Also known as Chinese pea, snake bean, and asparagus pea or bean, these beans either originated in China or were introduced there in prehistoric times. Sometimes they are called yard-long beans as they grow as long as 3 feet. They are very popular and, in season, may be found in great abundance in every market. They provide significant calories and vegetable protein to the Chinese diet.
Quite unrelated to the familiar Western green beans, they are neither crisp nor sweet. They do have a crunchy texture, but their taste is mild and subtle and they are best when combined with more assertively flavoured foods. There are two varieties: pale green ones and dark green, thinner types. In China, the beans are chopped and then stir-fried with meats or fermented bean curd. They cook rapidly and this makes them very suitable for stir-fry recipes.
Buy beans that are fresh and bright, light green or deep, dark green, with no dark marks, Although they are not crisp, they should nevertheless not be soft. You will usually find long beans sold in looped bunches.
Store the fresh beans in a plastic bag in the refrigerator and use within 4 days.
There is no need to string Chinese long beans before cooking them.
Paired with assertive seasonings, the beans are very tasty when simply stir-fried, with or without meats. The Cantonese often cook them with black beans or fermented bean curd. In Sichuan, they are deep-fried and then paired with chillies and garlic.
© Ken Hom and reproduced with his kind permission.