Long beans, with similar taste to green beans, have distinct texture

This past week, I found long beans at the Farmers Market and pluots (a cross between plums and apricots) at MOON Co-op.

Having written about plums last week, I’ve opted to focus on long beans this week. Downing Fruit Farm had them at the Oxford Farmers Market. Scott Downing, best known as a seventh generation local apple grower, has diversified into other produce, including for the first time long beans.

The long bean — also known as Chinese long bean, yard-long bean, asparagus bean, and several other names — is well-known in East and Southeast Asia, though rarely seen here. A long bean may look like a thin extra-long version of our familiar pole or bush “green” bean, but the two are not closely related.

The long bean is classified as species vigna unguiculata, subspecies sesquipedalis. Vigna unguiculata is the same species as the cowpea or black-eyed pea.

As the English name implies, a yard-long bean can grow up to a yard in length, but is best if picked shorter, typically around 18 inches, such as the ones from Downing Fruit Farm. The subspecies name sesquipedalis is the giveaway—it’s Latin for one-and-a-half-foot.

Long beans taste similar to green beans, but their texture is distinct. A green bean is pleasingly crisp when fresh and raw or quickly steamed and immediately cooled (and, as I reported a few weeks ago, sticks to your shirt when fresh). The long bean is floppy and – well – long.

Although it can substitute for the more familiar green bean in Western recipes, the long bean is best handled differently. Unlike green beans, which can be steamed, long beans become waterlogged and bland when cooked in water.

The best way to cook long beans is stir fry in a full-flavored oil like sesame or peanut oil. Save the delicate olive oil for Mediterranean cooking.

Heat the oil in a wok or nonstick frying pan. Mince one or two cloves of garlic and saute for a minute or two in the hot oil.

Craig Harkrider’s Stoney Hedgerow Farm offers dozens of varieties of garlic at the Oxford Farmers Market. Ask him for a recommendation.

Cut the long beans into roughly 3-inch-long pieces and cook in the wok or pan for 1 or 2 minutes. Don’t let them burn; turn down the heat if they start to burn.

Sprinkle an Asian-style sauce over the beans and remove from the heat. Conventional recipes suggest soy sauce or oyster sauce, but I have a far superior and healthier alternative.

A distinctive locally made product sold at MOON Co-op is Kentuckyaki, made by Bourbon Barrel Foods in downtown Louisville. Kentuckyaki is aged in bourbon barrels, has 90% less sodium than soy sauce, and is much more flavorful.

To turn long beans into a main course, add sliced chicken marinated in Kentuckyaki and Carfagna’s local barbecue sauce from Columbus and grilled.

MOON Co-op is Oxford’s consumer-owned full-service grocery, featuring natural, local, organic, sustainable, and Earth-friendly products. The store, located at 516 S. Locust St. in Oxford, is open to the public every day. Visit the website at www.mooncoop.coop.

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