, and sugar to the pan, using the vinegar to pick up any of the bacon that has stuck to the pan. You want to add them in a 1 tbsp:1tsp:1tsp ratio, depending on how many beans you've decided to cook - I usually multiply it by the number of people who will be served. Then, when the sugar has dissolved and the vinegar is frothing, add a very healthy glug of olive oil to the pan. Take the pan off the heat, and toss the green beans. If you want to make a very simple lunch out of this, serve it with some french bread and shavings of parmesan; you won't be disappointed. This keeps in the fridge for a day or so, but it never lasts very long in mine. The green colour will fade somewhat in the dressing, so if you want the bright green look, make it the day you want to serve.

The second recipe I found over at - Just Bento! - for green beans with carrot and ginger.
I'm always happy with the recipes there, and this one was no exception. The green beans are blanched and chilled, just like in the first recipe, but then are dressed with a quarter carrot, julienned and lightly simmered with ginger, mirin, and soy sauce. She's a much better recipe writer than I am, so I'll let you follow her clear directions through the link. A note on mirin if you're following in Canada - mirin is sweet cooking wine, and is an integral ingredient in Japanese cooking. I couldn't imagine my kitchen without it now. It should be available in any Asian food market, or even major supermarkets in bigger cities. If you don't have access to it, you can use honey thinned with water, or just flavour with a smaller portion if sugar. Mirin adds a hint of sweetness that balances out the saltiness of soy sauce.

Just Bento also has a recipe for Asparagus in Spicy Miso Sauce, which you can also see pictured in the back at the top of this post. It calls for both miso and gochujang, ingredients that not many of you probably have at home. If you do, however, I can strongly recommend it - and much easier to make than a hollandaise sauce!


Canadian Bento said...

Incorporating more vegetables into your life is such an easy and effective change. I love things like that. I am well into my summer vegetable infatuation. In this climate, you have to enjoy them while they are decent!

nakji said...

Oh, yeah, vegetables are so good at home in the summer - I think it's the freshness that makes the difference. What's in season right now?