I know what you might be thinking...what on earth is a winged bean??? I had no idea myself, before moving to Thailand. Also known as the asparagus pea or the Goa bean (hmmm!), this bean grows abundantly in hot, tropical climates. In my native language of Tamil, winged beans are apparently known as sirahu avarai, but I'd never encountered them back home from what I can recall. According to Wikipedia, all of the winged bean plant is edible - pods, beans, flowers, roots and even the dried seeds.
The pods of the winged bean are are the most frequently consumed parts of the plant, and when you chop them, you get cool little X-shapes.
Here in Thailand, winged beans are often used in a salad called yam tua plu (yam meaning salad and tua plu meaning winged beans), in which they are combined with coconut milk, sesame seeds, lime juice, mint, shallots and cashews or peanuts. I had some yam tua plu yesterday for lunch at Khun Churn, one of the best vegetarian restaurants in town. This yummy dish is what inspired me to pick up some winged beans at the supermarket and use them in a poriyal, or South Indian-style dry vegetable fry.
A poriyal can be made with almost any kind of vegetable. Popular choices include cabbage, green beans (see my recipe for green beans poriyal), carrots, beets, you name it! Winged beans seemed like a perfect base for poriyal. The typical seasoning for poriyal includes mustard seeds, urad dal (split black gram lentils), dried red chilies, sambar powder (a spice mixture which you can buy ready made in Indian stores) and curry leaves. Freshly grated coconut finishes it off, but since I have yet to find it in Thailand (oddly enough), I chopped up some pieces of tender coconut flesh, which is absolutely yummy and has a lovely texture. Because I added a little too much salt in my poriyal, I compensated with a bit of sugar to balance out the taste and found that it made for a nice addition. Try this simple and delicious poriyal with winged beans if you can find them, otherwise green beans would be just fine.
WINGED BEAN AND TENDER COCONUT PORIYAL
200 grams winged beans
1 tablespoon sunflower or canola oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon urad dal
2 dried red chilies
1 sprig curry leaves
1/2 cup chopped red onion or shallot
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
3/4 teaspoon sambar powder
1/2 teaspoon sugar (or to taste)
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup freshly grated coconut or chopped pieces of tender coconut
1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1. Rinse the winged beans. Cut off the ends and chop into small pieces. You should have about 3 1/2 cups of chopped winged beans.
2. In a pan, warm the oil over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds. When they begin to crackle and pop, add the urad dal and stir well. Then add the red chilies and curry leaves. Stir well.
3. Add the chopped onion or shallot and saute until translucent. Add this point, add the winged beans, salt, sambar powder and sugar. Mix well and stir constantly.
4. Add water to help in the cooking process. Cook for about 8-10 minutes or until the winged beans are crisp-tender, stirring constantly.
5. Mix in the coconut and cook for a couple of more minutes. Add the lemon juice, stir and remove from heat.
For another excellent recipe using winged beans, try my friend and fellow Bangkok blogger Vanessa's coconut aubergine salad with Thai herbs!