Chef Lucas Sin shares the best way to gussy up a plain can of beans: spicy Sichuan flavors borrowed from mapo tofu
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Beans are a go-to camping meal, and for good reason: After a long afternoon of setting up camp, hiking, or hiding from the sun, there’s nothing easier than opening up a couple cans and dumping them into a skillet with a bunch of other stuff. But Lucas Sin takes a more specific approach, using what he calls “the mapo tofu mentality of building layers of savory, aromatic goodness” for his take on camping beans.
Mapo tofu, a classic Sichuan dish, traditionally consists of tofu and minced beef in a rich, spicy sauce made (in part) with bean paste, chile oil, peppercorns, and fermented black beans. But instead of tofu — which requires some prep work and has a limited lifespan, especially when thrown in a cooler — here, Sin opts for beans.
The result? “A deeply aromatic, restaurant-quality dish for the campground,” Sin says, one that feels like a Sichuan spin on chili. While his original recipe uses chickpeas, cannellini beans result in a pleasantly saucier and creamier version. Whatever you use, Sin advises, “eat it with rice boiled in a bag and you’re golden.”
Mapo Beans Recipe
Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side dish with rice
2 tablespoons oil
½ pound ground beef, pork, turkey, or chopped shiitake mushrooms
2 green onions, chopped, green and white parts divided
2 tablespoons doubanjiang (chile bean sauce), or a mix of equal parts miso and gochujang (Korean chile paste)
2 tablespoons rice cooking wine, sake, or lager beer
½ cup chicken broth or water
3 medium garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, cannellini, or great northern beans, rinsed and drained
Sugar, to taste (optional)
Mushroom powder, to taste (optional)
Chile oil, for garnish
1 teaspoon crushed Sichuan peppercorns (optional)
Cooked rice, for serving
Heat the oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meat or mushrooms and cook, breaking up the meat and stirring occasionally until very brown, browner than you think it should be and on the cusp of burning. Using a slotted spoon, transfer meat/mushrooms to a bowl, leaving the oil and drippings in the skillet.
Return the same skillet to medium-high heat, add the white part of the green onions, and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the doubanjiang and garlic and cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the cooking wine and simmer, scraping up browned bits on the bottom of the pan.
Add the broth or water and reduce heat to medium-low. Return the meat to the skillet and add the beans. Simmer gently to allow the flavors to marry, 5 minutes. At your discretion, crush some of the beans to help thicken the sauce.
Season the beans, adding a pinch of sugar and mushroom powder as desired to balance out the flavors. Divide the beans into serving bowls and garnish with a generous splash of chile oil, the green part of the green onions, and Sichuan peppercorns, if using. Serve immediately with the rice.