fermented sichuan green beans or long beans

IMG_4042 IMG_5314Even the most stalwart food tinkerer can fixate on a single dish; indeed, it’s our calling card to cooking.  For me, it was fermented green beans.  I couldn’t resist the soured, greenbeany niblets of long beans in a Sichuan dish I had in Cambridge’s Kendall Square (the now sadly defunct Thailand Café) last spring.  Long beans are what string beans fantasize of being.  Sometimes called yard-long beans, they are good in Thai and Chinese stirfries.  I often use them in curries.

So sour grapes, er, rather, sour fermented beans were definitely a goal.  Minced pork with sour beans is a well known Sichuan dish, so as soon as I returned home, I made quicklike for my Fuchsia Dunlop library and immediately put up a quart of the beans in the manner she suggested: full of warm spices and punchiness like rice wine, ginger, star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, etc.

Complete failure.

The alcohol inhibited the fermentation, so it turned olive grey and salty, but never achieved the sourness I was seeking. The ginger tasted weird.  The other spices were a distraction, but I wasn’t sure if they were the problem.

So I tried again without alcohol and ginger.  Still bad.

So I tried yet again, but this time sticking with the pure flavors of beans and salt.  Much better, but I had been keeping the beans whole, which created an odd, rubbery texture.  I had thought that it would help them stay intact and not quite so salty, but the tradeoff was not worth it.  And since Germans slice and pound beans in the fermentation process for sour string beans (and when have the Germans done anything wrong?), I thought I’d give it a try.

In the final batch, I chopped the beans into small pieces.  I added quite a bit of garlic, and there they were: delicious, sour, flavorful beans.  They were indeed a bit salty, so rinsing or soaking them before stirfrying them and declining any more salt or soy sauce in the dish is a good idea. The longer they sit in the refrigerator, the saltier they will get.  I ended up quickpickling more beans in the remaining brine, and they were good, too.

The soured beans were stirfried with some fresh green beans, ripe red pepper, and a beautiful variety of burgundy leafy greens sourced from Good Food Easy and Adaptive Seeds along with the minced pork.  No other seasonings needed except for a cube of frozen chicken stock for sauciness. Delicious.

Fermented Green Beans

  • Enough beans to fill a quart jar half to 2/3 full when chopped into small pieces
  • 5-6 garlic cloves, lightly smashed
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon of whey, sauerkraut juice, kimchi juice, or any other similiar live ferment to help along the process (optional)

Chop beans and peel and smash garlic.  Add to jar.  Mix up a brine with one quart of hot water and sea salt, stirring to dissolve salt.  Pour brine over beans, add optional fermented juice, weigh down beans with a weight or similar so they are submerged in brine, and let sit on the counter for 5-7 days.  Taste for sourness.  When they are sour enough for you (I probably went for 9-10 days, in all honesty), refrigerate and let cure for a week before enjoying.  Rinse or soak beans to remove some of the salt before using in a stirfry.


10 thoughts on “fermented sichuan green beans or long beans

  1. Marisa 5 September 2013 / 11:43 am

    Oh my gosh! I want to make these immediately!


  2. drfugawe 5 September 2013 / 4:10 pm

    I shall add these to my short, but growing, list of fermented veggies. Just made a batch of David Chang’s cucumber kimchee – in 10 days, we’ll see how that one is.

    Question: where does one get ‘cubes of frozen chicken stock’ – or is it your own?


  3. Eugenia 5 September 2013 / 4:20 pm

    @DrFugawe, yes! Whenever I make chicken stock, I fill up an old ice cube tray and freeze it, so I have easily accessible small amounts of stock for stirfries and deglazing. Also handy is a similar technique I’ve started doing that I have a chest freezer: filling little plastic containers (mostly single-serve or slighly larger yogurt containers) with stock and freezing them on a cookie sheet. Then I pop the stock out of the plastic containers and freeze them in another freezer bag.


  4. Carol 6 September 2013 / 8:31 am

    Will try right away, but maybe cut back on the salt in the recipe and see what happens. Have you already tried that?


  5. Eugenia 6 September 2013 / 9:19 am

    @Carol, green beans are tricky, as you can see from my experiments, and I haven’t seen a single trustworthy source from Germany to China that recommends low-salt pickling. I’m more of the “eat fewer pickles” than “cut salt and eat many pickles that don’t taste as good” school of thought. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but I don’t recommend it. If you want to risk losing a batch, though, go for it and report back, if you please!


  6. Sourdough Al 31 October 2013 / 9:48 am

    You have a good recipe, but you are missing out on the Szechuan part. If you keep the recipe the same, but take a couple of tsp. of szechuan pepper corns, and a couple star anise in a cup of water; bring to a boil and let cool to room temperature. Then add this to your beans and don’t forget to put in several ginger “coins”. The addition of a few tsp. of sauerkraut ferment juice is a good idea to kick-start the fermentation. I made these this summer and they were wonderful.


  7. Eugenia 18 December 2013 / 3:49 am

    Hi Sourdough Al, I absolutely love your moniker. I had to think for a moment about using “sourdough” as a modifier in all kinds of ways. Thank you for that flight of fancy. Anyway, I have to say I really didn’t like the spices at all, especially the ginger (I assume you’re using Dunlop’s recipe?). The beans I had at the restaurant and liked so much were plain. So I went with a less complex treatment. That doesn’t mean my tastes are yours, though, so folks should experiment!


  8. John 5 April 2015 / 9:23 pm

    without the spices and gaoliang liquor (not rice wine or vodka like dunlop says, thats weird), the beans will just taste sour with no other flavors.

    the ginger and alcohol do not stop the fermentation. i think i read somewhere the alcohol content needs to be 15% by volume before fermentation will cease

    i have made pickled beans and other vegetables the chinese way many times and it came out well.

    try this recipe instead that i found online:



  9. Eugenia 6 April 2015 / 6:43 am

    John, no one said ginger or alcohol will stop fermentation; the alcohol will inhibit it. I’ve had problems with just the beans. Your link is a recipe for mixed veg pickle, and I suspect the variety would aid fermentation.


  10. Heather 17 February 2016 / 8:03 pm

    I feel your pain! My mother-in-law’so came for a visit two summers ago and made these amazing sour green beans with minced pork! I fell absolutely in love and asked, as best as I could how to make them, however my grandmother-in-law, (is that a thing? Lol!) didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Mandarin. So she showed me what was inside the huge jar, ginger, garlic, dried chilis, and long green beans. Then she put them in the sun. I immediately started scouring the Internet looking for a written recipe. I found a few, tried them and ended up making little green salt licks, lol! So halved the salt and same problem, so I quartered it and it was bearable, but still not the magical beans I had that summer. My search continues and I will try your recipe and hope I find the secret to those delicious beans! Thanks for the recipe!


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