Beans is Beans: Indonesia

I don’t really think of beans (Buncis) when I am devouring them in a Gado-gado or another delicious Javanese dish. Across Indonesia, beans are known by different names and used in a variety of dishes.

Gastronome el supremo, Suryatini N. Ganie, recently wrote a fabulous article about these little though of vegetables:

Winged bean’s culinary flights

People moving here from other countries might be surprised to find that many vegetables grown locally are similar to the ones in their own countries. Tomatoes, French beans, potatoes, green peas and carrots, you name it. Some vegetables are not so familiar and, therefore, require some explanation from others who have been living here for a longer period.

One of the interesting indigenous vegetables worth tasting and found throughout Indonesia is kecipir (keucheepeer), called the winged bean in English due to its wing-like sides. Though it is commonly called kecipir in Bahasa Indonesia, it is named buncis manila in Manado, North Sumatra; buncis goa in Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi; and kapri raja in North Sumatra. Globally, it is known as Psophocarpus tetra gonolobus (L).

Like many other plants in the tropics, the winged bean is a multipurpose plant. It contains a lot of vitamins and minerals and the soil in which it grows is supported with fertility agents. Its roots are suppliers of vegetable protein and carbohydrates. The stem and roots, as well as its leaves, are excellent fodder for cattle. Winged beans are common in Papua, but they have also been planted throughout Southeast Asia.

The young beans are the most consumed and can be obtained at markets and supermarkets. Choose the young light green beans because of their tender structure. They can be prepared into sayur (soupy dishes) or just eaten as a cooked vegetable. In many Asian countries, like Bangladesh, the young beans are also fried and eaten as a snack. When accompanying a meal as a vegetable, it will be served together with fish and meat. The young beans contain a lot of vitamin A, iron and vitamin C.

Actually, the seeds are the most valuable in a nutritive sense, but research is still underway to determine the best way of using them. Nowadays, in many regions of Indonesia, the seeds are also used to make tempeh.

In coastal regions, where there is a large population of Chinese-Indonesians, the seeds are fermented to make taucheo.

For those experimenting with making flour from various seeds, try kecipir flour. Take one kilogram of dried kecipir seeds and wash thoroughly. Soak overnight to be able to peel them easily. Then boil for an hour to discard some rather poisonous agents and also get rid of the distinctive aroma. Cool and peel the seeds and rinse thoroughly. Put onto a bamboo plate and dry for eight to nine hours in the sun. The dried beans are then ground and sifted until the result is a clean, fine meal.

Another example of the versatility of winged beans is that the flowers are also very much liked and can be used in a number of ways. In countries with a tropical climate, the flowers are consumed as a side dish only, but sometimes the flowers are used in a herbal concoction or for natural coloring. For those fond of Japanese food, kecipir flowers can be made into tempura.

The mostly dark green leaves of the kecipir plant have some medicinal agents. Aside from being made into sayur daun kecipir to restore energy, the leaves — especially the young light green ones — are used to treat eye and ear infections and some skin diseases.

To use the winged beans in western dishes, just choose the ones that are still young and tender. Cut them into six-centimeter lengths and boil them — but not too soft. Serve a white sauce over the beans. The sauce will taste good with the slight herbal taste of the winged beans.

Suryatini N. Ganie