In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
August, 2012
Regional Report

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Aren't those huge pole beans way past harvest? No. They're asparagus beans, aka Chinese long beans, bodi beans, snake beans, yardlong beans.

Experimenting with the Unusual

"Does it taste like asparagus or bean?" asked Suzanne, holding up an 18-inch long, thin green vegetable. "I think they taste like a meaty green bean with a hint of pepper," I replied, "though friends who've sampled them raw commented on the tang of citrus."

My asparagus beans -- aka yardlong, bodi, snake, Chinese long bean, long-podded cow bean -- are thriving and untouched by pests. The vines reach some seven feet, growing beyond their trellis and the wire fence. They're doubling back on themselves so it's difficult to tell the pairs of young beans from the plant stems.

I bought the asparagus bean seeds in an Asian supermarket last spring. They are known as dau gok in Cantonese, thua fak yao in Thai, and kacang panjang in Malay. Planting instructions were in Chinese. I gave them my best guess for depth and spacing, which was good enough. They grew with no sign of the bean beetles that decimated my bush bean crop nearby.

Ready-to-harvest, hanging yardlong beans are easy to spot and clip from tall vines encircling bamboo pole teepees. Last year's yardlongs arrived after I'd pulled out the skeletonized bush beans and disposed of their carcasses, beetles, eggs and all, in paper yard debris bags.

This year all the beans -- green and yellow bush, yellow and green pole, asparagus -- are coming at the same time. No sign of beetles so far! Yummy, yes. I've lots to share.

Thank You. Now What Do I Do with Them?
Sharing unusual vegetables carries responsibility. Handed a bag of bodi beans or a scalloped, knobby pattypan squash, the recipient often looks puzzled. "How do I cook them?" invariably follows the thanks for the gift.

Good question. I wondered the same about the Fast Lady Northern Southern Peas purchased from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. "There are lots of green pods," I emailed the seed company. "How should I prepare them?" Wait for the pods to turn dry and brown before harvesting was the reply. Remove the seeds from the pods to cook. "Use them like you would black-eye peas. The small seeds are very tender," wrote Ken. His favorite recipe is Black-eyed Peas Virginia Style in "The New Laurel's Kitchen" cook book.

As for the black-seeded asparagus beans, I like them coated with olive oil and roasted in a hot oven for about 20 minutes till crispy and brown, then finished with a sprinkle of sea salt. They're best harvested at 12 to 20 inches. Listed as yardlong or Chinese long bean, I found several tempting, quick-cooking recipes on the web, including stir-fries with spicy peppers, chilies, pork, shrimp, ginger and honey; sautes with sausage, chicken, beef, fish; and an Indonensian simmer with coconut milk. There's even rice-based Hoppin' John with asparagus beans.

The pretty patty pan squash, aka Baker Creek Heirloom 'Patisson Strie Melange' and Renee's Garden 'Summer Scallop Trio' of Sunburst, Peter Pan and Starship, is tastiest when young and small. No need to peel. Just slice horizontally medium-thick for grilling or roasting. Slice vertically for smaller pieces to steam or saute with your favorite herbs and spices.

Bon appetit a la Julia Child in honor of her 100th birthday!


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