Malaysian beef & haricot verte

A stir fry with a Malaysian mix of flavors. Haricot verte are “French green beans,” and are more slender, tender, and (I think) more flavorful than their typical New World counterparts. Although I love all forms of green beans, the slim haricot verte beans also cook much faster than regular green beans, so they don’t need a separate stir-fry cycle, and you can more easily mix them with other fast-cooking ingredients in the wok.

Finished beef-haricot verte stir fry.

Makes: 4 servings
Time: About 40 minutes, including prep time


  • 2 loosely filled cups of sliced white onion
  • 2 cups of green peppers chunks
  • 2 cups of asparagus, cut diagonally into 1.5 inch pieces
  • 2 cups of sliced white mushrooms
  • 1 pound of a thin-sliced tender cut of beef, like sirloin tips or a good-quality steak cut
  • 2 cups of haricot verte
  • 1 tablespoon of hot sesame oil*
  • 2 tablespoons of torn fresh basil leaves
  • 3 tablespoons of chopped cilantro
  • Regular soy sauce for sprinkling during frying
  • 2-3 tablespoons of peanut oil

For the sauce:

  • 1 cup of low-salt beef stock, reduced 50%
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh ginger, fine-chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
  • 1 tablespoon of hot sesame oil*
  • 2 tablespoons of minced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons of dark soy sauce, or kecap manis

About stir frying at home

Home ranges don’t produce the kind of blow-torch gas jets that Asian restaurants use to stir-fry large batches of food. The secret of successful home stir-fries is to work in small batches, and transferring the food to a platter in a warming oven to keep it warm between batches. If you over-load a home wok you’re not frying: the food just boils (eventually), due to the inadequate heating of the wok.

If you have a gas range, do your stir-frying in a large wok, very hot–just below smoke and flames. I use a wok with a large, insulated conventional pan handle, which makes the wok easier to maneuver. For electric ranges I’d use a flat frying pan that keeps as much bottom area as possible in direct contact with the burner coil. Again, keep the pan as hot as possible, just below active smoking of the oils.


  1. Reduce the beef stock while you finish your ingredient preparations.
  2. Stir fries work fast, and there is no time “in between things” to do ingredient preparation. Prepare and chop all ingredients before heating the wok. I lay everything out on a platter for easy access.
  3. Combine the sliced beef with 1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon of hot sesame oil. Stir and set aside.
  4. Place all the sauce ingredients into a small sauce pan and heat to boiling. Remove from heat and set aside.
  5. Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of peanut oil in your wok, and heat the empty pan until the oil just starts to smoke.
  6. Add the onions and stir fry for about 60 seconds.
  7. Add the haricot verte and stir fry for 90 seconds. Sprinkle with a little soy sauce while frying the batches of veggies — it helps the browning.
  8. Transfer the beans and onions to a warming oven, and re-heat the wok.
  9. Combine the peppers, mushrooms, and asparagus in the wok, splitting the veggies into 2 batches if your wok is small. Stir-fry for about 90 seconds, then transfer to warming oven.
  10. Drizzle a bit more peanut oil into the wok, and let it re-heat to almost smoking.
  11. Add the beef and vigorously stir-fry for about 60 seconds, then transfer to the warming oven. Don’t over-cook the meat, as it (and everything else in the dish) will continue to cook a bit even after you dump it out of the wok.
  12. De-glaze the wok with the sauce, then pour the sauce over the combined ingredients from all fry batches. Add the fresh cilantro and basil.
  13. Toss all ingredients, and place on a serving platter.

Veggie ingredients prepared for the beef-haricot verte stir fry.

Veggie ingredients prepared for the beef-haricot verte stir fry.

Prepare all ingredients in advance and lay them out for quick access.

The raw beef marinating for a few minutes in soy sauce and hot oil.

Beef marinating in bowl.

Maximum amount of ingredients in a home wok is about 3 cups of stuff.

The maximum load a home wok can handle is about 3 cups of veggies, or 2 cups of meat. If you over-stuff the wok, you’re just boiling the food.

Beef stir-frying in wok.

Work fast with meat in the wok. Use maximum heat, stir constantly, and remember to account for the roughly 30% of cooking that continues even after you dump the wok. A batch like this needs only about a minute in a hot wok.

Finished beef-haricot verte stir fry.

Finished beef-haricot verte stir fry.

* Hot oils

Hot-pepper heat is trivial to add at any point during cooking and serving, and impossible to remove. This recipe produces what I’d call medium heat: distinct spicy heat, but very moderate by Southeast Asian standards. If you are wary of hot spicy foods, skip the hot oil, or offer it as a condiment later so individuals can choose their personal level of heat.

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