Monday, October 18, 2010
I used to abhor Szechuan food as a kid. I couldn't understand why my parents chose to lunch at the now defunct Meisan Szechuan Restaurant almost every Sunday. Do you remember that place? It used to be - I think - at the old (now also defunct) Holiday Inn Hotel. Anyone old enough in da house who can verify? ;)
My memories of that place are very hazy ... but I remember 2 things very vividly:
1. The dry-fried long beans which were served uncut, and which often made me gag. I wasn't too fond of that dish very much back then.
2. The chinese tea was always served in a white tea cup, on a saucer. Yes, very strange to serve chinese tea in an English tea cup. But that wasn't my gripe. I hated the design of the cup. The narrow handle was waaay too close to the side of cup, and when you slipped your finger in get a grip, you would inadvertently come into contact with the hot surface and get scalded. Whoever designed the cup was truly a neanderthal. Epic fail!
Of course, as I grew up and my palate started to develop, I realised just why my parents loved Szechuan Sunday brunches. It's a cuisine that is bold in flavours and packs a whole lotta punch.
So the other day, when I spied some really lovely long beans (aka string beans, yard long beans) at the market, I bought some to experiment dry-frying them, Szechuan style. This dish is mostly served with minced pork, but I made mine a meatless version, albeit with dried scallops (conpoy), which you can leave out if you really want it vegetarian.
- 200g to 250g long beans, cut approximately 2-inches lengths and DRIED on a towel
- 1 handful dried scallops, soaked for 10mins in water (I used baby scallops)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 red chilli, sliced thinly
- 2 tbsp sambal* or chilli paste
- Splash of kicap manis for colour (you can use dark soy sauce too ... use sparingly)
- Salt to taste
- Dash of sugar (optional)
* I tried using Sing Long brand nasi lemak sambal chilli for this dish and it was pretty good. Note though, that if you are making a vegetarian version, you have to use a sambal that doesn't contain dried shrimps (udang kering) or ikan bilis (anchovies). And of course, omit the dried scallops too.
I decided to cut the long beans just in case - heaven forbid - I really gagged on them. Heh. Some things never change.
The thing about dry-frying is, the beans must take on that wrinkly, blistered appearance. Remember, fine lines and wrinkles FTW!
1. In a skillet or wok, add about 3 tbsp vegetable oil. When it is smoking hot, add in long beans. This is when you'll regret not drying them as instructed because you'll be getting splashed with hot oil!
2. Fry the beans till them take on a wrinkly, blistered appearance. If your oil is smoking hot, this will be quick. Remove from the skillet and leave the beans to drain on a paper serviette.
3. In the same skillet, add in the garlic and chilli slices, and fry briefly. Add sambal or chilli paste. Add in softened scallops (not the soaking water). Stirfry briefly. Add a splash of kicap manis (or dark soy sauce).
4. Now return the long beans to the skillet. Give them a quick stirfry and add salt (and sugar, if using) to taste. Dish up and serve.
There! My humble take on this dish.