Key West is known for a lot of things, namely relaxation, sun, scuba, and partying. Hardly the place you’d expect to find the best green beans you ever had. Don’t those belong in the humid Midwest, land of tractors humming across lonely acres and Grandma-cooked fried chicken on a Sunday table?
Tucked on a side street off Duval, the main drag, was a little barbecue joint called Meteor Smokehouse. It was a random discovery, though frequenters to Key West knew of it, I learned later. Next to a popular bar called the Green Parrot, I was ignorant of that and all other restaurants in Key West. It was a rare trip in which I did no food research ahead of time. This trip was a winter getaway: the only prep I did was finding what to do besides drink booze. When I discovered that Key West has three great historical places – the Audubon House, Ernest Hemingway's home and Truman's "Summer White House" – I wasn't worried about cuisine.
When I was at Meteor Smokehouse, they hit two home runs – one for their incredible chicken wings, and one for spicy, crunchy green beans. Since this is about side dishes, I’ll leave someone else – perhaps Stephen Raichlen? – the task of copying their chicken wings.
Their succulent side dish boasts tender-crisp green beans with the sizzle of heat and a slightly asian tang. Meteor’s recipe, which I wrested from a friend who had to sneak back to the kitchen on her trip to beg for it – is called “Minnie’s Green Beans.” Search-engine that, and you’ll find a variety of recipes called by that name, “Minnie Lee’s Green Beans,” “Spicy Green Beans” and other names. Who was Minnie/Minnie Lee? No one knows. Like other passed-along recipes, they don't even have the same ingredients. Of course I had to tinker: some of the recipes don't even come out right, I discovered. And since I had a great-aunt Minnie, maybe I'll pretend she secretly ventured out of north Missouri to Key West and taught them how to cook.
Sadly, Meteor has since closed, and it's not the first time. Apparently the place had a rocky history. At least I saved the green beans from extinction.
KEY WEST GREEN BEANS
3 cups fresh green beans
4 green onions
2 tablespoons szechuan sauce*
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
(See recipe:) Optional, 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup lard (yes, shortening--not butter or oil)
Clean and dry green beans, set aside. Dice white portion of green onions very finely, mix with szechuan sauce, soy sauce, minced garlic, and if using, red pepper flakes (this dish is already spicy, but if you prefer extra-spicy, add the red pepper flakes).
Heat lard in a deep frying pan on medium high heat. When hot, add green beans, and cook, stirring frequently, approximately 6-7 minutes. Immediately set beans on a separate plate, pour off excess grease, then return green beans to pan. Add sauce mixture, stir till heated through, and serve immediately.
*I used House of Tsang Szechuan Spicy Stir-Fry Sauce. Other commercial brands of sauces and their variations:
House of Tsang Saigon Sizzle Stir-Fry Sauce (hotter)
General Tso Stir-Fry Sauce (sweeter)
KA-ME Szechuan Sauce (milder)
Ty Ling Sweet Szechuan Sauce (milder and sweeter)
Love Asian condiments? Here is a simple, education website on all of them. It's also helpful if you want to make these sauces with your own ingredients: http://www.foodsubs.com/CondimntAsia.html