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Long Beans Are Twins

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Vegetables and Vegetarian Foods

Fall Volume: 2006 Issue: 13(3) page(s): 25, 26, and 28

Related to cow-peas and black-eyed peas, once sharing even their botanical names, Vigna unguiculenta, and Vigna sinensis, the longest ones are now correctly called Vigna sesquipedalis. Their English names can also confuse, and you may know them by asparagus beans, snake beans, Thai beans, Bodi beans, yard-long beans, and Chinese long beans; and there are other names.

There are at least twenty different varieties though the Chinese use a lesser number. Where any one originated is as disputed and complicated as are their names. Some say they come from the Near East, others argue for South-eastern Asia, still others say Africa, and a few indicate South America is correct. If selecting where by majority vote of the nineteen, sources we consulted said the winning location of origin is Africa. Without doubt, there are reports and remains of their existence in prehistory. And keeping the record straight, those who tout China believe that one variety actually did originate in the Middle Kingdom, namely the one named Vigna sinensis.

The most popular ones, the long beans that probably originated in China, are twins with a pair growing from a single attachment. They are climbers growing on vines a dozen or more feet in length. The beans themselves commonly grow to about fifteen inches; never mind their being named yard-long beans. Most often, they have blue-violet or white flowers, though some do sport other petal colors. And, they have edible leaves, seeds, stems, and seed pods. The latter can be eaten immature, ripe, or over ripe. The seeds can be dried and ground into flour, or sprouted. And, seeds and flour are used as a substitute for meat; one combination includes using the seeds in combination with yams and/or other starches.

Confused about these pencil-thin beans? You are not alone. They are not string beans because they are string-less. They have a leguminous taste, are not sweet, not crisp, quite dense, light or dark green and sometimes purple, and can be juicy, but only when young.

Some countries use these long beans in salads and in other cold dishes. So do some of China's ethnic minority populations. The Han Chinese rarely eat them that way; they believe these somewhat starchy beans need to be boiled, blanched, quickly deep-fried, or shallow braised; and often they are done one of these ways before cooking them with other ingredients.

The Chinese particularly like them stir-fried with a bit of meat, one or more vegetables, and starch. Seasoned, spicy or not, these long beans keep their shape and maintain their texture in soups and stews. They marry well with any number of seasonings, and are prepared in any number of ways. We like ours with sa cha sauce, fermented black beans, and/or other fermented sauces, also with lots of ginger and garlic; and they taste great with chili sauce. We also prepare them with or without salted meats, sausages, and vinegars, and other ingredients.

When purchasing long beans, keep in mind that their green can be pale or dark green, the former can be immature or too mature, sweeter, and softer. Dark green ones are considered better by about half the folk we spoke to, but not a one could explain why. The purple ones are so uncommon that books and magazine articles, and these same folk, rarely mention them. One friend grows light ones on his tall front fence and says they are best for soups and stews. Another says he prefers the dark ones, also likes the purple ones but often can not find seeds for them. That chap who grows his, ties the vines on strings from foundation to roof on the sunny side of his house. They do, he says, climb on them and they look lovely. My husband grow ours on an old wire fence put on posts in our garden. We like that the beans take longer to mature so they are abundant after our string beans are long gone.

Called dou jiao in the north and dau gok in and around Guangzhou, these long beans are drought resistant and love a sunny location. They are also popular, even appreciated as fodder for the beasts. Flavorful and fine as a vegetable most often they are cut in three-inch lengths or cut in half-inch or smaller pieces. For those left uncut, boil them for two minutes, cool somewhat and twist in a coil. Use them this way as a good base-container for any number of fillings from rice mixtures to stir-fried seasoned minced beef, lamb, or poultry. They look lovely and are appreciated in this unusual presentation.

When used in a typical northern dish called Kan shao which means to dry-fry them, people from Beijing and further north are said to adore them. Folks in the west prepare theirs with chili peppers, removing the ends, cutting the beans into three inch lengths, and stir-frying them in half cup of oil for two minutes, removing and draining, and finally preparing them in one favorite set of sauce ingredients or another. At that point, they can also be stir-fried with a few tablespoons of minced meat, chopped Sichuan cabbage, or any other green vegetable, or the above-mentioned sauces.

There are many recipes for this vegetable of many names. Some simple, others complex, all delicious. It is possible to use string beans when locating long beans is problematic, however, taste and texture will of course be different. Light or dark, these beans have ever so many uses be they for their pods, but less common for their seeds.
Long Beans, Bean Sprouts, and Red Peppers
1 pound long beans
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound bean sprouts, their heads and tails removed
1/4 teaspoon salt and ground white pepper, mixed
1/2 fresh red chili pepper, minced
1. Cut ends off beans, and cut them into two- to three-inch lengths, and blanch in boiling water for one minute, then immerse in ice water. Drain well when very cold.
2. Heat wok or fry pan, add oil, then add cut long beans and stir -fry for two minutes, then add bean sprouts and continue cooking another minute. Add the salt and pepper, and the chili pepper pieces, stir once or twice, remove to a platter, and serve.
Pickled Long Beans
1 cup quarter-inch sliced long beans, ends removed
1/2 cup Chinese red rice vinegar
1 Tablespoon coarse salt
1/4 pound minced or ground beef (optional)
1 Tablespoon mushroom soy sauce
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large clove garlic, minced finely
1 chili pepper, seeded then minced finely
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with one tablespoon of water
1. Marinate long beans in vinegar and salt solution for six hours or overnight, covered and in the refrigerator.
2. Remove beans and drain well.
3. Mix meat and soy sauce and let sit for fifteen minutes.
4. Heat oil and stir-fry the beef mixture for one minute before adding the garlic and the chili pepper pieces, and stir-fry another minute, then add the beans and the sugar, and continue to cook another two minutes before adding the cornstarch water. Stir-fry another minute until beans and meat, if used, are coated and starch solution is clear, Serve hot, warm, or cold, as desired.
Lamb, Long Beans, and Cumin
1/2 pound lamb shoulder, sliced thin then cut into half-inch widths
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 egg white
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 onion, cut into slices
1 red chili pepper, seeded and slivered
4 stalks Chinese celery, cut into half-inch pieces
1/4 pound long beans, ends removed, cut into half-inch pieces, and blanched for one minute
1/2 sweet red pepper, seeded then cut into thin slices
2 teaspoons whole cumin
1 Tablespoon mushroom soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1. Mix lamb, rice wine, cornstarch, and egg white, and let marinate for half an hour.
2. Heat a wok or fry pan, then add vegetable oil and after ten to fifteen seconds, add onion and stir-fry for one minute before adding chili pepper pieces, celery, sweet red pepper, and long bean pieces. Stir-fry for another minute, add the lamb mixture and the cumin and stir-fry another minute.
3. Mix soy sauce, cornstarch, sugar, and salt, and add to the wok or fry-pan and stir-fry one minute, then serve.
Long Beans and Sauce
1 pound long beans, ends removed, then cut into three-inch lengths
5 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 pound minced sirloin beef (or minced pickled mustard green)
1 Tablespoons sa cha or chili sauce
2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine
1. Heat wok and add one cup water and the beans and boil until all the water is evaporated. Then slowly add the oil and stir-fry for two minutes, remove the beans and drain on paper towels, and let then sit for ten minutes. Discard all but a teaspoon of the oil.
2. Reheat wok with the oil and add beef or mustard greens and stir-fry one minute then add sacha sauce and stir-fry another minute before adding the rice wine. Boil until it evaporates, then serve.

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