Kung pao green beans are a sweet, spicy side that will liven up any meal. This recipe is nut-free, but it still has all the flavor you’d expect from a classic kung pao. If nut allergies aren’t a concern, sprinkle some chopped peanuts over your green beans to get that true, authentic taste.
As a proclaimed lover of vegetables, I can’t quite understand anyone over the age of seven wrinkling their nose at the sight of them. That being said, I have a few clients who fall into that category and it is my job to come up with recipes that will entice them into eating something green.
I’m not a parent, so I can’t imagine what it is like on a daily basis but I can tell you that once a week I find myself trying to figure out what I can cook for vegetable-hating clients that will actually end up on their plates. This one came to fruition solely based on the fact that one of my clients loves anything spicy. I figured if I disguised the flavor of the vegetable with chilies and garlic, maybe I’d have a hit on my hands.
Kung Pao Green Beans
The door of my refrigerator is stuffed with more condiments than any one human really needs, but I can’t help myself. This is especially true at my local Asian market… they have entire aisles full of different sauces, vinegars, etc and I must have All The Things! I am no stranger to buying something purely out of curiosity, especially when the label is in a language I can’t read. I’ll be honest, there have been entire jars that have gone into the garbage, but there have also been some DELICIOUS things that were discovered this way. You should try it once in awhile, it’s rather fun and oddly liberating when you seriously have no idea what you bought.
Is kung pao spicy?
Many, many years ago when I first became interested in cooking (long before doing it for a living) is when I started doing this. It’s how I discovered dragon fruit. It looked beautiful and I just had to know what it was. So I bought it, took it home and proceeded to cut it up and eat it. Eventually, I started going to every ethnic market I could find and purposefully looking for unfamiliar ingredients. I figured it was really the only way I was going to grow as a cook and after a decade and a half of doing this professionally, I still do it. My first stop on EVERY vacation is a farmers market or local grocery store to find something unfamiliar. If we stop learning and stop being curious, we stop growing.
Well, one day I picked up this stuff called Sambal Oelek and read the ingredients. It seemed interesting enough (and this was ages before you could find it on the shelf at your local grocery store) so I bought it and started learning how to use it. Fast forward about a dozen years and I’m here to tell you that I blow through so many jars of this stuff every month that I have to buy a few at a time. In case you are unfamiliar with it, Sambal Oelek is a garlic and chili paste and it is HOT! The flavor is incredible and a little can go a long way, but in my case, a lot goes a long way. It gets tossed into sauces, on vegetables, in marinades, on meat, chicken and into salad dressings. It lends a kick when you need just a little “something” and it can bring some fire when you need the heat.
This recipe isn’t a true “kung pao” because it is nut-free. I used the ingredients as a jumping off point and went from there to find a nice balance of salt, sweet, heat and acidity.
These beans would make a great side dish to a grilled steak for something a little different!
- 1 pound Haricot Vert, or regular green beans/string beans
- 1 1/2 tsp soy sauce
- 1 1/2 tsp hoisin sauce
- 1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp. sambal oelek
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp cornstarch
- 1/2 tsp grated ginger
- + 1/2 tsp canola or peanut oil
- Mix all ingredients, except beans and canola oil, in a small bowl and set aside.
- In a medium pot, bring salted water to a boil and blanch the beans for 2 minutes, then remove and add to a hot skillet (or wok) with 1/2 tsp of canola or peanut oil and sauté for 30 seconds or so until the beans start to blister a bit.
- Add the sauce mixture and cook until thickened.
The sauce thickens very quickly! You can go from thin as water to thick as glue in seconds... If this happens, not to worry! Add water, a few tablespoons at a time, until you reach the desired consistency.