May it Please the Palate

Stir-fried cure for Melancholia 

There is a scene in the movie Melancholia where the world is about to end. (That is not a spoiler. It’s the tagline.) 

Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) suggests to her sister Justine (Kirsten Dunst) that they sit outside, listen to Beethoven’s 9th and drink wine while waiting for the rogue planet to collide with Earth and blow it to smithereens. 
Justine fixes her with a steely gaze and says, “You know what I think of your plan? I think it’s a piece of s**t.”
That brutal rejoinder did raise the question of what one might do instead. 
Would one have time to cook? 
Probably not; but the takeout joints would likely be pretty crowded. (That is, if they had proper staffing. Without the promise of future paid overtime, getting sufficient labor under those circumstances would be a challenge.) 
So maybe wine and song would be all one could muster.
But if you had some green beans, Szechuan peppercorns, and Trader Joe’s fat free bean dip*, have I got a last meal for you! 
Nothing makes me hungrier for blistered Chinese-style green beans than the impending end of the world. 
The trick to this recipe is to restrain yourself from adding liquid. 
High, dry heat cooks this through, and its burning with apocolyptic flavor.
Sichuan Dry-Fried
 Green Beans
- Diana Kuan
•3/4 pound green beans
•1/4 cup peanut or vegetable oil
•5 or 6 dried red chilies
•1/4 teaspoon ground Szechuan pepper
•1 tablespoon minced garlic
•1 teaspoon minced or grated fresh ginger
•3 scallions, white parts only, thinly sliced (or sliced onion)
•4 ounces fresh shiitake or cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
•1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
•1 1/2 teaspoons chili bean sauce (*here is where I substituted some nearly forgotten, back of the ‘frig, Trader Joe’s faat free bean dip mixed with some rooster sauce)
•1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
•1 teaspoon sugar
•1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste 
1.Rinse the green beans and dry them thoroughly; even a small amount of water will cause oil in the wok to spit. 
Cut the beans into 2-inch lengths.

2.Prepare the sauce: In a small bowl, stir together the rice wine, chili bean sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and salt until the sugar is dissolved. 
Set aside.

3.Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat until a bead of water sizzles and evaporates on contact.
 Add the peanut oil and swirl to coat the bottom. 
Add the green beans and stir-fry, keeping the beans constantly moving, for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the outsides begin to blister and the beans are wilted. 
Turn off the heat, remove the green beans, and set aside to drain on a plate lined with paper towels.

4.Remove all but 1 tablespoon of oil and reheat the wok. 
Add the chilies, Szechuan pepper, garlic, ginger, and scallions and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. 
Add the mushrooms and stir-fry for another 1 minute, until the mushrooms have browned and started to crisp. 
Add the sauce. Return the green beans to the wok and stir-fry for another 1 minute. 
Transfer to a plate and serve hot. (Optional: I added some shredded, pre-cooked jalapeno chicken sausage at this step; you could also substitute pork, tempeh or tofu.)
This satisfying dish will soften the blow of any impending planetary collision, and is quick enough that it still leaves you time to sit on the veranda and watch the fireworks.
So what would you do with your last two hours on Earth? 
I know for me, I wouldn’t watch Melancholia.
Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. 
He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. He occasionally updates his blog at