It has been many years since I was first exposed to Chinese long beans. I believe it was at an Schezwan restaurant in the West Village, that an ex-boyfriend and I use to frequent. It was the source of my first serving of cold sesame noodle. I remember the place so well from the deep red wall coverings to the rattan chairs to the spicy ground pork that garnished the cold noodles. It was the first Chinese restaurant I had ever been to where I was not confronted with the always-unfulfilling column A or B choice that was the typical menu selection of the Chinatown joints my family would visit. As a young adult, in my own relationship I actually got to order my own dish, and not necessarily share it.
It was the long beans that rocked my budding world having just emerged from the limited life of middle class suburbia. They were not like the string beans I know from my mother’s kitchen – sometimes freshly overcooked, more frequently canned. No, these were so much chewier with a dense, nutty flavor. Back then I had to travel to Chinatown in order to find the fresh long beans to play with and explore their possibilities. So, glad those food days are behind us, and now I can find slightly tough long beans in my local markets, but right now, spectacularly tender versions in green and purple are starring in the farmer’s market. And, the purple variety is heat set, so you can serve up a plate full of aubergine hued long beans. As opposed to the purple string bean, that while funky raw, when heated the bean will turn green.
In my travels through Asia I have had these legumes sautéed; dehydrated; stewed with tomatoes, and floating in a sharp Malay curry. Here at home I find a simply sauté extremely satisfying not to mention quick to the plate.
Blistered Beans - yields 6 servings
2 shallot - thinly sliced
1/4 cup sesame oil
1-pound Chinese long beans – cut into 1-inch pieces
2 garlic cloves - chopped
2-tablespoon sesame seeds
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/8 cup rice vinegar
Heat a wok to very hot and add the shallots and sesame seed oil. Cook the shallots until they start to brown lightly. Add in the beans and toss to coat the bean with the oil. Let the beans blister on one side before moving them in order to blister them further. Add the garlic and sesame seeds and continue cooking for a few minutes longer. Pour in the soy sauce and vinegar and toss to coat. Remove from the heat and serve hot.