Sunday, November 17, 2013

Recipe: Four-Angled Winged Bean Salad

I have two really awesome salad recipes to share, for those of you who want to eat a little healthier in preparation for the year-end binge. I've been trying to increase the amount of veggies that make up our meals (much in vain, I must say) and this has been part of that effort. 

This bean was first introduced to me by the wife of one of our senior management when I was putting together a cookbook for work. She was an elderly, firm yet fun lady, exactly what you would expect for an erudite English literature professor and an alumnus of Stanford. She explained that this vegetable, otherwise known as kacang botol, is something quite particular to South East Asia even though it can be grown in similar climates and you will rarely find someone not of Malay or Peranakan descent who enjoys cooking and eating these. 

Since then, I've always looked out for this vegetable at the markets and have made some tweaks to the recipe each time I've made it. The vegetable is easy to spot, it's a verdant green long bean, and has the most odd four-angled shape, a bit like a four-pointed star, when you cut it across. Reminiscent of a long, skinny, crunchy starfruit. The trick is, you should only buy them when they are fresh and bright, for they do not last long and taste something special when you find really springy, feathery beans. 

Slice them cross-wise and if you don't like the taste of fresh bean, blanche them for two minutes in hot water. I prefer to blanche them in water that has already been pulled off the stove, and really quickly, for they will otherwise turn a darker foresty green. Or else, don't blanche them at all, it's probably better for you raw anyway.

Finely slice three or four shallots, the skin of a red chilli (discarding the seeds), dice the base of a stick of young lemongrass, two cloves garlic and halve five or six fresh prawns. Fry them together in a bit of onion oil, or any oil you have- the mixture of the garlic, lemongrass and shallots is so fragrant, I think of it as the East Asian trinity, every time I smell this sharp, savoury combination (usually with some red chilli), I immediately think of humidity and street markets. Toss these into the beans and mix. 

For the salad dressing, juice five small limes (limau kasturi), again this is something specific to the tropics. I'm not sure what these limes are properly called, is it kaffir lime? These are baby limes which have a deep yellow juice and fruit, with a sweet smell, very unlike the larger key limes that are green inside and out. Mix this with 1 tsp of salt and 2 tsp of sugar and pour over the beans and prawn. 

I like to crumble in some crispy rice crackers. This is something that has been showing up in our supermarkets and is originally from Thailand. I like the textural difference between the bean, prawn and crackly rice and because the rice grains are thicker they hold their crunch for longer than if you were to use, say papadums. If you don't have any, you can omit it, or use other kinds of rice crackers.

I like that this salad is so easy and quick to throw together (especially if you don't blanche the greens) and utilises things that are so common to markets here. It also goes well with all kinds of Asian food, it complements heavy, earthy dishes like salmon curry or beef shank buakaluak, or you can eat it with a light lunch of porridge or kuay teow soup noodles. 

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