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Everybody’s Favorite Vegetable

There are people who don’t like sweet corn; I think they’re nuts, but there’s no accounting for taste.

There are people who don’t like tomatoes; I encourage them in their hatred, because that leaves more ‘maters for me.

There are people who do like Brussels sprouts; I contend there is nothing you can do to them to make them edible.

But there’s no one I know who doesn’t like green beans. People who never eat vegetables at all eat green beans. They’re abundant, inexpensive, they taste good and yes, they’re good for you (vitamin C, beta carotene, fiber).

Up to now I’ve had three or four ways to prepare them, but as of last night, I now have another method.

Man, are they good in a stir-fry!

I’ve been on a stir-fry kick for over a week now. Bob, Marcia and Ote were here last week; Bob’s an Episcopal priest, Marcia’s a Presbyterian minister and my spiritual director. Ote (short for Otis; pronounced Oatey) is Marcia’s hubby and maybe the most interesting of all of us. I invited everyone for a house Mass, followed by an agapé meal as the early Church used to do it.

It was very important to me, with these two clergy here, that we celebrate the Eucharist. I don’t get to go to it often enough, and one should always take advantage of the chance; plus this was a way for me to recognize Marcia’s ordination – her right to celebrate. That’s a real breakthrough for me theologically; I’ve never known a Presbyterian before, and my tendency is to consider Communion said by someone outside the Apostolic Succession as of doubtful validity. If I were present at a Presbyterian service and they said, “Take, eat,” I would, but I wouldn’t be sure what I was eating.

But it’s been nearly two years since I’ve been working with Marcia; she’s been a godsend, and I’m really clear that we are sister and brother in the faith. With Bob here concelebrating with her, there couldn’t be any doubt about the validity of the sacrament, and I wanted Marcia front and center.

It turned out great, and I was very, very pleased – spiritually happy, even though we were all so busy doing our parts and trying to follow the rubrics, which Marcia and Ote had never dealt with before, that the service was probably a little out of focus.

But no matter; we know what we did, and it meant a lot to all of us. Episcopal mass, celebrated right at my house, maybe the first time it’s ever been said in town history!

We got through it, then it was time to feed the hungry people, and for that I was ready with the stir-fry, which is all preparation and chopping beforehand, then the food’s done in ten minutes. (Bob did most of the chopping, then while I was cooking, they all stayed in the dining room and I missed out on the entire conversation! That’s never happened before; usually people congregate in my kitchen, since I have seating there. Next time I’ll say, “Won’t you bring your glasses into the kitchen so we can be together?”)

I made my standard chicken cashew, which they all raved about; Ote had three helpings and Bob had two. Ote’s a marathoner and I was glad to see him eat.

I may have written about this recipe before; I’ll reproduce it in a minute, but meanwhile here’s the news. Bob stayed another day and a half; the next night at his suggestion we did something different with the chicken breasts, grilled them outdoors with my scandalously simple lemon juice and Worcestershire marinade. He kind of hacked away at making twice-baked potatoes but they turned out good and we had a fine conversation. He left early the next morning, and when I got up (at 8:30, I’ll have you know), I couldn’t wait to eat the leftover stir-fry.

I never wake up with food on the brain, but I did that day. I ate those leftovers for the rest of the week, and then I made the whole dish again slightly differently.

That’s when I discovered how fabulous green beans are when you stir-fry them. I didn’t include them the first time around.

Until last night, these were my ways of making green beans: boil them frozen out of a poly bag and add some butter; steam them 5-8 minutes with fresh rosemary; simmer the crap out of them for an hour with some bacon (Southren Indiana Style); or cook them the standard way and throw them in with sauteéd mushrooms, a can of soup and French-fried onions, also out of a can, in Thanksgiving Cliché #1. They’re popular because they’re good.

But oh, honey, stir-fried, them babies is fabulous!

The key to stir-frying, of course, is using high heat and not overcooking anything, so veggies still have all their color and the crunch.

I would never eat a raw carrot; I just don’t like the taste. But two or three minutes in my wok, with some onion, red pepper, celery, mushrooms and whatever else I’ve got, and carrots are definitely in business.

But I never tried green beans before last night; not Chinese, any more than I am.

But when we imagine how Chinese mothers came to develop their national and regional cuisines, we can certainly visualize a cook surveying what she’s got, using rice as a staple protein, figuring out how to make a little bit of meat go a long way, then seasoning everything so the poor kids don’t know any better.

It’s an old culture and they’re brilliant about their food.

I think from now on, when I need to make a vegetable side dish, whatever it’s going with, I’ll probably just stir-fry whatever’s in my crisper. The sauce in the recipe below works with everything.

(With a roast, throw your vegetables in a pan, drizzle with olive oil, stick in the oven with the meat and forget about it.)

Josh’s Chicken Cashew

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 C rice, 2 C water, 1 T butter, 1 t salt
1-2 stalks celery, sliced diagnoally
1-2 carrots, the same
1 bell pepper, any color, chopped
1/2 can water chestnuts, sliced
1 large onion, sliced haphazardly
1 head of broccoli, cut in florets OR
1/2 head of bok choy, chopped rough
2 T sesame oil (tolerates high heat)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
4-6 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1/3 C roasted cashews
1/3 C chicken broth
1 T cornstarch
2 1/2 T soy sauce
1/2 t hot sauce, or more to taste
1 1/2 t fresh chopped gingerroot
(or 1/2 t ground ginger)
2 scallions, white part sliced, tops julienned

Cook rice. Chop vegetables. Chop chicken bite-sized. Heat wok to medium-high; add 1 T sesame oil and cover sides. In covered jar, mix broth, cornstarch, soy sauce and hot sauce; shake well.

Stir-fry chicken until cooked through, 5-7 minutes; remove and keep warm. Re-oil wok and let it heat up. Stir-fry veggies 3-5 minutes, just past raw. Add brown sauce and stir to thicken. Return chicken to wok, add cashews and heat through. Serve over rice; garnish with scallion.

With Ote, Marcia and Bob, I did something unusual for me; I spread the rice on a platter and served family-style; this keeps the rice hotter than using separate bowls. They ate it up.

And the best moment of the night: Ote reaching for more. Then Bob. Then Ote. Then Bob, just a little more. When you put the food in front of people they get themselves some more.

I think the next time I serve Joshua’s Patented Spaghetti, it’s also going to be family-style, one platter, not separate plates I bring in from the kitchen. We are not a restaurant.

A week ago Monday, when we had our Mass, we were family.++