I admit it. I love take-out Chinese food, in all its greasy, salty, sticky, deep fried glory.
I love the white boxes with the little metal handles. I love the chopsticks that you snap apart then rub together to get rid of all the splinters. I love those fried ribbons of crunch that they give you free with your order, even though they don't taste very good.
When I started down this plant-based, whole grain road, I thought I could keep the take-out, but just stick to the vegetarian side of the menu. My favorite Chinese place does a fine job with its Green Beans and Broccoli with Garlic Sauce. But soon I realized those beans are undeniably greasy and salty and, when ordering, I often succumb to the call of the fried dumpling and the lure of the "meat candy," as my husband calls it.
But one day, I found a middle ground when I was reading "The Pink Ribbon Diet" by Mary Flynn and Nancy Verde Barr, which primarily talks about the link between post-treatment weight gain and the recurrence of breast cancer, but also offers a weight loss plan based on the Mediterranean diet, stressing fresh vegetables, whole grains and olive oil.
I was browsing the recipes when I came upon the section on roasting vegetables, in particular, a recipe for roasting green beans. Here it is:
Roasted Green Beans
1 cup green beans (about half a pound), washed and trimmed
2 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 sprig of fresh thyme (optional)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Combine the beans, garlic and thyme in a roasting pan that can go on top of the stove. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss together until well-coated with oil. Spread out in one layer and roast for 12 to 15 minutes until tender and slightly browned.
Remove pan from the oven and place on the stove over high heat. Add the vinegar and cook, scraping the pan, until the vinegar is almost completely evaporated. Toss and serve.
The first time I made this recipe, I made some changes. I increased the amount of beans, garlic, vinegar and thyme but I kept the proportions the same. I also roughly chopped the garlic until it sort of looked like slivered almonds. And that part at the end of the recipe seemed way to fussy to me, so after I added the vinegar, instead of finishing it on the stove top, I just popped the pan back in the oven for another 10 or 15 minutes.
The authors say in their introduction to this recipe that when roasted, the beans "become a whole different vegetable." They are so right. These beans are pleasantly chewy, succulent, almost meaty, not unlike my Chinese take-out beans. And the balsamic vinegar becomes syrupy and sweet, not unlike my sticky take-out sauce. These beans are delicious.
But also in her introduction, the author suggests that instead of vinegar, you could substitute 2 tablespoons of reduced sodium soy sauce.
When I read that, I think a flashing neon Chinese take-out sign appeared briefly above my head.
Here's the result:
Roasted Green Beans and Broccoli
1¼ to 1½ pounds green beans, washed and trimmed
1¼ to 1½ pounds broccoli, washed, trimmed and cut into generous bite-size chunks
6 medium or 4 large garlic cloves, sliced then roughly chopped
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2-3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce, to taste (use less if using full sodium soy sauce)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
A handful of white sesame seeds
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Combine the beans, broccoli, olive oil and black pepper in a large roasting pan. Drizzle with some of the olive oil and stir the vegetables around. Keep adding and tossing until it looks good. You don't want the vegetables to be floating in oil, but you do want them to be coated, with not a lot of excess oil in the bottom of the pan. Season with lots of black pepper and toss again. Spread out in an even layer and roast for 15 minutes.
Remove pan from the oven and add garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil and sesame seeds. Toss together and cook for another 5 minutes. Check for tenderness and keep tossing and cooking and checking until they're just right. The vegetables and garlic will brown, the soy sauce and sesame oil will thicken and cling to the beans and broccoli.
I serve it over brown rice that I have cooked in low sodium chicken stock. It's especially good leftover, reheated in the microwave at work and eaten at your desk.
Jill Blanchette is the night editor at The Day. Her column appears in The Times every other week. Her blog, also called Spilling the Beans, is updated frequently on theday.com and posted on The Day's Facebook page. If you have any comments or recipes to share, send them to Jill at firstname.lastname@example.org.