Wok-seared asparagus with garlic, ginger, dried chilies, fermented black beans and roasted peanuts is a fast, easy vegan side dish that will spice up your dinner. Served with rice and crispy tofu (or chicken), it is a quick and flavorful meal. In Shanghai, this dish is typically made with Chinese long beans (similar to green beans), and during our recent visit it easily became one of my favorites. Today I substituted asparagus, but green beans are another great option.
I wasn't expecting to fall in love. Shanghai, a city of 23 million people, in Eastern China, was not even on my list of places I thought of going to. But long story short, it was the only city in Asia we could fly into using air miles. So we booked our tickets and hoped for the best.
I am not sure whether it was the city itself, or the amazing street food, or the people, or the culture... whatever it was, by the end of our first day, I was completely smitten. What I noticed first was how clean it was. Orderly. Efficient. There was an energy of contentment in air. People started their day by doing Tai Chi in city parks and squares. And as we sat there watching them slowly move the air with their hands, I began to feel a surprising sense of peace and calm. I kept waiting for the chaos that usually comes with densely populated cities, but there was none to be found. Most days we would meander the city that housed both ultra-modern and ancient structures, finding little alley ways to get lost in. Here we discovered the tiny food stands, an endless array of tasty bites, for mere pennies. I can't articulate how much joy this brought.
Dried red chilies are used to flavor the asparagus ( or green beans) but they are not meant to be eaten. So be generous with them.
One thing we learned is that in China, many people don't own ovens. Most cooking is stove top, using a wok, China's most common cooking utensil, where ingredients can be quickly fried, steamed, poached, braised or seared. Shanghai was a vegetarian's paradise, with so many different kinds of fresh vegetables available everywhere.
For this recipe, once you prep the ingredients, the cooking part takes less than 10 minutes. If you don't own a wok, a saute pan will work just fine.
To keep the recipe vegan, add fermented salted black beans to give a little depth. These can be found at most Asian markets.
Sometimes ground pork is used to flavor this dish. I have had it both ways, and both are really good. If you would rather use ground pork, it only takes a very small amount, 1/2 cup or so, browned with the ginger and garlic.
2 tablespoon garlic, chopped
1 1/2 pounds asparagus (or Chinese long beans or green beans)
2 T peanut oil
2 tablespoon ginger, chopped
1 teaspoon chili paste
10-15 dried red chilies, chopped or whole.
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
1 T water
1 teaspoon sugar
2 T rice wine
1 tsp rice vinegar
pinch white pepper
1 tsp fermented salted black beans ( or 1/2 cup ground pork)
1/3 C roasted crushed peanuts
1 scallion, chopped
Trim off tough ends of asparagus and cut into 2 inch pieces. Chop ginger and garlic. Chop scallions. Crush peanuts. Get all your other ingredients ready to use by the stove top.
* If using green beans see note below*
In a wok, heat peanut oil on nigh heat until it just begins to smoke. Turn heat to medium high. Add ginger, and stir constantly for 30 seconds, to prevent browning. Add garlic, stir another 30 seconds to one minute until golden brown. (If using ground pork, brown it now). Turn heat to medium. Add asparagus, stir 2 minutes. Add chilies and rice wine. Then add remaining ingredients (except for peanuts and scallions). Stir until asparagus is al dente and liquid has reduced. Garnish with peanuts and scallions.
* If using green beans or long beans, sauté them in the peanut oil before adding the ginger and garlic. (They take longer to cook than asparagus.) Remove them from the oil when just tender, about 5 minutes, and set them aside. Then sauté ginger and garlic, following the recipe above, and adding the green beans back in the wok after all the other ingredients have been stirred together and reduced a little.