In the Garden:
Deep purple yard-long beans are easy to grow and a great addition to stir-fries.
The Long and Short of Yard-Long Beans
Although many obscure vegetables or fruits are that way because they are either difficult to grow or really don't taste very good, others just don't seem to catch on, even when they have many fine characteristics to recommend them. Witness the yard-long bean, which is not only adaptable and easy to grow but also has a wonderful flavor that is especially good in Asian cooking. Try to find some at a grocery or farmer's market this year to taste, then consider growing them next year.
Maybe you've seen packets of yard-long beans among recommended varieties for kids to grow or for Asian cooking. Variously called long bean, yard-long bean, Chinese pea, snake bean, and asparagus bean, they are actually not a bean at all but a close relative of the cow pea, or black-eyed pea. Possibly native to China or Southeast Asia and grown since prehistoric times, the yard-long bean is an annual vine reaching heights of 8 to 12 feet. Like your typical climbing pole bean, yard-longs are best grown on some type of support, be it tepees, climbing frames, or trellises.
Yard-long beans need full sun but will tolerate a wide range of well-drained soils with a slightly acid pH. They thrive in hot temperatures. Wait to plant them until absolutely all danger of frost is past. Ideally, night temperatures should not drop below 65 degrees F. Germination takes a week to 10 days, but this can be shortened by soaking the seeds in water overnight before sowing them. Plant them about 1 inch deep and space plants at least a foot or so apart.
Most varieties are short-day plants, meaning they will not start to bear the pale blue, pea-like flowers until after midsummer. They usually begin bearing the pairs of pods about a month and a half to two months after planting. Although they may reach 36 inches in length, the pods are best picked when 12 to 18 inches long, while still slim and before the seeds start to form. Use a scissors or knife to cut them from the vine.
Depending on the variety, the narrow, round, and stringless pods may be light or dark green or purplish red. The dark green type is considered the most delectable, but the red type is unusual in that the color does not change to green when cooked, as purple "green" beans do.
In the Kitchen
Yard-longs are crunchier than green beans, yet at the same time more pliable. They can be used for green beans when cooking but don't expect the same flavor, for it is different -- milder and not quite as sweet. The pods are usually cut into 1- to 2-inch lengths for cooking. They can be stir-fried alone or with other vegetables, or boiled, but they tend to become mushy when steamed. Cooking time in boiling water is 3 to 5 minutes, until crisp-tender. Or try cooking them in boiling water for 2 minutes, then stir-frying them with some oil and garlic. For a unique presentation, cut the beans into 6- to 8-inch lengths, blanch, and tie several together into a knot. The young leaves and stems are also edible, usually steamed and dressed with olive oil.
In China, the pods are often pickled or eaten in salads. A classic Chinese yard-long bean salad is simply prepared by boiling the beans until cooked but still crisp, draining, chilling, then adding a little salt, hot pepper, and vinegar. Chopped raw onion, garlic, or ginger are possible additions. A bit of sugar can be added, too. .
Although I have found no references to freezing yard-long beans, I have been doing that, with the plan to add them to stir-fries this winter. Whether it works or not, yard-long beans have been both a pleasure to grow and to eat this summer.
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