Sichuan Fava Bean and Radish Noodle Salad
Published May 30, 2019, Updated Oct 21, 2023
Green Salad or Noodle Salad, You Choose
After Jordan Porter wrote a piece for this blog about the bounty of Chengdu markets in the spring, I got to thinking about fava beans in a new way. I mean, I often think of fava beans, or broad beans as they are also known, since they are one of the main components of Pixian doubanjiang. They are the “bean” in that chili bean paste, and therefore the umami backbone of a great deal of Sichuan food.
The broad beans in doubanjiang start out fresh and are then fermented—for at least six months and as long as eight years—with Sichuan’s famed erjingtiao chilies and salt. You discern their presence when you eat something made with douban, because some of the beans don’t break down during fermentation and remain whole in the paste. But by that time they have mostly melded with the chilies and salt into a new thing altogether, so it’s a little hard to imagine what they tasted like when fresh.
The Sichuanese don’t have to imagine, because come spring and early summer, they frequently eat them fresh. Jordan mentioned that they are often eaten as a cold dish, mixed with fish mint and coated with a chili oil dressing. This sounded familiar, and there was indeed a recipe for that salad in my standby cookbook from the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine. There they call fish mint by another English name, heartleaf, and it’s true that Houttuynia cordata leaves do both taste like fish and look like hearts.
Very popular in Sichuan, the invasive fish mint “weed” also grows wild all over the U.S., according to Jordan, though it is seldom eaten here. There’s probably some in my weedy backyard right now, in fact, but I’m not brave enough to forage it. Plus, fish mint is an acquired taste, like a super cilantro, and I have not acquired it. So I decided to substitute with another herby leaf with a bite.
Below is my successful experiment with fresh fava beans, which yielded not one but two separate dishes—a green salad and a noodle salad! Dressed in a quintessential Sichuan sauce, fava beans do indeed taste like spring in Chengdu. Plus, you’ll never find more robust vegan eats. They now have a permanent place in my diet along with the beloved fermented version.
Even though it’s nearing the end of fava bean season here, I found these lovelies at my Asian market. They look like other green pea pods but are larger. Some of them contain 3-5 beans the size of nickels. We did not find these mega beans much tougher or less appealing than their smaller podmates.
Fava beans take a fair amount of prep, which one would never do if they weren’t so creamy and delicious. You boil them for 2-3 minutes, remove to an ice-water bath, split the pod and remove the beans, and then peel each individual bean, which has its own protective jacket. Fongchong made pretty quick work of these though. Also, I bought too few, not knowing how much yield there would be, so these photos show what is about two-thirds of the recipe below. You’ll need about 1 1/2 pounds of pods to get 5 ounces of beans.
To replace the fish mint that would be the herbal green of choice for this dish in Sichuan, I chose radish sprouts, which have a similarly intense bite. I think next time I would try pea sprouts (not pea shoots or leaves), but I recommend either sprout for this. I also added some red radish to the dish for extra crunch and color. That’s my homemade chili oil at the top.
I used a mandoline with the medium “teeth” insert to quickly dispatch the radishes, though you can also julienne them with a knife. Salt the radish and let it sit while you prepare the chili-oil sauce, which is spiked with Sichuan pepper oil to bring home that uniquely Sichuan flavor. Then it’s just a matter of combining all the ingredients and plating.
As I was testing this, congratulating myself for its tastiness and wishing I had made a whole lot more of it, I realized that the ingredients and sauce had enough bold flavor to incorporate some noodles and make a more substantial salad.
So I quickly cooked some mung bean thread noodles and added them to what was left of my salad to make a meal. It was an ideal mashup! I’m honestly not sure which version I liked best: the fresh and robust green salad or the milder, more filling noodle salad.
If you’ve never had fresh fava beans, or had them only in Italian or Middle Eastern food, these two Sichuan salads will be a revelation.
Sichuan Fava Bean and Radish Noodle Salad
- 1 small garlic clove
- 2 tablespoons chili crisp or solids from chili oil
- 2 teaspoons green Sichuan pepper oil (tengjiaoyou)
- 1 teaspoon Chinese light soy sauce (Zhongba preferred)
- 1 teaspoon Baoning or Zhenjiang black rice vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- pinch kosher salt
- pinch MSG (optional)
Green salad option
- 1½ pounds fresh fava bean pods (with few dark spots), to make about 5 ounces shelled fava beans
- 2 large handfuls pea sprouts (not pea shoots) or radish sprouts
- 3 large red radishes
- 1 tablespoon scallions, thinly sliced
Noodle salad option
- Salad ingredients above
- Double sauce ingredients above
- 2 bunches (100-110 grams) bean thread noodles
- Mince or press garlic and add to bowl with 1 tablespoon water. Let sit for a few minutes before adding the rest of sauce ingredients and mixing well.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil and add fava bean pods. Cook at low boil for 2-3 minutes, depending on size. Drain pods and transfer to bowl of iced water to stop cooking. When cool, split pod, remove beans and peel each bean, removing its white covering. Add to sauce bowl.
- Julienne radishes with a knife or with a madoline with the teeth insert. Salt well and leave to sit for a few minutes. Squeeze most of the moisture out of the radish strips and add radish to sauce bowl.
- Add sprouts and mix all ingredients well in the sauce. Plate and serve.
- If making the noodle salad, double the sauce recipe above. Add all salad ingredients (as listed) to sauce.
- Bring a fresh pot of water to boil and add the bean thread noodles. Cook for 1-2 minutes, until just cooked through and soft. Drain noodles and rinse well with cold running water. Shake noodles or dry them with a towel until most water is gone and add to salad. Mix well and plate. Serve at room temperature.
Tried this recipe?