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Really Ugly Green Beans Changed My Life

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Before beginning even the most basic of recipes, I usually consult a few dozen cookbooks and online sources to make sure I’m not missing some essential technique I’d skipped the previous dozen or so times I made the meal.  It's a compulsory action, one that drives other people nuts, and very often myself.  But I just want to make absolutely positively sure that I'm doing something that right way.  Among the many texts I peruse is Cooks Illustrated.  What happens when I get there is a different beast.   

It began as a search for decent roasted green beans.  I'd been loving the way they’d caramelize and take in the flavor of whatever I was roasting in that specific pan (usually a chicken).  But they would come out all mangled and gnarly, and I was hoping that with a little help and guidance I could make some delicious beans--and look upon them without feeling a deep sense of shame. 

When I searched for roasted green beans I quickly got distracted, and found a little link for “Spicy Stir-Fried Green Beans and Scallions.”  Though I had a perfectly hot oven--and a chicken--ready to go for roasting, this new recipe sounded even better than the old plan.  So, I pulled out my iron skillet, turned the heat to high, and let it warm up for a good 10 minutes until smoke started to sprout up, and I had lost any sort of coherent theme for the dinner.  Classic roast chicken with potatoes and...stir-fried greens beans.  Anyway.

I had no real idea how these beans would look like when they come out--but I didn’t think they’d look this bad.  Which all means that the recipe that I had looked for to create more appealing green beans ended up making them look even worse.  I’m not talking about a few spots, but brown beans shriveled beyond recognition.

But just like my previous ugly roasted beans, these stir-fried ones soaked up all the goodness--this time a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, and vinegar--and ended up tasting fantastic.  These sweet and spicy Asian inspired beans might have one-upped the roasted beans in the wrong category, but they provided a simple and quick alternative to those bland boiled ones. 

Spicy Stir-Fried Green Beans and Scallions

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  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 3/4 pound green beans
  • 4 scallions
  • 3 medium cloves of garlic

Adapted from Cooks Illustrated.

Make sure everything is prepped and ready to go before tossing anything in the pan.  It will take just a few minutes to cook everything.  It will go by quickly. 

Combine the soy sauce, white vinegar, sugar, and red pepper flakes in a bowl and whisk until combined. 
Mince the garlic, and cut the scallions however you see fit.  I like the diagonal cut, but that’s just me. 
Place the iron skillet over high heat for at least 5 minutes. 

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When everything is chopped and ready, toss in the oil, swirl until it coats the bottom of the skillet, and add the green beans.  Cook until they are tender, about 4 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds or so. 

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It will look like you’re murdering them, but be patient.  It will work. 

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Dump in those neatly cut scallions and cook until they are gnarly.  About another 4 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds.   

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Add the garlic and cook just until it becomes fragrant, about 5 to 10 seconds.  Then add the soy sauce mixture.  Cook for another 20 seconds or so, and then turn off the heat, and plate.

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