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snake bean and tomato salad

My favourite variety of beans at the moment – brown seeded snake beans.  So long as I can keep water up to them, they don’t mind how hot it gets, and they bear really prolifically over a month or more.   They make a great salad,  blanched then dressed with a balsamic olive oil garlic dressing while they are still warm.  Or, like this, lightly sauteed with lots of garlic, then cherry tomatoes and lemon basil thrown in at the last minute, pan turned off, mixed to warm through so the flavours blend.   They’re also a key ingredient in Thai fish cakes,  and with cucumber and Thai basil and all the other ingredients in season now too, Thai fish cakes are a really easy, healthy, fast, and very delicious meal. My local supermarket has frozen Whiting at $6 a kilo, and a kilo makes about 60 little fish cakes. Whiting is listed as sustainable and it’s a decent (if not exceptional) source of omega 3s.

snake beans



snake beans

The thing I love about snake beans is that you pick all these today, and tomorrow there’s the same amount again.

And the other thing I love about snake beans is that they don’t mind heat, even extreme heat like we’ve been having.  So long as they get enough water, they’ll keep bearing and even supply some shade and air conditioning to less tropical neighbours.

And the other thing I love about snake beans is cutting them into finger lengths, lightly blanching, and dressing with a garlic-olive oil-balsamic-soy-honey dressing while they are hot.  Or with an Asian style lime cordial-fish sauce-sesame oil dressing. Or in a Green Bean and Mango salad. Or waiting until they are mature and shelling them to use like adzuki beans.

All in all, a lot to love about snake beans.  Joy, in the Comments, asked where I got my seeds.  These are a brown seeded variety I have been saving for many years.  If you are gardening in a warm enough climate and you’d like some, I shall send some to the first 10 people in Australia to ask for them in the Comments.


hot mango chutney, garlic white beans, marinated snake beans, marinated tromboncino and eggplant, labne, cherry tomatoes and cucumber

There have been several disparate themes mulling around vying for attention as my focus for 2013.  I’ve been thinking about packaging, and the processing that goes into making food that can be bundled up in triple layers of plastic and cardboard to survive the ordeal of trial by retail, and I’ve considered making 2013 the year of no packaging.

I’ve also been thinking about community, and how sharing food is so central to caring and nurturing and creating the relationships that hold in good times and bad, and I’ve considered making 2013 the year of parties (and barbeques and picnics and potlucks) – treat food that isn’t quite junk food.

And I’ve been thinking about the conversation that is surfacing in permaculture circles lately about the misconception that permaculture is about self-sufficiency.  The three ethics of permaculture are  care for the earthcare for people and share fairly. The first two are easy to understand, if not always to do.  The last is a bit more opaque.  It’s a mixture of the standard care-giver axiom that before you can care for anyone or anything else, you need to take care of yourself, with a warning that hoarding takes you backwards.  And it’s led me to thinking about a glut of tromboncino (again) and the realtive merits of preserving them, versus offloading them in the mailbox at the corner, versus turning them into party food to share.

Then last night I made this platter for dinner, and the three themes merged in it.  At least once a week, most weeks, dinner for us is a platter to share, in these hot summer days on the verandah watching the sunset with a cold beer to go with it.  Most weeks too, there is some occasion to share food with others –  family, friends, community. I thought I might share with you a platter each week, party food for just the household or to share, based on what is fresh, in season, and in glut.

So here’s the first of 50 platters. (I wonder what I have taken on!)

Served with Seedy Sourdough Crispbread triangles, there’s

  • sliced fresh cherry tomatoes and cucumber
  • olives from last year’s crop
  • snake beans now in glut, cut into finger food lengths, blanched, and dressed while hot with a simple balsamic-olive oil-tamari-garlic-honey dressing (we can eat an awful lot of snake beans like this)
  • labneh balls rolled in dukkah – just strained greek yoghurt, rolled into balls in oiled hands, then rolled in dukkah
  • hot mango and tomato chutney made with our ripening glut crop of mangoes
  • Lebanese Marinated Zucchini et al made with the now officially in glut tromboncino, and eggplants just because they are so good in it.
  • garlic white bean paste made with the first of the season’s mature Blue Lake beans.

Recipe – Garlic White Bean Paste:

Soak the beans and cook them. I used my Blue Lakes, but cannellini beans work fine too.  Bean Basics has the details about cooking dried beans if you are not used to it.  The quick method is to use fresh beans, bring  to the boil in water, soak for half an hour (or all day),  change the water, add salt, then boil for half an hour or so, or pressure cook for 10 minutes or less.

Drain the beans and save a little of the cooking water.  Blend them with some garlic, a couple of spoonfuls of good olive oil, and enough of the water to make the right consistency. Taste and add some salt if it needs it – beans need a bit of salt.

This makes a smooth, fluffy, spreadable paste that is perfect as a base for other ingredients.  Spread on a biscuit or toast and top with as many of the platter ingredients as you can fit. Or take to a party as a dip with biscuits or crudites.



The  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge this week had to feature snake beans. Now I have them coming on, the poor old Blue Lakes and Purple Kings have dropped right out of favour, left to mature for seed for storing. Snake beans are more tropical than most bean varieties, adapted to the tropical summer monsoon belt.  They like hot wet weather. It has been a cooler than normal year this year, and the earlier rounds grew but slowly and didn’t set very many flowers or fruit. But we have hit the hot wet weather this month, and this is the first round now that is really bearing well.

They’re a beautiful plant – tall climbing and lush with lovely lilac flowers. They need a trellis or fence at least a couple of metres tall to climb, and when they bear well, they really bear well. I am picking about 250 grams a day from a fence-trellis just a couple of metres long. I like the brown seeded variety – it seems to bear better for me. Some years though, brown seeded snake bean seed seems to be just about unavailable, so it must be tricky for others to grow. Black seeds are much more readily available.

They’re fantastically good for you – one of the richest sources of folate and Vitamin A, even amongst beans which are all pretty good sources.  Lots of Vitamin C and good amounts of a range of minerals.

This recipe has chili in it, but it’s actually not very hot. I order “medium” in Indian restaurants, and this is mild for my taste. My partner orders “hot”, and he added a sprinkle of finely diced chili over the top. Non-spice-likers may want to reduce the chili right down, but the sweetness mellows out the spiciness nicely.

The Recipe:

Makes two large serves.  Leftovers are good for lunches.

This is good served over rice or noodles.  I served it over soba noodles, which take just minutes to cook. If you are serving over brown rice, get that on first because the rest of the dish is really fast.

The Vegetables:

Prepare the vegetables first, because once you start cooking, it goes fast.

You really just need young, crisp snake beans – 250 grams of them, trimmed and cut into 3 cm lengths.  The rest of the vegies are optional. I used a small onion, sliced lengthways (top to bottom) in thin slices, and a carrot julienned just for a bit of colour. You could also use capsicum or oyster mushrooms. But not much of them. The snake beans are the star.

The Spice Paste:

Use a mortar and pestle, or the spice grinder on a food processor, to grind to a paste:

  • 1 chili
  • Thumb sized knob of fresh ginger
  • Thumb sized knob of fresh turmeric (or ½ – 1 teaspoon turmeric powder)
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • white part of a lemon grass stem


Heat a wok or large fry pan up and add two dessertspoons of macadamia or peanut oil.
Add the spice paste, get it sizzling, and almost straight away add half a cup of cashews. Stir to coat and get them sizzling, then almost straight away add the vegetables.
Cook over a high heat, stirring, for a few minutes till the cashews get a bit of colour and the onion softens, then add
  • a cup of water
  • 2 dessertspoons of soy sauce
  • 2 dessertspoons of brown sugar
Cook for around 10 minutes until most of the liquid has reduced. Taste and adjust the soy – you may like it a little saltier.
To finish, add
  • 2 teaspoons of sesame oil
  • ¼ cup finely chopped herbs  – we did a taste test and decided our most favourite was Vietnamese mint, followed by Thai basil, followed by coriander.
Stir the herbs in then almost straight away take it off the heat and serve, over a bed of rice or noodles. Spice lovers may like to sprinkle with extra chili.
Are you Tuesday Night Vego Challengers? Feel free to add links in the Comments.