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Sunday, January 23, 2005

IMBB#11: Asparagus with Black Bean Sauce

Beany Goodness

When I heard that Cathy of My Little Kitchen was hosting the eleventh Is My Blog Burning? event with the theme of Beans, Beans, the Musical Fruit, I knew I was going to participate, but I had a temporary crisis in "how".

Because I love beans. I didn't eat them much when I was a kid. In fact, I didn't eat them much till recently (including during several periods when I was a vegetarian). I've made up for lost time. I once lost twenty pounds without pain by eating bean soup for lunch (alternating among curried lentil soup, minestrone, and a Tuscan white bean soup recipe I got from Cook's Illustrated. I got a hummus recipe from a Saudi-American foodie pal that is The. Best. Ever. and lived on it last spring. And I've recently discovered pinquito beans in the can, to complement Central Coast barbeque, or just to have around for tacos. That's both dinner and breakfast tacos, because I love Mexican (and Cal-Mex) food and beans play a big part.

I thought about making huevos rancheros, or some other Mexican breakfast dish with beans. (Because good beans can be part of a mighty fine breakfast.) But I settled on a dish that I first had at my Favorite Ever vegetarian restaurant, Vegi Food, a formica-tabled hole-in-the-wall around the corner from Chez Panisse in Berkeley: Asparagus with Black Bean Sauce. It's tasty, it's kinda different, and there are burgeoning signs of early spring here in our Northern California late January, including a good price on asparagus at The Berkeley Bowl. SNAP!

Vegi Food is a wonderful place and well worth checking out if you're in Berkeley and don't have resies for that that famous restaurant nearby. The Vegi Food cooks adhere strictly to a set of Buddhist principles that forbid meat, dairy, onions, and garlic. Normally I would think that No Meat, No Dairy, No Onions, and No Garlic would be No Fun, but everything there is wonderful.

This uses Chinese-style fermented black beans, which are available in Asian groceries, usually in a bag like so:

salt-preserved beans

These beans need to be well rinsed, as they are preserved in salt, and are the basis for "black bean sauce", Chinese-style.

My version of the sauce is slightly adapted from from a recipe originally published in Cooking Light, Jan/Feb 2001. It has onions and garlic, but you could easily add more ginger instead. It's a very versatile sauce and I always make multiples of the recipe. As with many Chinese recipes, prep is key. The quantities are a bit flexible; I generally add more beans.

Once you have the sauce and your rice made, prepare asparagus by snapping off the tough ends, and then cut into even lengths. Cook by stir-frying for a brief period (sesame oil is nice here) or by roasting (my favorite way to cook asparagus). Toss with the sauce, and serve over rice.

Black Bean Sauce

1 1/2 cups broth (low sodium preferred) or mixture of broth and water
N.B. If you are making multiples, use less
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine or sake
1 TBS sugar
1 TBS cornstarch
1 TBS vegetable oil (although sesame is nice)
3 TBS fermented black beans, RINSED, drained, and chopped
3 TBS minced green onions
2 TBS minced peeled fresh ginger
2 TBS minced garlic (~8 cloves)
1 tea. crushed red pepper, chile paste, or chili powder

* In a small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in some of the liquid. Combine broth, soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar in the bowl and mix well. If you are using powdered pepper/chile, add that too.

* Heat oil in a wok or large non stick skillet over medium high heat. Add beans, onions, ginger, and garlic and stir fry for about 30 seconds.

* Add broth mixture and bring to a boil. Cook until it is as thick as you want it. (Recipe says 1 minute will thicken it, but my experience says it's longer. They must have big, powerful stoves at their test kitchens.) Don't be tempted to add a lot more cornstarch to hurry the process, the sauce will set up as it cools.

If you want to use this sauce with meat or fish, try marinating the meat or fish in a ziploc baggie with some sake/rice wine and a few slices of ginger. You'll be happy you did. The original Cooking Light recipe was for salmon and it's good.

Charlotte - this sounds really good! I've never knowingly had fermented black beans (though I suppose they may have been in something I've eaten in a Chinese restaurant), but I've seen several recipes recently that used them and sounded interesting. I'll have to give them a try! Thanks so much for participating in IMBB 11!
Ok I am a total meat eater so I must pass on that I have tried this recipe.
I made double the amount and poured over 12 lamb chops in a large roasting tin, covered with foil and slow cooked in the oven at 150c for around 4hrs and this was the star of my Chinese New Year banquet 2011. It was absolutely fantastic served with broccoli and a scattering of fancy cut carrot slices.
Thank you!
Bob (Scottish Borders)
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