A strange green vegetable with four wing looking sides is my latest and greatest street market find. And as always, this market journey ended with busybody housewives pulling open my plastic bags without first asking to satisfy that nagging question of just what in the heck would a western guy buy. Their excited “oooooaaaaahhs” at the sight of these pods made me laugh, and one even motioned for her buddy to come stick her head down in the small bag for a closer inspection. Can you imagine walking up to someone in the Walmart parking lot and rifling through their shopping cart? After getting thoroughly cursed out, we’d probably end up shot.
Several nods of approval from the real housewives of Vietnam gave me some confidence I had picked out a special vegetable indeed. Back at the apartment as I waited for an elevator, a lady mopping the lobby opened my bag full of these things without even asking, and said what sounded like “dao rong” over and over and over again until I finally mimicked her words. Come on elevators, hurry up!! This lady is stepping on my last nerve!
Plugging dao rong into Google didn’t get me much further than some pictures of pink flowered bushes bought for Tet much as we buy trees for Christmas. Frustration brought me back downstairs with a specimen in hand to ask the front desk for the Vietnamese spelling. They all became excited and had me repeat “dau rong” with them over and over until their ears were satisfied I could be launched into the world with a new word in my arsenal. Finally one wrote down Đậu rồng and volunteered that stir frying this “dragon cactus” with shrimp is delicious so back to the market for prawns I went. And can I just say beheading, shelling and scraping the poop chute out of live sea critters is not the most pleasant kitchen task in the world.
Now with a proper spelling for this odd vegetable I was able to research just what the heck they are. These beans have the same string down their spine as snow peas so something was telling me these probably are not a cactus at all. My suspicions proved correct and this asparagus tasting pod known as the “winged bean” is a legume packed with Vitamins A and E along with calcium and iron. The entire plant is edible including seeds ground into flour, leaves, roots and flowers, and they spawn best on their climbing vines in hot, humid equatorial climates.
My recipe is a simple base and the beauty of cooking is that we can add and change things to suit our own tastes. Use this is a guide and experiment with your own creations.
Dragon Bean and Prawn Stir Fry
12 dragon bean pods, ends and spine string removed
12-18 shrimp or prawns, shelled and deveined
One clove garlic, finely minced
Three tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
Cut dragon beans into one inch pieces.
Season the shrimp with salt and pepper and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in the wok and add minced garlic.
Stir fry until garlic just begins to brown. Keep it moving to prevent it from burning.
Add the winged beans and continuously stir until they begin to slightly soften.
Add the shrimp and continue to stir fry until pink.
Remove from heat and season with additional salt and pepper as needed.