If you’ve seen the super-lengthy legumes known as yard-long beans at a farmers market or Asian grocery, you might have wondered exactly what you were looking at. This guide to Chinese long beans is a concise introduction to a delightful vegetable, with tips on buying, prep, and using, with links to plant-based recipes.
Most closely resembling green beans (though there are differences between them), they’re usually harvested at 18 inches, but can grow up to 3 feet. Frequently bound together in voluminous, unruly bunches, it might seem daunting to invest in such a big heap.
If you should be so lucky to spot them, take the leap, buy the bundle, and ask questions later. After one taste, you’ll only regret not having discovered them sooner.
While they have a fittingly long history in Asian cuisine, they’re a relative newcomer to North America. Also known as yard-long beans, pea beans, long-podded cowpeas, snake beans, bodi, and bora, such serpentine produce has more alter egos than your average superhero. You could easily consider them superfoods, so it’s an apt comparison as well.
What Are Chinese Long Beans and Where Did They Come From?
As you might have guessed from their name, the first known written record of cultivated long beans comes from in the Song Dynasty in 1008 CE. However, they likely originated from Africa many thousands of years before that, where they still grow wild in the tropical climate.
They quickly became a staple crop across Southeast Asia because they’re drought-tolerant, grow voluminously, and even enrich the soil as natural nitrogen fixers.
Some classify them as vegetables for their versatility in plant-based dishes, but they’re more closely related to black-eyed peas and other bush beans. If left on the vines long enough to reach full maturity, their seeds can be dried and eaten just like any other dry bean.
How to Buy and Store Chinese Long Beans
Long beans are typically harvested when they reach 1½ to 3 feet (½ to 1 yard) in length, making good on their descriptive title. The most common varieties are light and dark green, available at Asian specialty markets and produce stands from May to August.
If you can’t find them locally, look for them on an online source. Long beans are available year-round on Melissa’s produce.
Look for more slender pods, which are younger and more tender. Shop for beans that are supple, flexible, and free of black spots or swollen pods. Avoid any that are wrinkled or completely limp.
Once you get them home, snap off any dry ends, cut them in half, rinse, and thoroughly dry the whole bundle. Wrap them in paper towels and stash them in a zip-top bag to keep them in the fridge for up to five days.
For longer-term storage, it’s best to cut them into bite-sized pieces first before storing them in the freezer. From there, they can be added directly into your recipes as you would with fresh beans.
How to Cook with Long Beans
Long beans are often compared with American green beans or wax beans due to their outward appearance. While they do bear some similarity, the flavor is notably less sweet. Rather, they have a more grassy taste that’s best balanced with traditional Southeast Asian seasonings, which tend to harmonize spicy, sour, and sweet ingredients all in one dish.
Picked at the peak of ripeness, the entire pod has a crisp yet tender texture and can be eaten raw or cooked. It’s best to cut the pods into 2- to 3-inch lengths to make them more manageable for both cooking and eating.
Lightly blanching goes a long way to improving their flavor, so anyone new to this Asian staple is best advised to first plunge the pieces into boiling water for a minute, until bright green, and then immediately shock in ice-cold water to stop the cooking process.
Long beans hold up well in long braises and stews, remaining juicy rather than mushy like North American pole beans.
Long beans are the most widely grown legume in the Philippines, sometimes referred to as “poor man’s meat” thanks to their high protein content and affordability. Despite being incredibly low in carbs and calories, long beans are relatively rich in vitamins and minerals.
Notably high in Vitamin C, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B3, Vitamin B5, and Vitamin B6, as well as magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium, they’re an excellent addition to most diets. Here’s a complete view of the nutrition data of long beans.
How to Use Chinese Long Beans
Stir-fries: When in doubt, get your wok or stir-fry pan out. Quickly charred with a touch of sesame oil, ginger, and garlic, long beans transform into a savory, crave-worthy side dish all by themselves. You can bulk up the meal to make a one-pan dinner by adding tofu and other fresh vegetables, too. Try Sichuan-Style Stir-Fried Chinese Long Beans, and for a protein dish, Tofu and Long Bean Stir-Fry.
Curries: Green, yellow, or red; curries of any color make a cozy home for short lengths of long beans. Start with coconut milk and curry powder or paste and simmer for at least 15 minutes, until the vegetables are fork-tender. Add your favorite plant protein such as tempeh, tofu, or seitan in addition to any vegetables or greens you have in the fridge. It’s an ideal all-purpose, clear-out-the-kitchen kind of meal. Here’s a recipe for Yard-Long Beans with Kabocha and Coconut Milk.
Soups and stews: Take the average minestrone or vegetable soup in a more exciting direction by replacing bland green beans with cut long beans. They’ll stay crisper and won’t become mushy as quickly, as an added textural benefit.
Steamed or boiled: If you want to keep things simple but take the edge off the more assertive, negative flavors, gently cook cut long beans in or above lightly simmering water for about 5 minutes. Once cooled, you can serve them like crudité with hummus, guacamole, or dairy-free ranch dip.
Noodle dishes: Perfectly shaped for tangling around strands of chewy noodles, swapping in long beans for green beans is a great way to increase the nutrition and complexity of the dish. Consider doing so with this simple Seitan Pad Thai.
Salads: In Thai salads, long beans are finely chopped and then bruised with a mortar and pestle, which helps tenderize them and helps harmonize all the flavors in the dish. For a more modern approach, you could also place beans in a zip-top bag and gently crush them with a rolling pin. A prime example: Thai Long Bean Salad.
Preserved and pickled: For a more flavorful way to prolong the life of your legumes, treat them like any good southerner and add them to a glass jar of hot brine! You can use any formula you prefer, treating them like cucumber spears and processing them in a hot water bath for a shelf-stable seal. If you like this idea, Pickled Chinese Long Beans is the recipe for you.
Contributed by Hannah Kaminsky: Hannah has developed an international following for her delicious recipes and mouthwatering food photography at the award-winning blog BitterSweet. Passionate about big flavors and simple techniques, she’s the author of Vegan Desserts, Vegan à la Mode, Easy as Vegan Pie, Real Food, Really Fast, Sweet Vegan Treats, The Student Vegan Cookbook, Super Vegan Scoops, and The Everyday Vegan Cheat Sheet Pan. Visit Hannah at BittersweetBlog.com.
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