Originally from Papua New Guinea, this bean finds fans who like it hot.
Back in the middle of the last century my great grand uncles ran a food business called Ban Bee which had the slogan “We Search the World for Good Things to Eat” emblazoned on the side of their van.
It is typical that Babas like them would have something good to eat growing in their own backyards.
One of them lived in a colonial-style house on Bideford Road. As a child, I wandered in the garden and found a creeper with pale blue flowers and interesting looking pods clambering all over the chain link fence along the long driveway. I was told it was a four-angled bean plant. As I ran my fingers down the frilly edges of a pod I was struck by the beauty of its geometry. I thought that the cross-section of the pods would make an interesting print when dipped in paint and applied to paper, probably a fleshy X with curled tips.
Vegetable prints of lady’s fingers and starfruit were some of my artistic endeavours.
Photo credit: hungerhunger.blogspot.com
These pods are delicious julienned and fried with sambal. The pods lend their interesting look and crisp texture to salads. The young leaves can be eaten as a leaf vegetable.
The seeds can be ground into flour or used to make a drink that tastes a little like coffee.
Boiled four-angled bean tubers are protein and vitamin rich.
In Myanmar, boiled winged bean tubers are eaten as a snack. They have a nutty flavour and are much richer in protein than potatoes. Protein makes up 35% of the tuber. All parts of the plant are rich in Vitamin A and C and calcium and iron.
In Vietnam it is called the Dragon bean. The scalloped edges were probably what made the whimsy-loving Vietnamese think of dragons.
Called the Manila bean in the Philippines and the Goa bean in India it also has ethnic names such as su-ling dou in Chinese, kacang botor or botol in Malay, shikakumame in Japanese and thua pu in Thai.
The pale blue flowers are the most common, although there are deep blue and white varieties.
Photo credit: RWS Photo
When the Paddyfields Thai Restaurant first opened in Singapore in the 1990s, the chef served up a fantastic four-angled bean dish which was said to be very popular among the common folk in Thailand. The crunchy pods were blanched and served with nam prik, a blindingly hot dressing made with lime, chilli, fish sauce and palm sugar.
Paddyfields distinguished itself from other Thai restaurants which were specialising in Royal Thai cuisine by serving country cuisine.
Below is a tried and tested recipe for four-angled beans and sambal prawns.
FOUR-ANGLED BEANS WITH SAMBAL PRAWNS
Four angled-beans and sambal prawns are a Peranakan favourite.
Photo credit: Chocoholic Memoirs
600g peeled grey prawns
600g four-angled beans sliced into two at a slant
8 tablespoons of pounded sambal belacan
1 tablespoon of scallop floss
1 tablespoon of cencalok
2 onions chopped finely
2 cloves of chopped garlic
2 kaffir lime leaves
A teaspoon of sugar
Fry the onion, garlic and sambal belacan till it is golden brown. Add in peeled prawns. Stir fry until the prawns change colour. Add in four-angled beans, lime juice, sugar and a little water. Add finely chopped kaffir lime leaves, the scallop floss and cencalok.
For maximum taste, dry fry the head and shells of the prawns and pop them in a blender with a little water. Strain the residue and add the resulting mixture to the dish.
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