Sichuan Inspired Green Beans with pork mince and Kale – My First Post Of 2013

Firstly, a belated happy new year!  I hope 2013 has been treating you well so far.  For me, it has been a good start although I have been putting off blogging since the holidays; so much to share, but I needed something to kick start me again and that happened earlier this week.

The absence of posts is mostly due to the lack of time to experiment since the holidays.  Although, I do have a couple of noteworthy holiday recipes to share at some point.  Maybe I will save them for later in the year as they aren’t so season appropriate right now!

 There has however been some cooking happening and for the most part it has been with a more health conscious focus in mind.  

Chinese is one of my favourite cuisines to eat out and the recipe I am sharing is inspired by a very popular Chinese Sichuan dish; a dish I had not tried until a couple of years ago.  I was surprised that all these years I had missed this because it is absolutely delicious!  Of course, now I order it almost anywhere new I try just to taste the differences and let me tell you there are many!  My favourite version of this dry fried green bean dish is when it has pork in it too.  What I love about this recipe is that it is delicious to eat on its own if you are omitting carbs in the new year, for example.  As well as having a much higher ratio of vegetables to meat than other dishes, it is healthier too.  If you use lean mince and the oil  a little more sparingly you will still have a dish packed with flavour, texture and lots of deliciousness!

 

My Sichuan Inspired  Gan Bian Si Ji Dou – Fine Green Beans With Pork and Kale

One of my favourite quick weekday dishes.  In the past I have also cooked this with duck breast fillets chopped up to a course mince consistency with excellent results.  I also add a little more 5 spice powder and sugar when cooking the duck version.  This is a delicious alternative to the pork.

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Serves 4-5

Ingredients

1 pack of fine green beans topped and tailed and cut in half (200-300g)

500g lean pork mince (you can also try using duck.  Use skinless breast fillets and chop finely to a course mince)

1 bag of curly kale (200g) chopped and any large stems removed

5 cloves of garlic pressed/grated or chopped finely

1 small white onion chopped finely

2-4 green chilies chopped finely (adjust quantity according to taste)

2-4 tbsp dried shrimp chopped finely (if you cannot find this, you may omit)

1/2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns crushed well

1 good tsp 5 spice powder (a little extra if cooking duck)

1 tbsp red chili flakes (adjust to taste)

3 tbsp Shaoxing wine or dry sherry

1- 11/2 tbsp toasted sesame oil

1 1/2 tbsp rice wine vinegar (I add this because traditionally preserved greens are added to this dish.  The vinegar adds a pleasant balance as a substitute)

3-4 tbsp  dark soy sauce (adjust seasoning at the end)

1 1/2  tbsp sugar (adjust to taste- for duck use a little more)

I spring onion chopped finely for garnishing

Check seasoning at the end- you may add a little more soy or salt.

Groundnut or Rice bran oil (or any other oil you may want to use that has a high burning point)

Method

  1. Heat a large wide based pan.
  2. Drizzle over 1 tsp of oil over the chopped beans and toss before putting into the hot pan. You just want a light coating on the beans as your aim is to dry fry the beans at a high temperature to retain some texture and colour. Some recipes suggest deep frying the beans, but apart from adding a lot of calories, having tried it, I found I much preferred the fresher taste when just a little oil was used. Cook the beans at a high temperature, tossing them regularly for about 5 mins until they have evenly blistered and soften slightly.  When done remove from the pan.
  3. In the same pan add a couple of tbsp of the oil you are using and add the pork.  Fry until you get some colour for a couple of minutes.
  4. Next add the onions and green chilies.  This is something extra I have added in my version. I like the sweetness from the onion and the flavour of the green chili. Fry with the meat until the onions are translucent and have softened.
  5. Now lower the heat and add in the finely pressed garlic and chopped dried shrimp.  If you can’t find the dried shrimp you can just omit it.  There really isn’t a substitute   You could try to find a chili oil that is made with shrimp paste and omit the red chilies and use that instead.  The dried shrimp are usually in the refrigerated section in a Asian supermarket. They come in different sizes, but for this dish any small ones will do.  Fry for a minute or two.
  6. Now you can turn the heat back up and add the liquids and spices- the 5 spice powder, the sugar the Sichuan peppercorns, the red chili flakes, the soy sauce, the rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil and the Shaoxing wine. Stir well as the liquid evaporates.  Once it has evaporated check for seasoning.  Remember that the beans and kale have no seasoning so you need to add a little extra.
  7. Finally add the beans back in with the kale leaves (stalks removed) and stir well.  You do not need to cook it much- 1-2 mins.  You just want the beans warmed again and the kale to wilt slightly. Check seasoning.
  8. Take off the heat and garnish with spring onions.  You can serve this with steamed Jasmine rice for a hearty meal.

 

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A (small) change will do you good & My Sweet Potato Adventures with an Indian twist

Just as many of you out there, each year, as the new year draws closer I make my one of my reoccurring resolutions to live a healthier lifestyle. Full to the brim with enthusiasm and motivation,  we decide it is the optimum time to go on a “diet”, buy a gym membership, abstain from alcohol etc.  Once we pass the January Blues (January 23rd was supposedly the most depressing date this year) all this conscientious, extreme change manages to last until about mid February at the very best.

The whole point of a resolution is to follow through with something and make sure that you stick at it for the long run, right?  Very few people can adhere to strict rules and restrictions for long periods of time, and I am certainly not one of those people!  However, I do have a tendency to be passionate and obsess over anything new I get into- be it a hobby, a diet, cooking a kind of cuisine, researching a particular interest etc.  Unfortunately, I can lose interest just as easily if I get bored, or feel restricted.  What can I say?  I’m a stubborn bull and I like to do what I want to do. :) This year I decided to break the pattern.

As the new year approached, there were to be no more resolutions for me to obsess over for 2 months before I crashed and burned.  I made a decision to introduce small changes in my life that I would be happy to make, but more importantly, be able to sustain all year with the view to carrying them on indefinitely.  It meant the drastic instant results that I would usually aim for and sometimes achieve would not be happening, but I am content with this because I think the 80:20 rule fits me better than anything before:  being mindful and conscientious about what I am doing 80% of the time with that 20% of letting go bringing the balance I need.  No restrictions- just positive adjustments.  For example,  exercising regularly without the excuse of needing to go to the gym and in the kitchen, I am far more aware of not being overly excessive when it comes to fat, sugar and salt for everyday cooking.  It’s interesting to experiment and see if recipes work well with less or with interesting natural substitutes without compromising on the taste.  If not, not to worry because although with less frequency now, I will still enjoy these things and I will certainly not become fanatically against any of the things that I enjoy that may be deemed less healthy; we all know there are some things that need sugary, salty, buttery goodness! An example of this being, Kougin Amann, which I will be dedicating an entire day to make my own version in the near future!

It’s now March and I have to say that I have not felt this positive or energetic in a long time.  I feel a sense of freedom; I feel healthier and I am especially enjoying exploring and experimenting for the 80%.  The most important thing I have learnt is balance and this is slowly seeping into every aspect of my life.

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Recently, I have had quite a craving for sweet potato and I would usually just roast them or make a mash as I would regular potatoes, but the other day I decided to try them out with some Indian flavours. After rummaging in the fridge, I pulled out a fresh bag of kale and some root ginger.  I don’t know why Gobi Aloo Sabzi (A spiced dry curry of cauliflower and potato)  came to mind.  I think it was the ginger.  I love ginger in Gobi Aloo and there is a kind of sweetness that I can relate to the Aloo when then are cooked with the Gobi and ginger that I thought would work well with the sweet potato.  I thought the kale’s earthy tang would balance the sweetness of the potato just as the stalks of the cauliflower in Gobi Aloo do.  I cooked it more or less the same way I would Gobi Aloo and the result was a resounding success! The sweet potato and kale worked and balanced together beautifully with the ginger and spices.  The bonus of this dish is that it takes no longer than 15-20 mins to prepare and have ready to serve on the table.  I will certainly be cooking this colourful, nutritious and utterly more-ish version of sweet potatoes for years to come!

 Spiced Sweet Potato & Kale-  Shakarkand & Kale Subzi

This makes a good size dish that can serve up to 8 people if it is being accompanied by other dishes.  It can also be eaten alone or with rice and/or chapatti.  It’s delicious accompanied with plain yoghurt. And don’t worry about the left overs! This keeps well for a few days in the fridge.

Ingredients

  • 600g  yellow sweet potato (about 1 large or 2 small) cubed into 1-2cm cubes If you can’t find yellow, you can use white.
  • 1 tennis ball onion finely chopped
  • 1 bag of curly spring kale  (approx 180g) cavolo nero would also work well or other similar leaves
  • 25g ginger  peeled and grated
  • 1 green chili chopped finely
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 tbs dried fenugreek leaves ( Kasuri Methi) Avaliable in all Indian grocery stores.  If you can’t find it, you can leave it out as it is not essential
  • 2 tsp ground coriander seed powder
  • 1/4 red chilli powder (or to taste)
  • Salt to taste (about 1 1/2 tsp)
  • A few sprigs of coriander (cilantro) leaves chopped finely to garnish (optional)
  • Your choice of oil to cook with

Method

  1. Prepare all the ingredients as described above.
  2. Heat a wide based pan on medium high heat and add the cumin seeds to the dry pan.  Toss them once or twice to insure they don’t burn.  Once you start to smell the aroma from them add 3-4 tbsp of oil and let the seeds flutter.
  3. Now add the onions and green chilli and cook for a couple of minutes until the onions are slightly transparent.
  4. Add the ginger and stir for 10-20 seconds
  5. Add the spices- turmeric, red chilli,coriander and the salt and cook for about 1 min or so until you smell the rawness of the turmeric start to subside.  It will seem like the spices are sticking to the base of the pan if it is not non-stick, but don’t worry.  You don’t need to add more oil.  Just continue to stir.
  6. Now add the fenugreek leaves and stir for 10-20 seconds.
  7. Add the cubed sweet potato and stir to ensure they are coated well.
  8. Finally add the kale a handful or 2 at a time and thoroughly stir.
  9. When you have incorporated all the Kale, as you stir, bring the pan to a “boil” (put the pan on full heat for a minute) before putting a lid on it and turning the heat right down to a temperature that would be a very gentle simmer.  I say simmer, but there is no liquid in the dish and so I have given that as a reference for what temperature to use.
  10. Cook for about 10-15 mins depending on how large the pieces of sweet potato are.  The smaller they are, the quicker it will be.  Take off the lid half way and give it a stir.  The dish is cooked when the sweet potatoes are cooked.  Make sure you don’t over cook them to a mush, they are nicer when they still hold their shape.

Garnish and serve.

Bon  Appetit!