Even 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.
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.