A legume that lives up to its name—almost.
If you've ever been enticed to buy a type of produce purely based on an intriguing name (just me?) and then been disappointed when there is seemingly no connection at all (I’m looking at you, Jerusalem artichoke), you’ll appreciate yard-long beans. This is because they do, in fact, live up to their name. Well, sort of. Sometimes.
Yard-long beans can, in fact, grow up to a yard in length, but while a few varieties are indeed their best at greater lengths, most types of yard-long beans should be picked when they’re shorter. So their scientific name—Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis—actually gives the best indicator of their length: "Sesquipedalis" means “foot and a half,” and many varieties are indeed around 18 inches (1, below).
Yard-long beans might look like overgrown green beans and they are both members of the legume family, but yard-long beans actually belong to different genera: They're part of a subspecies of cowpeas (which are also known as "field peas" or "Southern peas"). With most types of cowpeas, the hulled peas are consumed, but with yard-long beans, it’s more common to eat the immature green pod, just like green beans.
You’ll most often seem them in light and dark shades of green, although they can be red or purplish, too. Elizabeth Schneider finds that the lighter green yard-long beans cook up “somewhat sweeter, meatier, and more tender than the deeper color beans.” She therefore recommends using the pale green ones in quick-cooking dishes and saving the darker green beans for dishes “in which a certain firmness and stronger flavor are desirable.”
They are normally sold in bundles; if you can’t find them at your farmers market, try an Asian market. Choose thin beans free from bulging (which would indicate that the peas inside are too developed) and don’t be concerned with floppiness and wrinkles (2, below). Use your yard-long beans within a few days—they can quickly go from floppy to limp.
Yard-long beans can be eaten raw or cooked; just don't let them go for an extended swim. Serious Eats explains:
Though yardlong beans taste similar to green beans, their texture is distinct. Unlike green beans, which can taste palatable steamed or boiled, yard-long beans become waterlogged and bland when treated with water. The beans are best cooked with oil: sautéed, stir-fried, or deep-fried, their flavor intensifies and their texture remains tight and juicy. As such, these beans aren't exactly the diet vegetable of the summer, but they are extremely good to eat and their texture makes them worth seeking out.
They can be used in any recipe calling for green beans, but watch the cooking time, as prolonged steaming or boiling can render them waterlogged. Just chop them down to size as required. If you'd like additional ideas, here are 5 more to get you started:
Tell us: What are your favorite way to use yardlong beans?
Photos by Mark Weinberg