Apr 9, 2015

The Incredible Asian Wing Bean

I've seen these unusual looking winged green beans at our local farmer's market here on Moloka'i, but I hadn't cooked them until recently. Wing beans thrive in tropical climates with warm weather, humidity and abundant rainfall. They are grown in Southeast Asia, specifically areas within both the Phillipines and Thailand. Wing beans also grow prolifically in tropical Africa and within the islands of Hawaii. 

Known for centuries in tropical Asia, this attractive climbing perennial is more or less your total meal: all parts of the plant are edible — the pods, the beans inside, the shoots, the flowers and even the tuber. Because these plants like tropical weather, they grow nicely in home gardens here in Hawaii. 

The four winged pod is delicious, crispy, and sweet like many pea varieties. I prefer the small beans (2 to 3 inches long) because they look nice in stir-fries and soups, and you can eat them whole. The large ones must be cut into pieces, although grilling tenderizes them so you can eat them whole, like finger food. If you boil them like string beans, cook them no more than four to five minutes, and it’s best to cook the beans the day you pick or purchase them, because if you store them in the refrigerator, they will start to turn black or an ugly green and there’s no way to correct that. The taste of the pod is something between a snow pea and asparagus, hence the other name for this bean, the "Asparagus Pea". The leaves are cooked like spinach and the roots have a delicious, nutty flavor. Even the pale blue flowers are said to taste like mushrooms.
Wing Beans from Moloka'i Saturday Farmer's Market
Click on photo to view larger

Wing beans are good for our body because it has high protein content and a good source of vitamins A, C and iron. Aside from these, it is rich in calcium. If that wasn't enough, internationally renowned herbal expert James A. Duke, Ph.D., is currently doing research on the winged bean, and has found that they are a rich source for betulinic acid, one of the most promising phytochemcials for melanoma. You can read about it here.

Now you know why I call them "incredible". Enough words, let's get down to eating.

Filipino Sautéed Wing Beans with Pork
This is a simple recipe, and a good way to try this delicious Asian bean.

2 teaspoons canola oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 yellow onion, sliced
2 Roma tomatoes, quartered
1 1/2 pound thinly sliced pork* belly (roast pork belly recipe)
1/3 cup water
2 teaspoons fish sauce
20 to 25 wing beans, ends trimmed and thinly sliced diagonally
Roasted sesame seeds for garnish

Roast pork belly as per recipe on this site. Set aside to cool as you cook the wing beans.

In a pan, heat oil and sauté garlic, onion and tomato for 3 or 4 minutes.

Stir in the water and fish sauce. Add wing beans and simmer and stir for about 4 minutes, or until beans are tender but not overcooked (al dente).

Season with salt, or Tamari sauce if needed. Serve with sliced pork belly and 2 scoops of white rice garnished with roasted sesame seeds. Makes 2 servings.

*Note: You can use ground pork in this dish but if you go to the trouble to roast a pork belly you will like it better.

Thai Wing Bean Salad (Yum Tuapu)
2 cups winged beans, about 2/3 pound
1 cup minced pork, or pulled chicken, about 1/2 pound
1 cup coconut milk
2 tablespoons dried shrimp, chopped
2 tablespoons shallots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2-3 medium, dried chilies, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons roasted peanuts, chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 1/4 teaspoon palm sugar or brown sugar
1 teaspoon fish sauce
Canola or vegetable oil, frying

Rinse your winged beans and chop off both ends. Cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Set a pot of water to boil.

While waiting, heat enough oil in a medium frying pan to cover the shallots and stir often until they’re golden, but not too brown. Remove shallots. Add dried shrimp to the pan and fry them until crispy. Remove and set aside. Then add garlic and chilies and brown them.

Once cool, pound half of your shallots, garlic and chilies into a semi-smooth paste.

When your water is salted and boiling, blanch your winged beans for 20-30 seconds. Remove them and place them immediately in ice water to stop them from cooking. Reserve the water.

Add your finely-minced pork to the water and cook for 5-7 minutes.

In a saucepan, boil the coconut milk, take off heat and add sugar, chili/shallot paste, lime juice, fish sauce and peanuts. Mix well.

Add dressing to winged beans and minced pork, toss and serve. Garnish with crispy dried shrimp and shallots. Makes 4 servings.

Note: You can watch this salad being put together on this website (click here)

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