Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Chinese Wing Beans Take Flight

Last weekend I stopped by Chino Farms to buy corn for my Labor Day Local Bounty blog post in San Diego Magazine. As I was trolling around the displays, also picking up some heirloom tomatoes and French strawberries, my attention was drawn to some very strange looking vegetables. Wide and wavy along four distinct edges, they were nothing I'd ever seen before.

Nina McConnel Chino, wife of Tom Chino, who runs the farm, was working at the stand that morning and saw me staring at them. She smiled at my confusion and told me they were Chinese wing beans. Yes, beans.

Wing beans, also known as winged beans, Manila beans, and Goa beans, are thought to be native to Southeast Asia. The plant itself is completely edible--not just the pods, but also the shoots, leaves, flowers, and seeds. Even the tubers, although they're very small.

What I found at Chino's stand, of course, were the pods, which have a grassy, salty flavor in a crisp bite. Nina explained that they can be eaten raw dipped in a Vietnamese-style sauce. They're also commonly included in curries and pork dishes. Or, they're delicious sauteed with ginger, garlic, and sesame oil. Add some corn and you're set.

Well, I had corn, so I bought about half a pound of the beans ($8 a pound but so light, you get a lot of beans for the money), took them home, trimmed both ends and then sauteed them in a little butter with corn kernels I shaved off the cob.

It just took minutes. Then I added a little soy sauce and oyster sauce. Just enough to suggest the flavors, but not so much that they overpower the sweetness of the butter and corn. Top with some toasted sesame seeds and you've got a delicious and wonderfully easy if unusual looking dish.

Sauteed Chino Wing Beans and Corn
Serves 3 as a side dish

1/2 pound of wing beans, trimmed on both ends
Kernels from 1 ear of corn
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon lightly toasted sesame seeds

Melt the butter in a medium size saute pan. Add the garlic and saute until it releases its scent--about half a minute. Add the corn and toss briefly. Then add the wing beans. Saute for about five minutes. Don't overcook the beans. You want them al dente.

Add the soy sauce and oyster sauce. Mix well, then turn off the heat. Transfer the beans and corn to a serving dish and sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds. Serve. It's also good the next day as a cold dish.

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