Timesaving ingredients at Asian markets make meals weeknight-worthy

Cooking a square meal on a weeknight after work can be a challenge. Making it an Asian meal might sound like an even taller order, conjuring images of endless chopping and complicated sauces.

So how is it that some cooks whip up Asian dinners for their families in the time it takes to order takeout? Smart shopping at ethnic supermarkets paves the way for their easiest work-night dishes.

We asked three veteran shoppers of Asian markets -- all busy professionals -- for tips on pulling together nutritious meals using Asian products and quick-cooking vegetables. Their recipes rely on time-saving ingredients, like bottled sauces, no-boil noodles, frozen food and baby bok choy. These are homey Asian dishes that kids and adults enjoy.

Beef with green beans in black bean sauce

This recipe is from Lily Mak of Dallas, vice president of marketing for XTera Communications. It's a family recipe, she says, and incorporates her favorite bottled product for stir-fries: black bean sauce.

12 to 16 ounces sirloin steak, sliced against the grain

1 tablespoon soy sauce

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 pound green beans, rinsed

3 to 4 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil (divided use)

3 large cloves minced garlic (divided use)

1 1/2 tablespoons black bean garlic sauce

1/2 cup water

2 teaspoons cornstarch blended with 1 tablespoon water

1. Cut up beef slices into bite-size pieces. Combine with soy sauce and black pepper and marinate for 5 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, break or cut green beans into 1 1/2-inch lengths.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a wok or skillet set over medium-high heat. Add 2 of the minced garlic cloves and cook until golden. Add the beef and stir-fry until just cooked through. Transfer beef to a dish and set aside.

3. Add the remaining oil to the pan and heat until oil is so hot that a drop of water sizzles in it. Add the green beans and cook, stirring until lightly browned on the outside, but not fully cooked inside.

4. Mix black bean sauce with remaining minced garlic clove. Add the black bean mixture to the pan along with the water. Stir to blend thoroughly. Simmer until the green beans are cooked through, about 2 minutes. Return the beef to the pan and bring to a boil. Stir in the cornstarch-water mixture. If desired, add more soy sauce to taste. Serve immediately.

Variations: Before adding the black bean paste, add 1 teaspoon grated ginger and stir-fry for 30 seconds. May substitute asparagus for green beans.

Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 4: 311 calories, 22 grams fat, 10 grams carbohydrates, 18 grams protein, 53 milligrams cholesterol, 378 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 64 percent of calories from fat.

-- adapted from Lily Mak