Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Growing, buying, cooking Chinese long bean

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia. This is how you'll spot Chinese long beans at the market. These ridiculously long beans are cut into short lengths before cooking.

This relative of the cow pea is also known as the yardlong bean. Though it's possible for these green beans to reach a yard long, they should be harvested when they're tender and just about 12 inches. You get a big bang for your buck with these beans. They're such vigorous growers in the heat of the summer that they may require daily harvesting/checking. Long beans grow in pairs and dangle down interestingly from the plant, making the harvesting easy (and probably fun for kids too!). The vining plants should have a trellis or some other sort of structure to climb and will happily grow to about 10 feet in length. In milder zones, a string to climb might be sufficient, while in a warmer area, a sturdier trellis is necessary.


Chinese cooks tend to stir fry these beans and prefer them to a Western green bean because they're sturdier and hold up to stronger sauces and the high heats of a wok. In restaurants, they're often deep fried in oil first - till they just begin to wrinkle up, then drained, and finally stir fried. The frying in the first step helps to preserve the sweetness and bright color of the bean. The recipe below is a typical long bean stir fry. My kids, who detest anything not a broccoli (go figure), LOVE Chinese long beans cooked this way. In fact, I'm usually looking at a near empty plate by the time dinner is ready since the kids come in stealthily snatching beans while the rest of dinner is being prepared. I'll allow this, since they're actually eating something green, but I just need to find out where they're wiping their hands!

***Though I'll still give a general idea, I'm no longer giving exact measurements for ingredients in my recipes unless it's truly important. Much of Chinese cooking is based on experience and personal taste, so getting out the measuring cups and spoons and freaking out about 1/8th of a teaspoon here and there is a waste of time and effort.***

Chinese Long Beans with Garlic and Dried Olive (serves 4 as a side dish)

About 4 Chinese dried olives*, chopped
About 4 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 large handfuls of Chinese long beans, cut into 2-3 inch lengths
Soy sauce to taste
Small pinch of sugar (optional)

Stir fry beans in oil in a hot wok until slightly wrinkled. Add olives and garlic. Continue to stir fry until garlic begins to turn golden. Add a drizzle of soy sauce and a pinch of sugar (if desired...a tiny pinch of sugar often balances the dish in Chinese cooking). Stir and serve.

*Chinese dried olives are available at specialty markets and at most Asian supermarkets. They're a bit different from a Mediterranean olive in that they're almost like a preserved plum - a touch tart. Beans are delicious fried with just garlic, but if you can find the olives, they'll make the dish.

But wait! There's more!!! Act now and I'll send you a few seeds just for being a valued reader!!! See my last post for details!


  1. Oh, Wendy: I love Chinese long beans! Actually I have grown them in the pot for the previous two years. I did not grow them this year bacause of my vacation plan. Your receipe is almost the same as what I usually do, although I am not sure what is the chinese dry olive, I got to try to find it. Sometimes I add some minced preserved black beans in addition to the garlics, which adds more flavor into it.

  2. Hi, I am a newbie in gardening. Only got a patch of land and pots of flowers. Your cooked long beans look very delicious! Last week, I picked some long beans at my in-laws' house, they planted it on just a tiny bit of soil next to the gate. It was an amazing sight to me! Green thumb, indeed!

  3. I love to eat longbeans.
    Would like to share few tips based on my experience:

    1) Choose and select young beans before cooking, the very matured ones taste terrible. (they loose the crunch and it feels like you are eating rubberbands)

    2) You may have to strip off the sides, there is a long strand of sting alongside the beans - you can cut the tip and pull along. (similar to frenchbeans)

    3) For added taste you can use dried prawns, fried anchovies and onions.. OMG!!! my mouth waters...

  4. I love to stir fry long bean as well! They are especially nice when fried with roasted pork. Finish of with light soy sauce to taste. Yummy!

  5. Wendy, that sounds more than delicious! The olives sound like they'd make it really interesting. I grew up on stir fried green beans and was aghast later on to find that most other preparations served outside my house involved boiling and de-flavorizing them as much as possible. (I guess that explains the need to throw piles of bacon into the vegetable dish...) You offer of seeds is so generous. I wish I had more garden space to take you up on it!

  6. I'm so going to try it with dried olives! I make mine with shallots, garlic and a equal measurement of sugar and salt (a bit more sugar than salt). These beans are in season now and I cook them once every other week.

  7. Great that your kids like to eat beans. Yummy

  8. Yum, yum, yum! We're headed to the big city soon, and if we make it to the farmers' mkt there, I'm picking up some of these beans. (Don't know where I'd find the olives, but you never know what I might find.) I'd wanted to grow these just from the pics of them growing in the gardening catalogues -- but was afraid to in my small space for fear they'd cross genes with my family heirloom seed. Now that I know they're a crowder pea relative, though, I kind of doubt that's a danger... it's going on the list for the next kitchen garden! :D

    I like that you don't get too picky with the measurements, Wendy. Who needs it, really? (Well, unless you're baking pastry, I guess...)

  9. Those look delicious, Wendy. I bet they'd be good in my hoi sin cod recipe. I always add green beans, snap peas or broccolini to that, but long beans cut up would be very tasty.

  10. I don't blame your kids for sneaking looks incredible. Worth the garlic breath.
    I want to try this recipe...but no Chinese beans. Can I just do regular beans? Thanks

  11. I don't blame your kids for sneaking tastes. It looks delicious!

    Probably worth the garlic breath. Mmmm
    p.s. thanks for sharing this recipe.

  12. I like finely chopped long beans in omelete and fried rice. We also stir fry long beans with dried shrimps and belacan (a shrimp paste with a pungent smell that we Malaysians love) or cooked in vegetarian and meat curries. Long beans is used in making acar, a salad mix of cabbages and carrots with peanut sauce and hot peppers.

  13. I'm putting long beans on my list for next year. The green and yellow bush beans were doing OK until the really hot weather set in. It would be great to have something that would keep growing through the heat.

    And I'm putting Chinese Dried Olives on my grocery list. Are they labeled in English?

  14. My husband and I have had these beans in restaurants and just love them. We finally searched and became aware of their actual name. I am looking for the recipe we have out in the restaurants. I believe your simple recipe is the one! Thanks so much for your website.

  15. I cannot find these beans in my local supermarkets. Can you help me?

    1. I've only seen long beans for sale at Asian or international markets. Try there. Or better yet, set aside a little 3x3 area, get a tall strong trellis and try growing them yourself!


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