This summer I’ve been delighted to see plenty of long beans at the Union Square Greenmarket. Not just the traditional green colored variety but the unusual purple ones. Called dul gock in Cantonese, they are also known as yard-long beans in English. In Chinatown the two varieties you’ll find are light and dark green—never the exotic purple.
Summer is the season to eat long beans. Chinese old-timers claim it’s the only vegetable that is neutral, neither yin nor yang. Mama used to say the only vegetable a new mother can eat after giving birth are long beans because they are neither too cooling nor too warming. My parents preferred the dark green beans because they are crisper than the light green variety that are too chewy and tough. They would love the long beans I see at the farmer’s market, just harvested and super fresh. Sometimes the purple variety turn green after stir-frying but when you’re lucky they transition into an incredible shade of maroon. Wherever you buy the beans look for beans that are blemish free. Be forewarned that the freshest beans are limp. If I can’t cook them right away I wrap them in paper towels and place them in a plastic bag and store them in the vegetable crisper bin of the refrigerator. Try to use them within a few days.
My mom taught me to make Spicy Long Beans with Sausage and Mushrooms. When she was in boarding school in Shanghai she hated the food. Every weekend Mama came home and upon her return to school Popo would have the cook make the spicy long beans. It’s a little labor-intensive because all the ingredients are cut into bite-sized pieces. With every mouthful you get bits of shiitake mushroom, long beans, Chinese sausage, Sichuan preserved vegetable, cilantro, and a touch of ground pork, delicately seasoned with soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, and white pepper. It’s salty, sweet, spicy, and fragrant with contrasting textures. Every mouthful is a bit of heaven. Popo intended the stir-fry to last several days but Mama said by the time she arrived back in her dorm room she devoured everything by late Sunday night. I too, love this stir-fry and thinking of Mama as a young girl. I dare anyone to have just one bite.
This stunning photo of the spicy long beans in a wok is taken by my friend Steven Mark Needham.
Spicy Long Beans with Sausage and Mushrooms
8 medium dried shiitake mushrooms
1 bunch Chinese long beans (12 ounces)
2 ounces Sichuan preserved vegetable (¼ cup)
1 Chinese sausage, diced into ¼-inch pieces
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shao Hsing rice wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
¼ cup ground pork (2 ounces)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
½ teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup thinly sliced scallions
¼ cup cilantro sprigs
1. In a medium shallow bowl, soak the mushrooms in 3/4 cup cold water for 30 minutes, or until softened. Drain and squeeze dry, reserving 2 tablespoons of the soaking liquid. Cut off the stems, and mince the mushrooms.
2. Trim ¼-inch from the ends of the long beans. Cut the beans into ¼-inch long pieces to make about 3 cups.
3. Rinse the preserved vegetable in cold water until the red chili paste coating is removed and pat dry Finely chop to make about ¼ cup. Cut the Chinese sausage into ¼-inch pieces. In a small bowl combine the soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil.
4. Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or 12-inch skillet over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil, add the pork and sausage, and using a metal spatula, break up the pork and stir-fry 1 minute or until the pork is no longer pink. Add the mushrooms and stir-fry 1 minute. Swirl in the remaining 1 tablespoon peanut oil, add the beans, and stir-fry 1 minute. Swirl in 2 tablespoons of the reserved mushroom liquid. Cover, and cook 30 seconds. Uncover, return the pork and beans to the wok. Add the preserved vegetable, scallions, and cilantro sprigs. Swirl the soy sauce mixture into the wok. Sprinkle on the salt, pepper, and sugar, and stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes or until the vegetables are crisp-tender. Serves 4 as a vegetable side dish.