There are certain elements of culinary wisdom that I find difficult to follow. One in particular is the tenet that garlic should never, ever be allowed to brown, lest it get bitter. I know, I know. Bitter bits of garlic flavor-bombing a nice, mellow sauce would be a terrible thing indeed. But what about tiny little bites of caramelized garlic resting upon a bed of fresh, crisp, slightly spicy green beans? Sound better? It should sound better, because it is better. In fact, it is delicious.
I’ve been wanting to make this dish forever, which is sort of funny for two reasons. One reason is because I think this dish took me all of ten minutes of actual work to prepare. The other reason is because I never had a recipe for this dish, I just had a vague idea in my mind of what I wanted it to taste like. When I found myself at Fubonn last week, standing in front of an enormous pile of yard long beans that had been fortuitously placed almost directly in front of a large bin of garlic (5 bulbs for $1! Oh, boy!), I took it as a sign to make this idea of mine come to fruition.
Though I can’t claim that every single food-related idea I’ve ever had has turned out quite so well (like the time I tried to make cream caramels with fresh ginger, only to discover that, oops, fresh ginger combined with heated cream = one giant curdled mass of disgusting), I must admit that I am particularly fond of this combination of ingredients. Crisp long beans get stir fried for just a couple of minutes with tiny bits of garlic that have been caramelized in a mildly spiced chile oil, making a simple, but perfect, bundle of flavor. I loved these beans so much, I essentially ate them all by themselves for dinner. And yet? I was totally and completely satisfied. Had there been any leftovers, I would have eaten them for lunch the next day, but there were no leftovers at all, not even a speck of caramelized garlic. I suppose the only way to ensure that there is going to be a healthy serving of these beans around all the time is simply to make them all the time, which, no surprise, is just fine by me.
Yard Long Beans with Chile Oil and Garlic Bits
¼ cup olive oil
2 whole dried red chiles
2 tablespoons chopped fresh garlic (about 4 large cloves)
1 pound yard long beans, ends trimmed, then beans cut to half their length
In a small pan set over medium heat, combine olive oil and chiles. Gently heat the oil and chiles until they just begin to show signs of simmering, then remove from heat and set aside. Allow chiles to steep in oil for 30 minutes to 1 hour, gently smashing the chiles with the back of a spoon every now and then to bruise the chiles and encourage them to release some of their spice.
When you are done steeping the chiles, remove the chiles from the oil and discard. Heat a very large sauté pan or wok over high heat. When the pan is hot, add 2 tablespoons of chile oil (reserve the rest for another use). When the oil just begins to shimmer (this should take no more than a few seconds), add the chopped garlic. Using a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula, vigorously move the garlic around in the oil for about 15 seconds. The garlic should not yet start to brown. Add the beans and stir fry, stirring constantly, for 3 to 4 minutes. The garlic will turn crisp and golden, then brown, and the beans will just begin to lose their stiffness.
Immediately remove the beans from the heat, add a large pinch of sea salt, and toss to combine. Turn out onto a large platter to serve, being sure to spoon out all of the good browned garlic bits.
Might serve 6. In our house, it served 3 (I am not at all ashamed to admit that).