If you google "steam-frying," you'll find thousands of articles promoting the health benefits of this cooking technique, where you sauté food in some oil, and then cover the pan to let everything steam and fry at the same time. The health benefits are almost always mentioned in the first sentence, and almost always given as the primary (or usually, the only) reason you'd want to try this technique.
It's always struck me as odd that steam frying has become a sort of healthy-life-hack alternative to pan frying, because both techniques tend to use about the same amount of oil, which is to say... not a ton! In fact, the way my family steam fries (by adding a generous amount of olive oil), you might be better off pan frying your food if you're looking to cut calories. The amount of fat that ends up in your food, whether you pan fry or steam fry, all depends on the amount you add.
So then why steam-fry at all? Because it's another delicious way of cooking vegetables! It's a tried-and-true cooking method found in many different cuisines, and it results in a completely different taste and texture than straight up frying. As an added bonus, it's way easier because you don't have to work in batches to make sure everything gets perfectly crispy, because uniform crispiness is not the goal here.
In any case, steam frying is the way my family makes lubiyeh b'zetha, which literally translates to "green beans in oil." As you might expect from the name, the oil is a key ingredient here, and one that you shouldn't skimp on, unless you need to for dietary reasons. But if you need to justify 1/4 cup of oil to yourself, just imagine the olive oil and diced tomatoes as the same kind of thing as an oil and vinegar salad dressing. In the end, you don't get too much with each perfectly-dressed bite.
Here, the green beans don't get the same caramelized flavor they would have if you were to pan fry and blister them. Instead, they have a more gently fried flavor (just the faintest hint of caramelization), and they have a beautifully soft al dente texture. Feel free to steam them a little longer than the recipe suggests to make these truly granny-style green beans, or stick with the recipe for beans that have just enough bite.
lubiyeh b'zetha | green beans steam-fried in olive oil
active time: 15 minutes
total time: 30 minutes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
6 cloves garlic, coarsely cupped
2 pounds fresh green beans, stemmed and broken into 1 1/2 to 2 inch pieces *
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
- Heat a large, steep-sided sauté pan or medium dutch oven over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes. Add the olive oil, followed by the onions and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, until they soften a little and turn very light golden (not brown).
- Add the green beans and stir for about 1 minute over medium-high heat. Lower the heat to medium, cover, and cook for 15 minutes, stirring every 3 minutes or so (re-cover every time you give it a stir).
- Add the black pepper and salt, and stir for about 30 seconds.
- Add the diced tomatoes, lower the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the green beans are your preferred doneness.
* Feel free to substitute frozen, but be sure to taste them as you go after the first few minutes, because the cook time will most likely be shorter. You'll also want to cook them uncovered for an extra 1 or 2 minutes.