Seriously Asian: The Yardlong Bean
During the summer, yard-long beans are sold in abundance at your Asian grocer, and if you've always assumed they're not so different from the common green bean, think again. The common green bean grows from a plant producing edible beans, whereas yardlong beans grow on climbing vines. Like the green bean, yard-long beans are the immature pods of these vines, growing rapidly in warm climates such as Southeast Asia. The pods can grown many inches in one day; the average length is anywhere between one and one and a half feet long.
Though yardlong beans taste similar to green beans, their texture is distinct. Unlike green beans, which can taste palatable steamed or boiled, yardlong beans become waterlogged and bland when treated with water. The beans are best cooked with oil: sauteed, stir-fried, or deep-fried, their flavor intensifies and their texture remains tight and juicy. As such, these beans aren't exactly the diet vegetable of the summer, but they are extremely good to eat and their texture makes them worth seeking out.
The classic Chinese dish of dry-fried greens beans is superb with yard-long beans, which soak up a bit of oil during the initial frying period. The technique of initially deep-frying the beans, followed by a stir-fry with stock and aromatics, makes the texture inordinately juicy, tender, and bursting with green bean flavor. You can add ground pork for a boost of meat (common in Chinese cuisine) or you can easily forgo the pork and stick to a stir-fry with garlic, green onions, and some Sichuan peppercorns for that signature mouth-tingling effect.
An Indonesian staple, green beans with coconut milk, is also well suited to yard-long beans. Because the beans are first stir-fried in oil and then simmered in coconut milk, every bite of the bean bursts with the sweetness of the coconut base. I like to pair the green beans with kabocha squash, since the meaty texture of the squash also holds up well to the simmering liquid.
The next time you're at the Asian market, give these beans a try. Because they're so lengthy, there's very little picking or fussing to do per strand of bean: washed and cut in a minute, they're ready to be cooked. Finally, when you're shopping for these beans at the market, be aware that the long strands will be limp and slightly wrinkled even when they're fresh.
About the author: Chichi Wang took her degree in philosophy, but decided that writing about food would be much more fun than writing about Plato. She firmly believes in all things offal, the importance of reading great books, and the necessity of three-hour meals. If she were ever to get a tattoo, it would say "Fat is flavor." Visit her blog, The Offal Cook.