Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Late Summer Stir fry with Bean Paste

In case you thought all I ate these days was ice cream and bread, I share with you here my dinner-a typical quick meal using what I had lying around, which in this case was a huge pile of organic vegetables, fresh and crisp and straight off the farm. Having a small kitchen, all the veggies and fruit that aren't supposed to be refrigerated have begun to take over. The last of the tomatoes and peaches, along with autumn's first sweet potatoes, Asian pears and butternut squash are all squeezed into a small space between my sink and the toaster and they don't like it one bit. They are on a bid for total kitchen domination. Every morning I find that their ranks have swelled, their lines advanced towards the counter edge. The only way to stop them? A large frying pan, my friends, and a sharp knife.

Yesterday evening I picked up some bean paste with chili in the "Latin American and South-East Asian" mini-aisle of Whole Foods. While I had certainly eaten my share of the stuff at various restaurants across DC, I had never cooked with this highly popular fermented bean goo. Until now that is. Armed with my cutting board and favorite German blade, I set about the vegetables with a vengeance. They never knew what hit them. Sweet potato, corn and fresh green beans-none were spared.

The great thing about stir fries is how adaptable they can be. Consider the quantities here as guidelines rather than rules. If you want more onion, throw some more in. If you like lots of garlic, peel a few more cloves. More sweet potato? Sure, why not? Just don't overdo the bean paste or you won't be able to eat it without a big glass of milk to cool your palate.

This recipe is a bit lacking in protein and I think it would work great with some tofu, shrimp or chicken marinated in rice vinegar and bean paste. See variations (below) for some ideas.

Sweet Potato and Green Bean Stir fry with Bean Paste

Makes about 6 cups. 832 calories for the whole recipe, 139 calories per cup.

1 1/4 cup diced sweet potato

1 cup green beans, cut on the diagonal

corn kernels cut off of one cob of corn

1/2 medium onion, diced (or more as desired)

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 green chili, sliced into thin rounds

2 tbsp seasoned rice vinegar

2 tsp cornstarch

1 1/2 tsp bean paste with chili (or 2 tsp if you like it spicier)

1 tsp lite organic soy sauce

1 tsp sugar

1 pinch ground ginger (about 1/4 tsp)

1 pinch turmeric (about 1/4 tsp)

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

About 1 cup of water

2 cups cooked rice (preferably brown)

1 tsp vegetable oil


1. Mix the vinegar, cornstarch, bean paste, soy sauce and sugar together in a small bowl until smooth. Set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a large non-stick pan or a wok on medium-high heat. Add sweet potato and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring as needed, until the pieces are cooked most of the way through. (You can test one by trying to cut it in half with your stirring utensil). If you are using shrimp, chicken or tofu, add it before the sweet potato, cook until browned on both sides, then toss in the sweet potato and proceed as usual.

3. Add the other veggies, the ginger and the turmeric and black pepper. Keep cooking and stirring for 5-10 minutes more.

4. Add rice, cornstarch mixture and water as needed (I used about 1 cup). Cook for 5 to 10 minutes more, stirring as needed, then serve. You might want a dash more rice vinegar to top it off at the table. This is a light dish which would make a good side for some protein, or, as I plan to do next time, you could just add some meat or tofu in at the beginning.


  • Marinate seafood (try shrimp, scallops, even squid) or beef or chicken strips in rice vinegar and bean paste for half an hour, brown in the pan on medium high heat, then add the sweet potatoes and proceed normally.

  • In step four, after adding cornstarch and rice, stir in 3-6 lightly beaten eggs or 3/4 to 1 1/2 cup Eggbeaters or egg whites for a light fried rice that is complete in protein.

  • Experiment with your veggies: toss in some fresh bell pepper strips or Chinese cabbage or even a can of water chestnuts.

  • Add a little lemon zest to the pan right before serving for a more sprightly flavour.

  • Try stirring in a handful of cashew nut pieces or peanuts after cooking the sweet potato.

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