Farmers Market Spotlight of the Week: Winged Beans, a.k.a. Goa Beans

Cooler temperatures mean that the City Hall Farmers Market is open once again and that more Houstonians will be heading out to enjoy the many other excellent farmers' markets across the city. Each week, we'll be spotlighting a produce pick from the Urban Harvest network of farmers' markets by showing you how to select it, what makes it special and what to do with it.

People often talk about eating nose-to-tail when dealing with meat, not wanting to waste any part of an animal -- almost all of which is edible. (Yes, even the eyeballs. They taste like aspic.) But what about eating flower-to-root? That's where the pretty, frilly winged beans -- a.k.a. Goa beans -- come in.

"The whole plant is edible, but you mostly only see the beans for sale," says market manager Tyler Horne. Way back in 1982, a New York Times article called winged beans "a supermarket on a stalk." Why?

"It combines the desirable characteristics of the green bean, garden pea, spinach, mushroom, soybean, bean sprout and potato," wrote Jane E. Brody. "Save for the stalk, virtually the entire plant is fit for human consumption -- from flowers and leaves to tuberous roots and seeds."

Currently, David Cater of Utility Research Garden is the only vendor at the farmers market growing and selling winged beans, a fact that surprises Horne given how edible and nutritious the beans are and how well they grow in climates like our own. It's even more surprising considering that Cater has been successfully selling the beans for a few years now.

Wrote former Houston Press food critic Robb Walsh of Cater and his winged beans back in 2010:

Combine the alternative gardening passion of Michael Pollan, the eccentric marketing genius of Bonny Doon's Randall Graham and the boyish good looks of cinema idol Zac Efron and you've got Houstonian David Cater, the star of the H-town Farmer's Market scene. You can't miss Cater at the Houston Urban Harvest market on Richmond on Saturdays or the Houston City Hall market on Wednesday mornings-he's the one with the moony-eyed women following him around clutching his winged beans and Chinese cabbage.

Walsh mentioned that the winged beans themselves taste like snow peas, which is one way you can use the beans: Simply sub them in for any recipe that calls for snow peas, or stir-fry them up with some other vegetables in a wok. The leaves of the winged bean taste like spinach and can be cooked in much the same way, while the flowers -- when fried -- taste just like mushrooms.

Alternately, you can try one of these two recipes if you want to do something a bit different: Indian Winged Bean Salad, which combines fresh coconut, red chilis and curry leaves with the beans. Or this southeast Asian-inspired Four-Winged Bean Salad with fish sauce, dried shrimp, ginger and lime.

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