Stir-Fried Green Beans With Rice Cake is a compromise dish. Compromise because Mr. IK loves green beans while your hostess does not. She will, however, eat just about anything that’s been stir-fried.

Now, I saw some of you flinch at the rice cake. Rice cakes are available at Asian markets, but increasingly I’m finding them in Western markets as well. This said, feel free to omit them.

The small amount of ham is also purely optional. Fuchsia Dunlop, writing in Land Of Fish And Rice, explains the Chinese view of vegetarianism thus:

Most people see total, ideological “vegetarianism” (su shi zhu yi) as a Western phenomenon, while “vegetarian eating” (su shi) the habit of eating vegetarian food from time to time but not exclusively, has long been part of Chinese culture.

Dunlop goes on to say that even those dishes considered “vegetarian” may include “hidden” meat broths or lard. In a culinary tradition emphasizing vegetables, grains, and minimal amounts of animal protein, nobody sees anything unusual in this.

(Better than the ham picture, and yes, I played a bit.)

If ham is not your thing, try adding tofu or dried shrimp. Vegans can use fresh or dried mushrooms. Or go minimalist and prepare the dish with green beans alone. This is a flexible dish. Like your hostess.

The Chinese often blanch harder vegetables to “break their rawness” before adding them to the wok. Dropping the green beans in boiling water for two minutes did the trick.

Stir-frying is all about prep: have all your vegetables chopped and your mise en place ready to go. The actual cooking is literally a matter of minutes.

While stir-fried green beans with rice cakes makes a nice main dish alongside lots of rice, it also works as alongside other dishes. I served it with cumin beef. Leftovers make nice lunches.

Stir-fried Green Beans with Rice Cake

With tremendous debts to Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain Of Rice and Land Of Fish And Rice. 

Yield: 2 servings as a main dish with rice; 3-4 servings if served with other dishes and rice.

1/2 cup (8 ounces) green beans, trimmed and sliced into small pieces (think eating with chopsticks)

1 tablespoon peanut or other high-heat oil for stir frying

1 teaspoon fresh ginger root, crushed with the side of a cleaver and minced

1 large garlic clove, crushed, peeled, and minced

1 scallion, trimmed and thinly sliced

1 ounce plain ham, sliced into small pieces; match the beans (see notes for alternatives)

4 ounces rice cake; optional, see notes.

2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine; keep the bottle handy (see notes)

1 teaspoon soy sauce, ideally dark, but regular is fine (avoid “lite”)

1 teaspoon fine sea or table salt

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

White rice, to serve

You’ll need a 14-inch wok or comparably sized frying pan able to tolerate high-heat cooking.

Heat a small pan of lightly salted water to a rolling boil. Add the green beans, cooking 2-3 minutes. Dump them into a colander and run cold water over them to stop the cooking.

Heat a seasoned 14-inch wok on high heat or use a comparable pan; add a tablespoon oil and swirl it around. Once it’s hot, add the ginger, garlic, and scallion, stir frying for just a few seconds. Turn the heat down if the aromatics begin burning rather than smelling good.

Add the ham, rice cake, and Shaoxing wine, stirring constantly, as rice cake likes to stick. Stir-fry about 30 seconds. Add the soy sauce, then tip in the green beans. If the wok contents appear dry, add more Shaoxing wine.

Stir-fry for about two minutes, until the everything is cooked through. Carefully turn contents into a bowl. Season with salt and sesame oil. Serve immediately with rice.

Stir-fried Green Beans With Rice Cake keeps in a refrigerated container up to three days. Freezing is inadvisable–the immediacy is lost.


Instead of ham, use your favorite tofu. Or soak dried shrimp in hot water for 15 minutes and drain it. For a completely vegan option, try dried or fresh mushrooms.

Rice cakes are sold at Asian markets. They are increasingly available at Western markets, too: look in freezer or chiller cases where Asian ingredients are sold; in my market rice cakes are sold in two-pound bags beside the tofu and Udon noodles. Rice cakes keep for about two weeks in the refrigerater. Portioned into smaller bags, they’ll keep even longer in the freezer. Be sure to defrost them completely before use–this takes only a half-hour or so.

Korean rice sticks, cousin to rice cake, also work in this recipe.

Shaoxing wine is sold in the “International Food” aisle, near soy and fish sauces–look near the floor. If you cannot find Shaoxing, substitute dry sherry. Don’t use cream sherry, which will overpower the dish and, if you are middle-aged or older, evoke painful memories of Gilda Radner on Saturday Night Live.




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