A great resource that we have at our markets in the Twin Cities is the Hmong growers. Every farmers market has several of these dedicated and hard working farmers. They grow everything from beets to watermelon. But what gets my culinary juices flowing is all the Asian produce. Dappled green eggplants the size of big ping pong balls, hollow-stemmed malabar spinach, Gai Lan Chinese Broccoli, and assorted squash/gourd-like vegetables that go by many names. I have taught a class on cooking these vegetables several times, and I have found that most Minnesotans take a look, but feel at a loss when it come to cooking this exotic bounty.
While I love to use these veggies in their native style, simmering up Thai curries and spicy stir-fries, I also like to use them in more familiar, Mediterranean style fare. I find that using a Thai eggplant in ratatouille, or a bottle gourd in a garlicky soup adds the twist that makes a familiar dish that much more special.
Which brings me to one of my favorites in the Asian vegetable canon, available all summer long: the yard long bean. Sometimes called asparagus bean, or simply long bean, it is instantly recognizable because it is, well, long.
While you may love your green beans, I strongly urge you to buy a bundle of these extra tall beans and give them a try. I find them to be meatier in texture, and with none of the pronounced string of some string beans. All you do is wash and chop- the tips are tender and there is no stringing involved. Now my first mouth-watering thought when I see these beans is “get a wok and make Szechuan…” and that is a great way to go. But since we are staying away from imports this month, soy sauce was off my list. So I decided to go Italian-style, and harvest some fresh sage and cherry tomatoes from my back yard.
Yard-Long Beans, Italian Style
One thing I would borrow from the Szechuan dish was the idea of dry-frying. Basically, the beans hit a hot pan and are stirred until the wrinkle and shrink down. That really complements the texture of these beans. So, I heated up my cast-iron skillet, and when it was very hot, drizzled in some of my local sunflower oil. In went the beans and some slivered fresh sage. I love to fry sage until it is crispy. Then, halved cherry tomatoes and garlic. Keep stirring until the beans are wrinkled and the tomatoes have melted. Salt and pepper, Mangia Bene!