Classic recipes inspire home experiments

Dry-fried green beans flavored with ground pork and chili garlic sauce are a twist on a classic Chinese treat. BY JACK CLEMONS
October 1, 2012

When the October issue of Saveur arrived, I was surprised to see an extreme format change. For regular readers of glossy culinary magazines, we expect the articles to follow a standard structure. Unless it’s a themed issue (for example, Thanksgiving or summer barbeque), the content is organized the same way each month.

First, there’s a favorite-dish recipe request or hypothetical question-and-answer column. This is usually followed by a travel section featuring an intrepid food explorer taste testing specialties in an exotic part of the globe. Next you’ll see an elegant couple or perfect family in their home, hosting a dinner party in their high-ceilinged dining room or a picnic on their poolside patio.

Interspersed among the mouthwatering photographs of beautiful dishes (artfully arranged by a food stylist), you’ll be treated to tips and techniques, ingredient advice and restaurant recommendations for cosmopolitan urban centers around the world. Fortunately, the recipes are indexed at the end of the magazine so you can locate the dishes you’d like to try in your own kitchen.

This month, however, Saveur abandoned the formula and devoted the entire content to 101 Classic Recipes to celebrate the publication of its 150th issue. The editors described these as a combination of previously published favorites as well as signature dishes from ethnic cuisines. Chefs, food bloggers and cookbook authors contributed their introductory comments to the recipes, ranging from familiar dishes to haute cuisine.

Classic No. 1 comes from restaurateur Alex Raij: Salmorejo who extolled the simple virtues of a chilled Spanish tomato soup. It’s topped with diced Iberian ham (you could substitute prosciutto) and chopped hard-boiled egg, and the tomato base is thickened with a soaked and pureed baguette, similar to gazpacho. The final recipe is a humble sweet potato pie Jane and Michael Stern “managed to wangle” (I think they meant to say “wrangle”) from the late Mrs. Bonner, whose restaurant in tiny Crawfordville, Ga., was famous for the only dessert on the menu.

As I browsed the pages between recipes 1 and 101, I found Gan Bian Si Ji, dry-fried green beans flavored with crisp bits of ground pork. It was described as an authentic dish found on the menu at most Chinese restaurants, and Lillian Chou observed this was readily adaptable to individual taste preferences. I decided to try making it without fermented mustard greens, adding chili garlic sauce instead.

The most time-consuming step in the recipe was chopping the green beans into uniform lengths so they would cook evenly. The beans dimpled in the skillet and then collected the flavors of toasted sesame oil and soy sauce. Crumbled pork added a subtle crunch while the chili sauce contributed a pleasant heat. Recipe No. 13 (with modifications) was definitely a keeper.

I’ve included the soup and pie recipes as they appeared in Saveur as well as my version of the green bean dish. For dinner tomorrow we’re planning to try recipe No. 57, Braciola (Italian rolled beef) and I’ll make No. 83 for dessert: Elvis Presley’s Pound Cake.

Gan Bian Si Ji*

Dry-fried Green Beans
10 oz green beans
1 T canola oil
2 oz ground pork
1 t cracked peppercorns
1 T rice wine
1 T soy sauce
1 T chili garlic sauce
1 t sesame oil

Trim green beans and cut into 2-inch lengths. Heat oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high. Add green beans and cook, stirring often, until crisp-tender, about 7 minutes. Transfer beans to a bowl and add pork to the same skillet. Cook, breaking meat into small bits, until browned, about 3 minutes. Return the beans to the skillet along with the peppercorns, rice wine, soy sauce and chili garlic sauce. Toss to coat the beans and cook over medium until heated through, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and combine with sesame oil in a serving bowl. Yield: 2 to 3 servings. *Adapted from Saveur

Saveur’s Salmorejo Chilled Tomato Soup

3 T kosher salt
8 cored, halved, seeded plum tomatoes
1 crushed garlic clove
1/2 small onion
10-oz baguette, torn into pieces
1 C olive oil
2 T sherry vinegar
salt & pepper, to taste
3 chopped hard-boiled eggs
1 1/2 C finely chopped Iberian ham

Combine salt, tomatoes, garlic, onion and bread in a bowl. Add boiling water to cover and set aside for 1 hour. Drain off liquid, reserving 1 C. Remove vegetables from bowl with a slotted spoon and place in a blender. Remove bread and squeeze out water. Add bread to blender along with 1 C reserved soaking liquid, olive oil and vinegar. Puree until smooth; season to taste and chill. To serve, ladle soup into bowls and garnish with chopped egg and ham.

Saveur’s Sweet Potato Pie

1 3/4 C flour
8 T unsalted butter, cubed & chilled
8 T unsalted butter, melted & cooled
1 t kosher salt
1/4 C cold water
2 C boiled & mashed sweet potatoes
1 C sugar
1/2 C evaporated milk
1 t vanilla
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Combine flour, 8 T chilled butter and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse into pea-sized crumbles. Add 1/4 C cold water and pulse until dough combines. Form dough into a ball and place on a piece of plastic wrap. Flatten dough into a disk, wrap in plastic film and refrigerate for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 375 F. In a large mixing bowl, combine melted butter, sweet potatoes, sugar, evaporated milk, vanilla and eggs; set aside. Unwrap dough and roll into a circle 1/8-inch thick. Press dough into a 9-inch pie pan and trim excess from edges; crimp or flute the edge. Pour filling into crust and bake until set, about 1 hour. Cool completely before serving. Yield: 8 servings.