I first discovered that Chinese long beans make excellent pickles while at a friend's house last fall for a preserves party. A collection of canners had gathered to open and share some of the bounty of the just-over season.
Amidst the fruit preserves and eggplant spreads was a jar of pickles that caught my eye. Though I've been making dilly beans out of conventional green beans for years, these were different. The beans were tightly spiraled into the jar so that they hugged the glass. In the center of the jar were a few broken bits of beans nudged up against a collection of cracked garlic cloves, wintry spices and pungent, puckery brine. All markers of a perfect pickle.
This summer, when the long beans came into season, I bought two bundles in order to pay pickle homage to that jar. I was lucky enough to find them in two colors and so spiraled them into the jars in alternating shades. However, from my initial tasting, I've found that they have no discernible difference in flavor, so don't worry if you can't find the more unusual purple beans.
To help make these pickles a wholly different thing from my standard pickled green bean, I skipped the traditional dill seed and opted for warmer spices like star anise, bay leaf, and red pepper flake. The finished product is everything I'd hoped—crunchy, deeply tart and so fun to eat.
Before You Get Started
In previous columns, I've offered you recipes that can either be made as refrigerator pickles, or processed for shelf stability. In this recipe, I highly recommend that you do the boiling water bath process. These beans have an element of toughness to them when raw that the hot brine alone cannot remove. The trip through the canner softens them up just enough to make them perfect.
A pound of beans per jar works out perfectly. If you discover that you've got a bit of extra space inside the spiral of beans, take the opportunity to add a few more garlic cloves. They fill the space and are so good on their own as a pickle.