Thursday, June 24, 2010

Adventures in Green Beans and Wasabi

Several months ago, when it was definitely the green bean off-season, Harry ordered an appetizer at a chain restaurant that consisted of battered and fried green beans and a creamy wasabi dipping sauce. While the dish itself was predictably average overall, I loved the combination of wasabi and green beans. I’ve been thinking about that combination since that fateful day and looking forward to the arrival of green beans in our CSA box like I never had before.

Those beans did arrive earlier this month, perfectly crisp and pale green, and earlier than I had expected. Fortunately, for once I was well-prepared and had a tube of wasabi paste waiting for the occasion.

If you’re not familiar with wasabi, it is basically Japanese horseradish. You can get it as a pale green paste (in a tube) or powder. I’ve found the powder in average supermarket spice racks, and the paste seems to be fairly easily available in the Asian food departments of those same supermarkets (by the soy sauce, rice vinegar, etc.) Its flavor is a bit more smooth and delicate than European horseradish, but it packs a similar punch. The vapors from a large enough dose can escape the soft palate to fumigate the nasal passages and make the eyes water. While I like that about wasabi, I realize that may not be everyone’s ideal culinary experience. If that’s not how you roll, consider this a warning to go easy on the wasabi.

As tempting as it would have been to make fried or tempura green beans and a wasabi dipping sauce, I decided to display this flavor combo in a salad. Personally, I think the best way to totally ruin a green bean is to cook it. That being said, I also find them a little too hard to chew as the main ingredient of a salad if they are raw, so I blanched them for this salad. If, rather than boiling the heck out of them, you just boil them for a few minutes, then shock them in ice water to stop the cooking, you’ll have pleasantly tender-crisp beans rather than the greenish mush that seems to have plagued so many childhoods

I also reconstituted a few dried shiitake mushrooms for this salad, which were quite a good addition. You could use a small handful of fresh shiitake caps instead. Other mushrooms might work also, but the distinctive, slightly smoky flavor of the shiitakes was really what I was looking for.

A few other Asian flavors round out the creamy dressing, but I have to admit that I may have overachieved when it came to the wasabi experience. I added a whole tablespoon of wasabi paste, and if you’re not adventurous when it comes to bold flavors, you’ll definitely want to use less. I’ve included a range of quantities of wasabi that I think is reasonable in the recipe below. To me, a little eye watering at the dinner table is all part of the show, but if that’s not your thing, use less wasabi and seek your thrills elsewhere.

Green Bean and Shiitake Salad with Creamy Wasabi Dressing
You could use a small handful of fresh shiitake mushroom caps in place of the reconstituted dried mushrooms.

¼ cup chopped walnuts
½ ounce dried shiitake mushrooms
1 pound green beans, stem ends removed, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
¼ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives or green onion tops
1 tablespoon soy sauce (I use reduced sodium)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon to1 tablespoon wasabi paste (1 tablespoon is very strong)
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil

1. Heat the walnuts in a dry skillet over medium-low heat until just beginning to brown. Remove from the heat and cool.

2. Place the dried shiitake mushrooms in a small bowl. Pour boiling water over them to cover completely. Let stand about 20 minutes or until completely reconstituted. Remove the mushrooms from the water and thinly slice. Set aside.

3. Prepare a large bowl of ice water and set aside. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the beans to the boiling water and stir. Boil 3 minutes. Remove the beans with a slotted spoon and plunge them into the ice water to stop cooking. When the beans have cooled, drain them well and place in a bowl.

4. Add the sliced shiitakes to the green beans. In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, chives or green onions, soy sauce, rice vinegar, wasabi paste and sesame oil. Whisk well to combine. Pour the mayonnaise mixture over the bean mixture and mix well to coat. Sprinkle the toasted walnuts over the top.

Makes about 4 servings. Chill any leftovers for a few days.

Another green bean recipe: Mustard Green and Green Bean Stir Fry with Peanuts

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